Scaling up the MBA for relevance in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Fourth industrial revolution by Professor Osman Seedat, Dean of REGENT Business School

THE global economy is undergoing massive disruption. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has brought with it a world of “cyber-physical systems” characterised by the merging of physical, digital and biological realms in profound ways, and artificial intelligence (AI) serves as the primary catalyst of this transformation.

The digitally-enabled 4IR is already the fastest period of innovation in the history of humankind, underpinned by rapid advances in technologies including artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, nanotechnology and biotechnology, to name a few. The disruption of many traditional markets and industries is already under way.

We are witnessing changes that happen at an exponential rather than linear rate, and they affect all economies. No one knows yet where we are headed. Thus, business needs a deep understanding of technological trends. And any organisation that aims to succeed in this new era of continuously accelerating change will need to significantly adjust its approach to business.

The disruptive power of technology is very much evident with the ushering in of 4IR. It is important that the future generation of leaders should have an adequate appreciation of technology as future businesses will mostly be technology enabled, or built around emerging technologies.

In a world where automation is fast disrupting businesses, anyone in a leadership position must have adequate knowledge of technology as they would have to grapple with difficult decisions about the trade-offs between increasing automation and re-skilling those workers whose current skills are no longer useful. Business managers and leaders need to understand and comprehend advances in AI, robotics, machine learning and automation and their transformational impact.

A recent trend shows that business schools are gradually introducing in their MBA programmes courses providing over-arching views of AI, robotics and critical skills through coursework, case studies, seminars and conferences.

To be relevant in a changing world, education in hi-tech has to be a part of a business school’s curriculum. Course goals are to help students learn about what these technologies can deliver, and the challenges and opportunities for a company that uses them.

The future of business will be affected to a large degree by innovation, vast technological advancement and flexibility. The future snapshot of business landscapes is increasingly influenced by AI, automation, digitalisation and virtual spaces. In an era in which technosavviness is crucial, MBAs can serve as a stimulus of intellectual and digital creativity, problem-solving techniques and advanced analyses.

Equally, the business landscape of tomorrow, defined by digital literacy and automation requires candidates to be creative and critical thinkers.

Both technological and leadership- savviness demand that incumbents are able to execute strategic decisions, implement visions and tactical insights.

How well business schools and the MBA handle this transition to the 4IR might just determine whether the rise of technology will represent a boon or a burden for society in the 21st century and beyond.

Professor Osman Seedat is the Dean of REGENT Business School, and writes in his personal capacity