Moving Toward Disruption

A new AACSB affinity group has launched an ambitious global initiative to determine best practices for helping leaders stay current in the latest technologies.
Moving Toward Disruption

WHETHER IT’S DEVELOPING artificial intelligence to interact with customers, using blockchain to create more secure networks, or tapping the Internet of Things to automate processes, companies across all sectors are using technology to gain competitive advantage in their markets. But emerging technology is a moving target. For business leaders to hit that target on a regular basis, they will need ongoing training to keep their skills continually refreshed.

While business schools are creating programs designed to help executives make the best use of emerging technologies, they find themselves in a position similar to that of the leaders they seek to train. With the market changing so quickly, how can faculty stay one step ahead of the technological trends? One way is by working together. That’s the spirit behind the newly formed AACSB International Digital Transformation Affinity Group (DTAG). Comprising deans and faculty from business schools worldwide, DTAG first met in February 2019 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It now includes more than 85 schools, including 50 from the U.S. and 35 from 19 other countries.

The group was created to give business school administrators and faculty a forum to discuss and share best practices in digital business education. “We’re in a truly transformative stage where we all are getting used to the idea that many of the skills that we are teaching our students today are not going to be sufficient in the future,” says Gregory Prastacos, dean of the Stevens Institute of Technology School of Business in Hoboken, New Jersey. Prastacos co-founded DTAG with Sandeep Krishnamurthy, dean of the School of Business at the University of Washington in Bothell.

Late last year, the affinity group embarked on an initiative called Management Curriculum in the Digital Era (MaCuDE). As part of this initiative, DTAG members will examine the challenges of digital transformation in more depth and determine the best approaches to curriculum design in the digital era. The group has received funding from the global professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), as well as ongoing support from AACSB.

MaCuDE is intended to address the challenges business schools will face as they embrace digital transformation in their programs, says Bendik Samuelsen, dean of BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, Norway. These challenges, Samuelsen predicts, will come in five forms:

Faculty training. Professors must keep up with the latest in digital pedagogy and determine how the skills required for digital transformation will vary across disciplines and industries.

Customized education. Business schools will need to design educational paths that suit students’ diverse schedules, learning styles, and career objectives. “This will require reshaping the modularity of our programs,” says Samuelsen. “We will need to push boundaries when it comes to the individualization of learning.”

Technological infrastructure. Business schools will have to keep their software platforms up to date and seamlessly introduce new technological tools as appropriate. At the same time, they’ll need to maintain data privacy and integrity according to increasingly stringent regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, recently enacted in the European Union.

Recruitment of ICT-ready faculty and staff. Business schools might find it especially challenging to hire faculty to support digital transformation, says Samuelsen. Their resources might not allow them to offer salary packages that are competitive with those data scientists could earn in the ICT industry.

“We’re in a truly transformative stage.”—GREGORY PRASTACOS, STEVENS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

The evolving business environment. “It will be difficult to continuously update our programs” according to the changing needs of industry, says Samuelsen. “Sometimes we will need to be conservative and wait for disruptions to settle before ‘moving in.’ Sometimes we will need to participate in the disruption.”

Robert Brunner, associate dean for innovation and chief disruption officer at the University of Illinois’ Gies School of Business in Champaign, is serving on the MaCuDE steering committee. “Given the sheer number of emerging technologies and the broad opportunities being deployed across society and business,” says Brunner, “the biggest challenge is simply staying on top of all of them!” He emphasizes that the impact of digital disruption will be too immense for any business school to manage alone.

With the rise of AI and robotic technologies, professions are changing, jobs are disappearing, and new jobs are being created so quickly that “it’s hard to know what to do or where to start,” says Prastacos. “The business environment we see today is not the same environment we’ll see in even the near future. Digital transformation is coming whether we want it or not.”

EXAMINING THE CURRICULUM

Currently, business schools are in an experimentation phase with digital technologies. (See “The Evolving Digital Curriculum.”) One school might teach all students programming languages such as Python or R, while others might teach coding only to students in technical disciplines. Some schools are embedding digital consulting projects in every course, while others might confine such projects to capstone courses. Most are recruiting faculty who are up to speed with technology or willing to learn.

Business schools are already comfortable with flipped classrooms and blended learning formats, but they are entering an era in which it’s harder to predict the future application of digital technologies, says Samuelsen. Even so, he believes students will have little patience if their schools experiment with technologies that aren’t up to the task.

“Students don’t want to use six to eight different digital systems just to follow a semester. They want seamless integration, and they want standardized use across courses,” he says. “When it comes to adoption, ‘ease of use’ and ‘usefulness’ must both be in place.”

The fact that schools will want to keep their experiments with technology invisible to students makes it even more imperative that they come together to share their experiences with particular platforms and determine common characteristics of digitally robust programs, says Prastacos. For instance, should all MBA students learn to code? How much course content should be devoted to governance issues related to digital transformation? How will the skills students need differ by discipline? What kinds of online courses and certificate programs will best serve lifelong learners?

