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Smurfit course aims to give executives toolkit for digital transformation

School partners with Boston University for course on digital strategy and leadership

Every business is now digital. Digital technologies and the data and insights they generate are changing why businesses exist and how they operate at the most fundamental level. Managers and companies who do not understand and adapt to this shift will lose out to those who do.

The new digital strategy and leadership short course at UCD Smurfit Executive Development is aimed at senior leaders in both traditional and emerging businesses who are grappling with the challenges presented by this digital transformation. Run in conjunction with the Boston University Questrom School of Business, the course offers participants the opportunity to evaluate their companies' existing digital strategies and develop new ones to deal with the rapidly changing competitive environment in which the find themselves.

"We decided to partner with the Questrom school because one of their faculty members, Prof Venkat Venkatraman, is a world-leading expert on the convergence of strategy and technology," says course academic director Prof Patrick Gibbons.


Prof Venkatraman has been cited as one of the most cited researchers in strategy and management by Strategic Management Journal, Journal of Management, Thomson Financial/ISI and Google Scholar. His recent book, The Digital Matrix: New Rules for Business Transformation Through Technology (2017), was described by IBM president and chief executive Ginni Rometty as "an essential new model for digital business strategy in the age of cognitive systems and artificial intelligence – at once simple, pragmatic and quietly ground-breaking".


According to Prof Venkatraman: “People think they saw the impact of technology in the past. We’ve been through the industrial revolution and other revolutions and we somehow figured it out. This time it’s at a scale and speed not seen in the past. It’s only 11 years since the invention of the smartphone and look at how business has been transformed as a result. We would have no Uber, no Google Maps, no Spotify without it.”

He believes the world is on the cusp of a revolution similar to that ushered in by the smartphone. “Now in 2018 we have a set of technologies at as nascent a stage as the smartphone was 10 years ago,” he says. “There is virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain, cognitive computing, autonomous driving, machine learning, artificial intelligence and big-data analytics, for example. When you put all that together with sensors and biosensors the power of digital technology over the next decade will be unprecedented and the pace of change is accelerating.”

Prof Venkatraman points to the auto industry as one sector which is already feeling the effects of the digital transformation. "GM shares went up 10 per cent recently on foot of news that SoftBank had decided to invest $2.5 billion in its autonomous car unit," he says. "Masayoshi Son, the founder of SoftBank, is a very interesting player in the automotive industry and his company wants to be a major player in the future of mobility. This is a sign of how this industry is being transformed.

“The traditional players are having to learn how to compete against born-on-the-internet companies like Tesla who are very nimble and can scale at speed. All of the automobile companies are responding. This is a perfect example of the digital transformation. The way we own cars will change and we will move towards a transport as a service model.

"Those same principles can apply to every sector. If you think of a car as a set of computers connected to the cloud, it is becoming quite similar to logistics. In agriculture, tractors will collect data from various sources about soil and weather conditions and so on and decide how much fertiliser to use. Companies like John Deere and Monsanto are co-operating on technologies like these."

New business models

The UCD Executive Development Digital Strategy Programme takes place from September 19th to 21st and will help participants address competition from new players with new business models; identify how their current source of advantage can be extended into the digital future; scale their current advantages with the deployment of digital tools; and develop a toolkit that facilitates deeper conversations among management teams about the competitive imperative that is digital business.

The initial three-day course will be followed up by a virtual programme where Boston University will engage with participants over four months as they begin to apply to the learnings from course diagnostics. A concluding session will take place in UCD Executive Development in February 2019.

To find out more about the Smurfit Executive Development digital strategy and leadership short course in collaboration with Boston University, contact Annabelle Kehoe, business development manager – telephone 01-716-8080; email annabelle.kehoe@ucd.ie. smurfitschool.ie/executivedevelopment