Jun 4, 2022

How B-schools can teach digital business perspective

The digitisation of business processes has resulted in the accumulation of a large amount of data in structured as well as unstructured formats, making it imperative to teach students how to analyse these datasets.

We have observed the technology becoming pervasive across every walk of life, and the rate of this digital push has further increased after the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, traditional firms have redefined the business models to serve the consumer needs better through digital interventions in their processes across the board, and also new digital businesses have come up over the past few decades, whose primary assets are intellectual capital, innovation, and network, rather than the hard assets. However, the B-school programs are mostly based on the premise that the physical products are produced using the physical infrastructure. Let us discuss briefly how the advent of digital businesses signals the need for the updating of the course contents in the existing MBA programs.

Starting with the business analytics course, the digitisation of business processes has resulted in the accumulation of a large amount of data in structured as well as unstructured formats, making it imperative to teach students how to analyse these datasets in the relevant context and generate the insights for robust decision-making. Also, the students need to be taught about handling data pollution or data waste, which is the by-product of large-scale digitisation.

Product management is another course that needs a revisit with the domination of digital products such as software or apps over conventional hard products. Many products today are also a mixture of hard and soft elements, whose management is quite different from managing a pure hard product. Whether it is an investment app, a home rental app, or a travel booking app, the design and product management elements are quite different from a hard product, and therefore, important to be taught to the students.

Also, technology management is an area that gets a miss in most MBA programs. Since today’s managers have to be able to appreciate the role of emerging technologies and the promise that they hold for improving the businesses, the business schools need to give exposure to the students on basics of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), deep learning, fintech, Internet of Things (IoT), etc. The students also need to be taught how to use technology judiciously and conscientiously.

The operations management course also has the scope for a re-alignment to be able to reflect the operational challenges of digital businesses. The production dynamics of digital products, such as software and apps are very different from those of conventional products. Also, the concept of digital manufacturing and digital business processes has to be given good coverage in the business school classroom.

Supply Chain management is another course that can benefit from the digital make-over by covering the digitalized supply chain processes and the nuances of digital products, for instance, knowing that the capacity needs to be purchased in real-time on the clouds, and that the supply chain managers need to be conversant with the systems architecture.

Entrepreneurship courses also need to reflect the fact that digital businesses run and scale in a different way than conventional businesses. People management courses also need to incorporate the nuances of work-from-home environments, and the need for recruiting a tech-savvy workforce who can at least appreciate technology irrespective of the job role.

Next, let us take an example from Managerial Economics. The theory that a firm cannot earn supernormal profits for a long period does not apply to digital businesses because the digital products can be distributed worldwide instantaneously without much transportation costs and that further generates economies of scale, enabling these businesses to keep growing.

Let’s now talk about Marketing and allied courses. The modern-day marketer not only needs to leverage digital marketing to create and convert business leads, but also act as a data scientist who can generate the consumer insights from the digitized data, and as a technology master who can appreciate the impact of the changing technology on consumer decision-making.

If one thinks of Finance domain courses, one would realize that the concept of fixed costs and variable costs has also lost sheen in the context of digital businesses that operate largely on a fixed cost structure with very few variable costs. Students also need to learn how the accounting processes are now going to change from quarterly or monthly reporting to instantaneous reporting through the use of predictive analytics and blockchain.

The scope of strategy courses should also be expanded to cover the conception, design, and launch of digital products. For example, students need to know how different platforms can derive synergies from each other and create customer value by collaboration.

A few of the possible new elective courses that are required in the curriculum are Digital transformation strategies, design thinking, mastering digital disruption, among others. Change management and dynamic decision-making in the VUCA Digital World also need to be imbibed among the students