To explore these questions, affinity group members will conduct their work for MaCuDE in three phases:

Phase 1: Determining the “state of the curriculum.” Ten MaCuDE task forces are currently surveying business schools about their educational content related to individual business disciplines. These task forces are asking wide-ranging questions: What technological training do students receive as part of the core curriculum before moving on to specialized courses? Do students learn to code, and if so, in what languages? Are they using data visualization tools such as Tableau? How many required courses must they take in analytics? Do they attend boot camps? How many prerequisites or preparatory boot camps must they complete before enrolling in advanced courses?

Survey responses will be used to determine how curricula differ from school to school, identify best practices in digital business education, and highlight gaps or challenges schools face in meeting the demand for training.

Phase 2: Engaging with industry. Next, task force members will reach out to industry to learn more about the skills businesses are looking for, both now and for the future. “Our external partners often express more urgency to explore possibilities, even if it means increasing the likelihood of failure for a specific project,” says Brunner of the Gies School. “Many companies are aware of the challenges and want to partner with academics to get ahead of the curve as disruption starts impacting their business.”

Phase 3: Identifying and sharing best practices. Finally, the task forces will determine best practices in redesigning the business curriculum at the core and discipline levels, explains Cindy Riemenschneider, a professor of information systems at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a member of the initiative’s steering committee. They will produce a detailed report of their findings, along with a shorter summary report for wide distribution. “The reports derived from the MaCuDE initiative will inform curriculum changes, certificate offerings, and future strategic initiatives,” says Riemenschneider.

THE ERA OF THE ‘LEARN-IT-ALL’

The growing importance of lifelong learners could be one of the biggest challenges business schools face as they transform their curricula. “Having a workforce of know-it-alls will be far less important than having a workforce of learn-it-alls,” says Prastacos. “We must prepare students to become continuous learners who can leverage technology in ways that allow them to solve problems and make better decisions faster.”

Trends in industry bear this out, as companies are expanding digital “upskilling” programs, both in-house and in conjunction with educational partners, to ensure a technologically competent workforce. For example, in 2014, global cosmetics company L’Oréal hired a chief digital officer, who oversees the upskilling of the company’s executives in new technologies. In 2016, the company reported that more than 14,000 employees received training as part of its Digital Upskilling Plan—many on its in-house MyLearning training platform.

“Students don’t want to use six to eight different digital systems. They want seamless integration.”—BENDIK SAMUELSEN, BI NORWEGIAN BUSINESS SCHOOL

Last November, J.P. Morgan announced its plan to spend US$4.5 million on a research and upskilling initiative in Paris, France. The company has made a five-year commitment to train the city’s underserved residents to work in the digital sector. According to a company statement, its digital inclusion effort is meant to address the fact that 1.5 million Paris residents “live in neighborhoods with limited access to opportunity.” The company predicts that this year alone France will have 80,000 unfilled jobs requiring technological skills.

To ensure a pipeline of workers with the skills it needs, accounting firm KPMG launched the KPMG Master’s in Accounting with Data and Analytics program in 2017. (Read “When Accounting Met Analytics” in the May/June 2018 issue of BizEd.) Through the program, which is offered at a number of partner schools, KPMG provides students access to its proprietary software and auditing tools, as well as data visualization tools such as Tableau, Power BI, and IDEA.

PwC now requires all of its employees to take “technology IQ assessments” to determine how comfortable they are with digital technologies. To keep employees’ skills refreshed, the company also has launched a digital fitness app, which gamifies the training of its workforce in new technology via quests and personal trainers. PwC offers ongoing academies, mini courses, and microcredentials to help its consultants maintain a continual state of IT readiness.

“Literally everything we do—tax, audit, consulting—is affected by IT, data, and transaction processing,” says A. Michael Smith, a partner at PwC, in a Stevens Institute of Technology publication. Smith is also a co-leader of the MaCuDE initiative. “When it comes to new employees, the biggest change in the last five years is an expectation of higher-than-standard IT IQ—specifically in analytics—and a general awareness of the prevalence and importance of data.”

In other words, companies want to ensure that their workers are ready to learn new skills throughout their careers. It’s an ability that business schools must also cultivate, says Brunner, especially as businesses start layering technologies in new ways to create an even more complex technological landscape. “Automation and drones are being combined for delivery services, and artificial intelligence and virtual reality are being used for personalized training,” he says. “There are too few hours in the day to explore the possibilities, develop new learning opportunities for our students, and publish lessons learned.”

It’s imperative, says Samuelsen of BI Norwegian, that business educators engage in ongoing discussions about how to teach digital transformation effectively. “The need for BI with 20,000 students might be rather different from a specialized MBA-oriented school, but still I think it will be smart to find our common denominators,” he says. “We should be open about what has worked, and what has crashed and burned, because there will be a lot of crashing and burning in this transformation.”

He and his colleagues stress that the ultimate objective is to help every business school stay ahead of emerging technologies—not only by exchanging ideas, but by importing best practices from the industries they serve.

Administrators and educators who are interested in participating in the MaCuDE initiative can email Gregory Prastacos at gprastac@stevens.edu.

This article originally appeared in BizEd's January/February 2020 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to bized.editors@aacsb.edu.

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