Relevance Of An MBA In Today's Technology-Driven Business World

Arun Rak Ramchandran, EVP & Global Head - Hi-Tech & Professional Services, Hexaware TechnologiesArun is a strategy expert and a thought-leader in the fields of Trust, Technology & Transformation, and has successfully led business units, teams, and turnarounds in multiple industry situations and organizational contexts.

I visited my alma-mater, IIM Calcutta last December for our MBA batch's Silver Jubilee Reunion. It felt like a homecoming of sorts, especially to be back in a sort of familiar environment (the campus has expanded beyond recognition, but some of the old haunts and landmarks were still very much there!), and be with fellow batchmates, meet old professors, and revisit nostalgic rituals (and pranks). I also got a chance to interact closely with the current set of students during the reunion activities (and I thought to myself about how mature and responsible they were compared to me in those days), and during a presentation that we did to them as part of my company's pre-placement talk.

From my early beginnings, post-MBA with Asian Paints in Sales & Marketing to now being part of the senior leadership of a technology services organization that is considered a `Digital David' in the industry, my career has come a long way and spanned multiple geographies, organizations, and industries. I now live in the heart of Silicon Valley, and consider myself lucky and fortunate to be an integral part of what I consider to be one of the most consequential trends in the business world ­ the central role of technology in disrupting and shaping our personal and professional lives, and in defining the public and private institutions, organizations, and corporations we belong to.

Over the past two decades, powerful economic, social, and techno-logical forces are transforming the world in ways that few people fully understand. When technology is no longer just an enabler of business, but it is the business, is the syllabus of MBA degree still relevant? While it provides the basics on how businesses are structured and run, does the MBA education still deliver the edge for a graduate to be able to grasp and get ahead of these transformational changes?

While I have interacted with fellow MBAs all through my career, it is in my current role as the sponsor of Hexaware's Management Trainee programs (#HexaSMT) that I am much more closely involved in campus visits, placement talks, hiring and training decisions of fresh MBA graduates from premier institutes. I definitely observe a much higher percentage of candidates with engineering degrees and with technology work experience, as well as an increased awareness (and attractiveness) of the career paths in the technology sector. But based on what I have seen and observed, I am not convinced that our MBA education, even in Tier-1 institutes in India, has evolved to keep pace with the new realities of the technology-driven business world. Here are some of my observations, and suggestions, to make the MBA graduates and the MBA degree more relevant in today's context.

The Platform Revolution
Today's cutting-edge companies like AirBnB, Uber, Paypal, Amazon, and others are built on platforms: two-sided markets that are revolutionizing the way we do business. Whether platforms are connecting buyers with sellers, hosts and visitors, or drivers with people who need a ride, they are upending the classic definitions, terms and frameworks that typical MBA education and traditional businesses focus on: that of a customer and supplier (in a platform economy, you can be both!), a linear value chain (it
is not), pipeline approach of sourcing to fulfilment (no longer), market segmentation (diffused), competitor analysis (can spring from anywhere), marketing (think viral), pricing (measurement of value and commercial aspects are so different), and so much more.

What's more; platforms are be-ginning to transform a range of other economic and social arenas, from healthcare to energy to government to education. It is highly likely that platforms have already affected one's life as an employee, a professional, a business leader, a customer, and as a human being! None of this is being addressed in a focused manner in our MBA curricula. Understanding the principles governing economic growth and business competition in the era of platforms should be an integral part of MBA education to make it more relevant.

An MBA course is costly and one of the most expensive investments that a student makes in his or her education: the value in real-life and future benefits need to clearly demonstrate its relevance and worth in today's digital economy

Focus on Entrepreneurship & Startup Mindset
Disruptive technology fueled startups have shaken our world and achieved market dominance in just over a few years. Leaders like Google, Face-book, Tesla, Uber, Flipkart, and others were a gleam in someone's eyes, or a few jottings in someone's lunch napkin, about 10-15 years ago. And now, they rule the world. The Top-5 companies by market capitalization in the world today are technology companies that have grown by NOT respecting traditional notions of segments, boundaries, and profitability.

Our MBA education is still geared primarily towards the functions, operations, and processes for larger steady-state entities stable on-going concerns, and existing market segments. The syllabus and coursework have heavy doses of Traditional Sales, Marketing, Operations, Finance, and many others, with the focus on entrepreneurship, startups and disruptive growth as afterthoughts. Alternative sources of capital (like VCs), funding mechanisms to fuel the future (like Pes), or new investment strategies, and the whole startup ecosystem that exists in clusters like Silicon Valley, are not considered part of mainstream finance syllabus. Focus on risk-taking, entrepreneur-ship and the startup mentality should become core to the MBA education.

Leverage of Technology in the Classrooms
One of the problem statements we posed as part of Techno-business challenge that we ran for the IIMC MBA students was to discuss student's experience in the classrooms and how to incorporate technology to make it more engaging, equitable, and contemporary. Ideas ranged from better learning management systems to incorporating advanced AR/VR techniques that bring the world's best teachers and pedagogy right into the classroom in an immersive manner.

The reality on the campuses is quite different. Classrooms are not designed to make use of such advances, even in some of the Tier-1 institutes that I have visited. There is not enough investment in technologies that open doors to a brave new world. Partnerships with state-of-the-art innovation labs and modern campuses globally are still at experimental stages. If students don't experience breakthrough technologies and concepts during their formative years or don't see it being adopted in real-life situations, they will continue to think of them as fantasy material. We also need more professors and aides to push themselves out of their com-fort zones to bring such changes to the classrooms!

Integration of the Fuzzy with the Techie
It is no secret that many of the graduates from premier engineering institutes like IITs are walking away with more attractive and challenging job offers from the very same companies that visit the MBA institutes too (and these are not just the technology companies like Microsoft or Google, but also consulting firms like McKinsey, Investment Banks like Goldman Sachs, or even leading e-Commerce firms like Amazon). These firms are looking for candidates with analytical chops, comfort with disruptive technologies, executive presence, problem-solving abilities, great communication skills, and an understanding of business drivers. Success in the digital world involves a combination of left-brain with right-brain skills, an integration of the fuzzy with the techie.

MBAs are currently struggling to provide a deeper synthesis of the human aspects of businesses with the technology dimensions. Better integration of the softer skills like human psychology, cultural empathy, pattern recognition, history, creativity, and customer experience with the digital and harder skills, will make for better-rounded graduates that are primed for break-through innovation, and leadership in the emerging economy.

There is a tremendous value to an MBA degree if it incorporates these suggestions and evolves to keep pace with the changing world around us. An MBA course is costly and one of the most expensive investments that a student makes in his/her education. The value in real-life and future benefits need to clearly demonstrate its relevance and worth in today's digital economy. We can make it happen by relooking at the course content, design and pedagogy; role of intern-ships and exposure to startups; lever-age of technology in the classrooms; integrating softer skills with digital capabilities and investing in up skilling of professors and instructors to make them more contemporary!