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How UCD helps executives learn what they need to know about technology

New programmes at UCD Smurfit Executive Development have a management, rather than technical, focus

“Realising value from technology is not a technology challenge, it’s a leadership challenge.” That’s the view of Professor Joe Peppard who is academic director at UCD Smurfit Executive Development. “Technology changes very rapidly but organisations change very slowly. Today it’s blockchain and in five years’ time it will be another new technology. One of the characteristics of new technologies that is often forgotten is that today’s leading edge is tomorrow’s legacy.”

Delivering value from technology has been a key theme of Prof Peppard’s research for more than two decades in a career that spanned stints with the Cranfield School of Management in the UK, the ESMT business school in Berlin and the Sloane School of Management at MIT prior to him joining Smurfit Executive Development last November.

Returning to Ireland was always part of his plan. “When I went to Cranfield thought I would spend three or four years there and then come back but one thing led to another, and I spent over 20 years there. I had a great time and I enjoyed what I was doing. Then the opportunities came to go to Berlin and MIT, but Ireland was always on my radar. I have business interests here. I was chair of Fineos, one of our most successful fintechs, and I also served on the board of IT Alliance and others. I have family here as well and I was travelling back and forth on a very regular basis.”

He was on the lookout for opportunities when the role in UCD Smurfit came up. “I wasn’t too familiar with Smurfit Executive Development,” he says. “But it was a great opportunity. I met Tony Brabazon, the Dean of the College of Business, to discuss it. I found the role fitted in very well with my interests. I really enjoy working with executives. It’s an academic position as well and that allows me to continue my research work.”


He describes his research career as less traditional in the sense that it has had a highly practical as opposed to an academic focus. “This goes back to Cranfield where our research was to fuel our teaching, not for publications and articles. Our focus was on improving management practice and trying to help busy executives.”

My article in the Wall Street Journal was entitled ‘It’s time to get rid of the IT department’, and it attracted 150,000 words of commentary. It’s not about getting rid of IT, of course, it’s that our view of IT needs to change

—  Prof Joe Peppard of UCD Smurfit Executive Development

He has had articles published in Harvard Business Review and other practice-oriented publications. More recently he had one published in the Wall Street Journal that attracted quite a lot of interest.

“Typically, academic journals are not read by many people,” he notes. “My article in the Wall Street Journal was entitled ‘It’s time to get rid of the IT department’, and it attracted 150,000 words of commentary. It’s not about getting rid of IT, of course, it’s that our view of IT needs to change.”

That need for change will inform new programmes at Smurfit Executive Development. “One of the pillars we are trying to develop is around the whole digital space in areas like digital transformation, data analytics, machine learning and AI,” he explains. “We won’t be looking at them from a technical perspective. We will have a management focus. They will look at what business executives need to know about technology; what board members need to focus on and the questions they need to ask to carry out their fiduciary duties. We are not going to teach them to be programmers.”

The first of these new programmes is a three-day course on Digital Transformation that will take place in March. “It will give executives the frameworks and thinking tools to help them through the digital journey. We will also have case study examples. That’s one thing Covid has allowed us to do. I will be able to get digital leaders who are contacts of mine to talk about their own digital journeys. We will be able to get them on a Zoom call for half an hour. That will give the participants a break from me. Instead of me doing all the talking they will get a different perspective from the CIO of a multinational talking about what they did.”

The aim of the programme and others like it will be to help business leaders tackle what Peppard describes as technical debt. “Technical debt builds up over the years,” he points out. “Businesses will deal with financial debt but not technical debt. When payback time comes it can be very expensive. If they had programme of renewal over the years, it would be much less expensive. Companies built their IT systems around products and processes and now they are saying they want to be more customer-centric and wonder why the technology doesn’t suit that. Our programmes will help leaders tackle that debt and to see it as an investment in change rather than investment in technology.”

Leading Digital Business Transformation runs from March 29th - 31st 2023 at UCD Smurfit Executive Development.