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From ‘doing’ to ‘being’ – putting digital at the core

As Cambridge Judge makes Digital Business a core MBA course, alumni and students reflect on how the business world is no longer about just ‘doing’ digital.

Modern communication technology mobile phone concept on high tech background

The era of ‘doing digital’ is over – now it’s all about ‘being digital’. It has to be hard-wired into every aspect of business for every organisation. Think of it as the skeleton or chassis – nothing moves or works without it.

So, as MBAs prepare for the digital demands of future roles, the former elective, Digital Business, has now become a core course. Structured around a live case, the course invites an external guest from a recognised organisation to task student teams with developing a business case and roadmap for transitioning to a digital business model.

It’s a smart – and necessary – move, says Sarah Tan (MBA 2015) and currently an MBA intern at Google:

“Digital is no longer a separate part of business, but companies are in different stages of adapting to that new reality. Many MBA classmates come from corporations where digital is still a bit of a bolt-on but, post-MBA, they may have their sights set on opportunities to participate in, or to lead, the transition to a new digital norm. Alternatively, they may want to join a start-up or the tech sector, where ‘getting’ digital isn’t even in the job description; it’s just a given.”

For Sarah, who already had digital expertise gained over a decade’s experience as a web developer, the MBA digital course offered a route out of being boxed in:

“Going into the MBA, I felt that my technical skills gave me a unique advantage. However, the Digital Business course made me realise how much that alone wasn’t enough. If I wasn’t able to persuade non-technical stakeholders, or position digital challenges in the context of the overall strategy, I would still be pigeon-holed as a technical specialist. As MBA candidates, we want to learn how to be broad as well as deep. No matter which end of the digital spectrum you start on, the course exposes you to the other side.”

For alumna Barbara Bottini (MBA 2008), news that the elective has become core is welcome. Having worked with digital agencies large and small, Barbara has a lengthy pedigree in designing and creating digital marketing products and services for clients like Nike and Ferrari. She has strong views on how her own discipline of marketing is embracing the digital age:

“Digital embraces all aspects of business now but traditional marketing is about 20 years behind! My advice to current MBAs would be to understand that there are different disciplines within digital marketing, so pick a few and really get to know them well so you have this very valuable skill set to offer. No matter what route you are taking post-MBA, you will find them a huge bonus.”

Barbara’s strategy was to take her digital marketing toolkit and her MBA toolkit and mesh them, while throwing in a human, psychologically-savvy customer approach rooted in user-experience and design thinking. She now has a set of skills which is continually drawing new clients to her freelance consultancy, Spark Valley:

“Some of my current projects include preparing strategy pitches for a Japanese agency and advising on the strategy and marketing for a mobile start-up in London. My digital knowledge and expertise is something that all my clients say they find attractive.”

Barbara is also keeping her Cambridge connections by consulting for Arcus Global, an award-winning digital innovation company focusing on the public sector and headed up by her MBA classmates Lars Malmqvist and Denis Kaminskiy. Arcus is currently making use of Barbara’s digital marketing skills as they prepare to scale up for the next few years. Digital and entrepreneurship are especially inter-connected, she says:

“The School environment is great because it now offers both and all MBAs need to have some grasp of digital and entrepreneurship skills, no matter what career path they are marking out – employers now expect you to have both. Even the big organisations now want MBAs who combine a solid, traditional skills base with entrepreneurial skills, digital knowledge and a creative approach.”

It’s a view endorsed by Ashwin Ahuja (MBA 2009), now Group Strategy Director for an American advertising agency with clients like Mars, Johnson & Johnson and Mercedes Benz:

“Digital is driving everything in business now – consumer relationships, sales, cost savings. Clients are no longer coming to us for beautiful creative solutions; they are coming with their business problems and looking to us for mainly digital solutions.

“At the same time, millennial consumers are channel agnostic – they are not concerned with which channel gave them a compelling message, they’re only interested in the message. This means that business strategists, and indeed anyone working in business, must also be agnostic. Clients are no longer tolerant of a divide between a consultant, an ad agency and a brand specialist (and post-recession they also don’t have the money to hire multiple agencies). They expect you to be able to offer everything they need, so we are all playing in each other’s territory now, and what people like me are looking to hire in an MBA is a lateral thinker who is digitally informed and able to cross-pollinate between what used to be diverse disciplines.”