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Is the Traditional Understanding Of MBA Is Changing In the Digital Era? The answer is both yes and no, and here's why

By K. Ramnath

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We are well and truly in a digital world. That so many people have been managing work from their homes without going to the office for over a year now and that so many educational programmes ran completely online during this period is a huge testimony to this fact, if anybody ever needed one.

The World Economic Forum says that "the Fourth Industrial Revolution blurs the boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological worlds with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing, and other technologies". This was way back in 2016. We can see this in reality now.

If the various chatbots that manage customer queries on websites are not proof enough for a lay-person about AI being in use, the self-driving cars that are already being sold should be enough visual proof for this.

Given this background, it is only natural for one to question if the traditional understanding of MBA is changing in this digital era?
The answer has to be both a "Yes" and a "No'.

Let's us tackle the "No' first. It is "No' because regardless of all the "digital' changes we see around us, the main objective of businesses - to make profits for its shareholders – cannot/does not change. Hence, the underlying structure of businesses is still the same. They still require finance and marketing to drive them ahead, operations to maintain traction and people (HR) to run the business engine. These are the traditional aspects of MBA that one learns at B-schools. Hence, the answer to the question we started with, is a "No'.

However, this question takes a new meaning if one is an engineer and is looking to understand how to further enhance his/her skill set so that one can stay ahead of the curve.

That is because it is in the fields of engineering and technology that these technological processes take seed and grow. However, effective utilisation of the fruits of these technologies happens only with proper management of these technologies. Thus management here, deals with two aspects

a) Utilizing the developed end-products of technology effectively by developing the right processes and controls to be deployed during usage

b) More importantly, driving the development of such technologies by prioritising the objectives of development and allocation of the necessary resources to them

This shows that one would need to be able to understand the technology and also be able to manage the associated aspects to be able to ensure that one would be able to gain the most out of the technologies that are changing the world and are going to change the world for the next 2-3 decades - the prime-time in the career of someone starting now.

This highlights the importance of being an engineer-MBA as this combination would place one at the driving seat of a great career. This also puts at the fore-front, the importance of MBAs being in touch with the various aspects of technology, at the least those that they expect to work with in their careers.

Non-engineers too never had it so good. Unlike those of the past, technologies of today's world have shorter learning curves and are, hence, very amenable to being picked up pretty soon by eager and keen learners. Non-engineer managers, hence, are increasingly playing huge successful roles in the so called "technology' departments and continue to do so.

B-schools across the world and in our country too, are also focusing on including these as subjects in their curriculum. Many schools also have tailor-made MBA programs with AI, Analytics etc. as specialisations. Such programs focus on technology aspects in addition to core subjects like Accounting, Finance, Leadership, Marketing, Operations and Strategy.

They are devised to equip students with the skills and knowledge required to manage the intricacies that stem from an technology-driven world.

Data science has been evolving over the last couple of decades, and is now spawning a whole new set of opportunities for businesses. The growing importance of business and data analytics fuelled the need for the talent to analyse and demystify big data. MBA in Business analytics is generally structured to develop in students the ability to define business and social challenges, use analytical tools and techniques to identify patterns, gain and develop insights, develop business strategies and through this make/aid sound management decisions/practices. Students would also understand the emergence of analytics as a competitive strategy.

Hence, the answer to the question we started off with, is a "Yes'.

Summing it up, while the core of MBA remains the same, there are new and valued additions that have come into the programme that one would want to not be acquainted with them only to lose out on a great career in the long run. It is well and truly a digital world and MBAs will need to adapt to this reality, starting right from the B-school.

K. Ramnath

National Course Director for CAT at T.I.M.E.

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