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New B-School Courses On Innovation Supply Talent For Digital Economy

Schools launch programs to help managers cope with sweeping digital change

Mon Sep 14 2015

A triumvirate of leading global business schools have all launched programs to help managers cope with sweeping digital change, the latest example of education helping executives keep pace with innovation.

Harvard Business School will host a course entitled Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise on its Boston campus in November. Designed to help executives adapt their business models in the face of new competitive technologies, it follows similar announcements by ESSEC, Mannheim, and Salford business schools over the past month.

Harvard will use the theory of “disruptive innovation” to help companies maintain their cutting edge despite competitive threats. Increasingly, business is being forced to adapt for risk of being overtaken by tech-savvy rivals such as Uber, Airbnb and Google.

“Doing the same things that made you successful won’t keep you successful,” said Derek van Bever, senior lecturer of business administration at Harvard. “In order to achieve sustained success, executives need to be able to identify threats and opportunities sooner, deal with them faster, and make strategic decisions that disrupt the market and drive growth.”

Meanwhile, for the first time all participants from the three tracks of the ESSEC and Mannheim Executive MBA combined for a week focused on innovation management at Mannheim’s campus in Germany.

Nicolas Glady, director of the Centre for Digital Business at France’s ESSEC Business School, highlighted the need for leadership if firms are to pull off successful digital transformations. He said: “If the highest levels of a company fail to propose a digital vision, digital transformations cannot happen.”

Business schools say this throws open career opportunity for future business leaders. “A new breed of senior executive is required to help large organizations progress easily and successfully through digital transformation,” said Dr Jim Hamill, leader of the Digital Leadership initiative at Strathclyde Business School.

However Ted Malloch, fellow in management practice at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, said that the typical business schools is “frankly way behind” in producing digital talent.

“Very few courses exist, anywhere,” he added. “There are some on digital marketing or cyber security or IT strategy, but it is rare to find comprehensive courses even in the domain of executive education.”

It is not just at a senior level that talent is sought for digital transformations. A pan-European university consortium, led by Salford Business School, recently joined forces to tackle the digital skills gap with the launch of an online program focused on digital marketing.

That follows the launch last year of the Digital Business Academy by Cambridge Judge Business School and Tech City UK, the government body promoting the UK tech scene. 

“There is competition for the scarce supply of digitally-savvy employees,” Professor Jaideep Prabhu at Cambridge Judge, told BusinessBecause.  

The cluster of physical and online courses join the growing number of centres focused on digital innovation at the world’s top business schools. The Global Centre for Digital Business Transformation was established last year at Swiss school IMD, funded with $10 million from Cisco Systems, the US network equipment company.

Mike Wade, director of IMD’s centre, said managers are under pressure from their boards and from consumers to hone digital transformation — which has the potential to transform operational processes and, ultimately, top-line growth.

“Leaders who don’t understand the threats or shy away from the technologies understandably have trouble transforming their organizations,” he said.

Alva Taylor, director of the Centre for Digital Strategies at the Tuck School of Business, said that traditional enterprises face the challenge of reforming established philosophies and cultures when trying to implement and pivot with technology.

“Managing that evolution requires rethinking longstanding trade-offs between standardization and innovation, efficiency and flexibility, and centralization and decentralization,” he said.