Newcastle University Business School

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TOP 10 insights for preparing for digital business

Earlier this month, Newcastle University Business School invited four leaders from industry to participate in a Digital Leaders Panel to share their experience and expertise with MBA students.

The digital economy, enabled by the ubiquity of smartphones and powerful computer processing power, has significantly changed our everyday lives from eating out and shopping, to how we manage our health and finances. Through the use of cloud technologies, advanced analytics and new enterprise digitalisation, it is now changing business as well as consumer industries.

Whilst we frequently receive soundbites from the media and management consultancy firms, we rarely get to hear from those actually leading digital transformation and businesses. This session gave our future global leaders the opportunity to question a panel of current digital leaders about how to navigate this complex journey.

The panel - made up of: Ian Griffiths, Co-founder of; Esther Gillespie, Co-founder of Jumping Rivers; Thomas Webb, CEO of Ethical Healthcare, and Lysa Morrison, Director of Transformation at Cintra – discussed current disruptions and opportunities posed by digital transformation and business.

Ten themes emerged as important insights and recommendations for those preparing for digital business:

  1. Managing digital transformation or a digital business is a journey rather than a destination with greater emphasis placed on the human (people, culture and leadership), rather than the technical assets and processes. The notion of ‘digital’ itself can mean different things to different people, varying in scale and complexity. It is up to organisations to clearly define what it means by digital business and how this creates distinct value for their organisation, customers, and/or service users.
  2. For a born digital company, establishing and maintaining a marketplace requires a careful balance between supply and demand - from effective on-boarding processes for both consumers and suppliers through to in-house growth and development including the changing business needs and digital infrastructure.
  3. Ensure your internal processes and practices are the best they can be - from motivating and developing your employees to optimising HR, payroll, finance, and other functions. This is even more important if your digital business is not often client-facing. Maintaining a happy team with varied and interesting tasks is crucial.
  4. The fast pace of growth is a particular characteristic of digital business therefore it is imperative as a leader to keep revisiting your business model, sensing and seizing new opportunities at the same time as continuously improving what you do and how you do it.
  5. A data driven economy requires organisations to ensure customers, service users, shareholders and partnerships are protected. This means engaging in ethical, meaningful, transparent and two-way communication with all of your stakeholders. Many organisations already do this and therefore compliance with new regulations such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is not as difficult as it might otherwise be.
  6. Data portability and open data is an increasing trend driven by customer demand and legislation. Under GDPR, the right to portability allows individuals to obtain and reuse their personal data for their own purposes across different services. It allows them to move, copy or transfer personal data easily from one IT environment to another, in a safe and secure way, without affecting its usability. Doing this enables individuals to take advantage of applications and services that can use this data to find them a better deal or help them understand their spending habits.
  7. Leaders of digital business need to develop the appropriate skills and capabilities. This requires a combination of soft skills such as emotional intelligence, effective communication, time management, building relationships with employees and customers, effective change management plus the hard skills related to capturing, analysing and interpreting data.
  8. Invest quality time in identifying and agreeing uses, benefits and scope rather than wasting time further down the line fixing products that fail to meet stakeholder expectations or business needs.
  9. Be aware of optimism bias, expert bias and managing expectations through regular communication with stakeholders in order to consider implications and consequences whilst evaluating whether proposals really do address business problems or opportunities.
  10. Avoid simply recreating the same paper processes in a digital format. Take the opportunity to redesign processes and practices to support business goals and then explore how technology might enable this.

Dr Rebecca Casey, module leader for the Digital Business elective highlighted: “the points raised by the Digital Leaders reveal that even in an increasingly digitalised world the need for established change management tools for creating, influencing and realising value is increasingly important if individuals, organisations and societies are to benefit from digitally-enabled innovation.

“Fostering a digital capability is more important than simply creating a digital strategy. It is more than just being tech-savvy or hiring people with technical skills, it is about fostering the capability throughout the organisation to understand the impact of digital on the business environment and the organisation.

“This will enable organisations to identify, evaluate and influence the benefits, among a vast choice of digital options, which can create the most value and truly meet the needs of the business in terms of opportunities and challenges they face.”

The panel discussion was streamed via Facebook Live and can be viewed here.

Digital Leaders take questions from MBA students

published on: 5 June 2018