What Does Digital Transformation Mean for B-Schools?

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Sandeep Krishnamurthy, dean of Bothell School of Business at University of Washington, discusses what digital transformation does—and doesn't—mean and how business schools can embrace it.
Filmed February 2020 at AACSB's Deans Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.


Sandeep Krishnamurthy: [0:00] The term "digital transformation" is overused and misused. For some people, they feel like digital transformation is a lot of hype. For other people, they feel like digital transformation is something that computer science people are working on.

[0:34] Yet others are thinking that digital transformation is just about something they don't have to worry about because their core areas are not going to get affected. For example, accounting is not going to get affected because how can algorithms affect what we do? Or marketing is not going to get affected because this is about something completely different, like process automation.

[0:58] The reality is business school faculty, business school leaders have to come to grips with the idea that digital transformation is all pervasive and fundamental. In fact, we are about knowledge work, and digital transformation is about automating, transforming, and personalizing knowledge work.

[1:18] This goes to the heart of who we are. It is going to be something that's going to stay with us, not just for one year but I would say the next five years. This strategic plan that is being developed right now must have some element of digital transformation in it.

[1:33] Business schools sometimes feel like they have to do everything themselves. At the same time, the computer science folks are going through a massive transformation. They're going through a transformation of computer science to data science, from computer science to cybersecurity, and so on.

[1:51] Cybersecurity and data science are completely different from how computer science was taught 10 to 15 years ago. Computer scientists didn't teach statistics. They don't know about the things that our faculty do.

[2:03] What we have to do is find a way to find the intersection where we bring the expertise of our faculty, but we also leverage the expertise of faculty other than those in our own schools and find ways to bring them to apply their expertise to problems that we care about. Problems that we care about all have to do with business value. How is it going to affect business value?

[2:25] The issue is having dialogue with the computer scientists on how we create programs that are in great demand, and how do we create programs that employers will want, and how do we create programs where we are able to bring together not just the traditional functional knowledge within business, but also the technology knowledge.

[2:49] I'm a dean at the University of Washington Bothell. We are a small campus. I think of ourselves as a startup campus. We have about 6,000 students. One of the collaborations that we're working on is creating a certificate in digital transformation and business analytics.

[3:04] This has been a collaboration not just with faculty in different departments, but also with industry folks. We have someone from Microsoft talking about how they automate contracts, for example.

[3:16] In addition to other parts of the campus, I also believe that there's intellectual capital in industry. If you bring that to bear to what we want to teach, you'll see excellent results. Just speaking from experience, that is what I would recommend.

[3:34] When you think about technologies that business schools should be bringing in, the main advice that I have is don't worry about one particular technology. The reason is when you go and talk to industry folks and ask them what's new, what's different, what they always talk about is what we call the recombinant value of technology, meaning that it's not just about AI.

[3:54] I have AI, I have VR/AR, I have blockchain, and so on. We can put all these things together in creating something very special. The secret sauce is in the ability to combine different technologies and bring together the synergistic potential of all those technologies.

[4:15] Business schools are going to do a phenomenal job in terms of educating the next generation of business leaders. AACSB has already set the way for us in many ways. The faculty classification that we have right now is an acknowledgement that you really cannot have all PhD faculty and still meet most of the missions of most business schools.

[4:36] You need a diversity of faculty. You need faculty that are retired executives. You need young entrepreneurs coming in and shaking the thinking of our faculty. At the same time, we also want to think about how business certifications are something that we can rope into our curricula.

[4:55] In the long run, business schools have to start thinking about how they give credit for business certifications, how they work with MOOCs. They really help understand that MOOCs can do some things that we cannot do, curated, designed experiences that a whole team puts together. They're productions, but our faculty members are entrepreneurs.

[5:17] They go to their office. They put together a syllabus. They print it out. They load it in Canvas, and they go to class. Completely different experience. We need to also think about how we can take the best of MOOCs and leverage it with what we're doing.

[5:31] For example, most MBA programs, most undergraduate programs have a statistics requirement. Well, guess what? There are fantastic MOOCs out there with statistics. All we have to do is to say we simply are going to give credit for someone that has completed this set of MOOCs, and we're done.

[5:49] We do not have to invest in that, and the students have to pay a small amount to complete and satisfy what we would regard as substantive knowledge in that area. It works with the students' lives because they have complex fragmented lives. How do we work with that and ensure that they are successful?

[6:10] These are the sort of disruptive solutions that we have to be thinking about. 

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