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Reflections – Digitalization is Here

As I reflect on the last six months at GBSN, one of the high points of my position is when I can participate in conferences that are addressing topical issues in our field. I recently had the opportunity to attend the EFMD Deans and Directors General Conference hosted by the TUM School of Management, Technical University of Munich on 25 Ð 26 January.

I was looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting GBSN members in person that I have been corresponding with and connecting with new colleagues from across the world. It was a great event, with more than 390 people attending from 272 academic institutions from 53 countries. EFMD and the TUM School of Management did an outstanding job on the planning and logistics of the conference, including using the conference app Whova, an excellent tool for networking and staying connected throughout the two days and beyond.

But it was the topic of the conference that captivated me. The official title was: “Deans, Let’s Get Digital!” Kudos to the presenters who explored every aspect of this critically important theme that is transforming our field, and the world around us.

So, what were my key takeaways from the conference? From 10,000 meters, my principle impression was the huge array of opportunities that digitalization provides to management educators all over the world. But are they being leveraged to truly advance management education? The technologies are ubiquitous and most often, easily available anywhere. So, if there are impediments to adoption, what might they be? Is it solely about the availability of human and financial resources that holds back faster adoption of new technologies? Is it awareness and training that inhibits exploration of digitalization? Or perhaps scepticism about the long-term value of innovative applications which are not proven. Or arguing that it’s the concepts that require the attention, more than methods of learning. I generated question after question, then sought answers via the conference proceedings.

The speakers provided a wide array of perspectives to stimulate thinking about digitalization. Frank Kohl-Boas, head of HR for Google in central and northern Europe, also known as “Mr. New Work”; spoke of the changes in demands for knowledge brought about by digitalization. Another business view was provided by Horst Kayser, from Siemens. A spirited Deans’ response followed the corporate presentations by Dean Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou (McGill University), Gerry George (Singapore Management University), and Peter Tufano, (Said School, Oxford University).

We heard about the more pragmatic side of digitalization too, in the context of business schools. Kai Peters from Coventry Business School discussed the changing business models that are required by schools because of digitalization. Chrisoph Lutge from TUM addressed the ethical management challenges associated by the adoption of new technologies, and Edeltraud Hanappi-Egger from Vienna University provided her experience with managing faculty in times of increasing emphasis on digitalization. Winfried Ruigrok from the University of St. Gallen presented the impact and expectations associated with digitalization in Executive Education, from the perspective of clients and faculty.

Nick Lovegrove, author of “The Mosaic Principle Ð Educating Integrative Problem Solvers to Solve Today’s Complex Problems” provided a thought provoking final plenary to challenge business schools to produce future leaders with the multi-dimensional skills, experiences and perspectives required in our increasingly digitalized world.

It was evident to delegates that digitalization is not coming, it’s here! I was greatly inspired and encouraged to see what is possible with digitalization, but still questioning how quickly, or not, it is being accepted and adopted globally.

Stephen Sacca is the Chief Executive Officer of the Global Business School Network.