Logo BusinessBecause - The business school voice
mobile search icon

Business Schools Push Careers In Fast-Growing Digital Economy

Technology has radically altered the nature of employment, spurring business schools to focus some of their education on digital transformation.

By  Seb Murray

Mon Mar 16 2015

Business schools are launching programs dedicated to managing the digital transformation of companies, illustrating power of the new digital economy in business.

Digital technologies have radically altered the nature of employment and have opened up new avenues for graduates to find jobs. The fast-growing digital economy is poised to make up bigger chunk of the MBA recruitment market in 2015.

The University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School became the latest school to launch a digital-focused program this month.

The new course – Oxford Polaris Digital Academy – will educate executives across industries on how to succeed in the digital transformation of their firms, and also to help assess the key challenges facing international leaders in doing so.

It is offered in collaboration with Polaris Consulting & Services, the India-based digital specialist consultancy.

Jitin Goyal, CEO of Polaris, said that the program will bring together the unique combination of the company's expertise and Oxford’s thought leadership. “We are very excited about its potential,” he added.

This era of digital transformation is affecting nearly all companies across multiple sectors.

Business is undergoing a sea change as a result of the influence of new capabilities – in particular mobile, data analytics and cloud computing.

A recent survey of business chiefs by Altimeter Group in a report with input from Starbucks, Ford and Nestlé executives found that 88% of companies said they were undergoing digital transformation – but only a quarter had strategies.

A 2013 survey by MIT Sloan School of Management in the US produced similar findings.

Andrew White, associate dean for executive education at Oxford Saïd, said that executives on similar programs have gained greater self-awareness of their leadership, creating energy and emotional commitment to drive change.

About 1.8 million people in the UK – or 6% of workers – are now employed in the digital economy in jobs that did not exist two decades ago, according to PwC’s 2015 economic outlook, released this month.

The number of people in professional IT-related jobs rose 6.5% between 2012 and 2014, more than the 3.8% increase in total employment.

John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC, said that some leading digital companies may not employ that many people directly.

But he added: “Our analysis suggests that they can have an important catalytic effect on the overall economic performance of the cities and regions where they are located.”

Business graduates are increasingly finding roles in digital enterprises. The management consulting industry has been one of the largest areas of employment growth for MBAs, driven by new digital service lines such as big data.

Accenture, KPMG and Deloitte have all invested heavily in staff – Accenture Digital employs about 28,000 people – to drive digital transformation.

“Clients – they want to know how to use technology to understand big data – even McKinsey is building that capability – and that opens up opportunities for MBA students,” said Conrad Chua, head of careers at Cambridge Judge Business School.

There has also been increased demand for digital technologies in financial services, with large banks including Barclays, HSBC and payments provider American Express recruiting for their digital banking teams.

Gil Yancey, executive director of careers at GWU School of Business, said: “Credit card and consumer banking departments are experiencing increased demand for digital technology skills.”

Financial services groups are also embracing digital through the use of data analytics in areas such as fixed income asset pricing. Stevens Institute of Technology, a private research university, recently launched a course focused on this area.

This is driving up employment demand. John DelSanto, senior managing director for Accenture’s US financial services group, said: “Finding and accessing analytics talent will require innovative sourcing strategies to bridge the gap between supply and demand.”

Technology companies that utilize digital – from Google and Microsoft to Apple and Amazon – have been among the largest recruiters of business graduates, edging out investment banks.

Kyle Ewing, Google’s head of global staffing programs, said that the group values all levels of education.

He added: “MBAs find plenty of opportunities to do cool things that matter – whether in product management, sales and finance, marketing, people operations and everything in-between.”

When it comes to MBA careers in the digital economy, companies that use data often offer promising growth prospects.

Sal Vella, vice president of cloud foundational services at IBM, said that all industries are under increased pressure to extract new insights from data. He added: “Critical to that effort is the development of business leaders who are skilled in analytics.”

Eric Young, assistant dean of Georgetown University’s MBA Career Center, said that MBA students are increasingly interested in companies driven by tech and innovation – “more than hundred-year-old companies where the perception might be that the culture is stuffy, slow [and] old-fashioned”, he added.

The PwC report said the proportion of workers in these new jobs in 2004 was a good predictor of relative rates of regional UK jobs growth during the following 10 years to 2014.

Stephanie Hyde, head of UK regions at PwC, added that universities have a vital role in establishing successful digital hubs.

She said: “Our research article notes that Stanford alumni have created around 40,000 companies and over five million jobs in the US. Leading UK universities could be similarly dynamic catalysts for innovation and growth.”

The Saïd Business School program is by invitation only, at the discretion of the two organisations.

Other leading business schools running executive programs focused on digital transformation include HEC Paris in France and Canada’s DeGroote School.

Schools also offer MBA courses in digital transformation, including Harvard Business School of the US, and Australia’s University of Southern Queensland.