Educating the Digital Innovator
At Babson College we use the term digital innovator to describe a graduate who knows how to use modern digital infrastructure and tools to transform existing businesses or conceive and build new ones. It is through the mastery of digital technologies that the digital innovator can test ideas fast and reliably, accelerating the pace of innovation, launching new product and services, adapting to shifting market conditions quicker than competitors. In a previous blog post, we addressed the role of the digital innovator in shaping digital transformation. In this blog post, we describe the traits of the digital innovator and the curriculum we have designed and believe is necessary to educate and train digital innovators, the leaders of business digital transformation. Beyond business acumen and digital skills (i.e., deep familiarity with digital platforms and technologies), we have identified four essential traits and four characteristic competencies of the digital innovator.
Four traits define the ways digital innovators perceive and frame problems, and seek novel solutions mustering digital resources:
- Entrepreneurial orientation – Digital innovators are agile, inclined to action, swiftly realizing value from opportunities.
- Innovativeness – Digital innovators are capable of original thinking and generating inventive solutions, enjoy interacting with information technologies, and have a clear predisposition for experimentation.
- Deliberate thinking, with a preference for wicked problems and tolerance for ambiguity – Digital innovators enjoy and deliberately engage in thinking, excelling at systematizing and pattern finding, which makes them quick at discerning the relevant from the irrelevant for a particular decision.
- Entrepreneurial and technology self-efficacy – Digital innovators have a strong sense of efficacy—with their ability to capitalize on opportunity and use technology to achieve—paired with self-awareness of their strengths, weaknesses and thinking biases.
Four competencies are the staple of the digital innovator. These are the enterprising behaviors by which they create value:
- Agile experimentation – The digital innovator is an agile experimenter, with high speed-to-market. The digital innovator knows how to leverage the existing digital infrastructure to quickly reach the market and socialize the product or service.
- Harnessing social networks – To shape minimum viable products, and to improve them once created, digital innovators use their own and their company’s network to test ideas, gain feedback on their viability, and adjust course. On their network, digital innovators act as brokers of novel information.
- Leveraging mentors – A digital innovator also knows how to use the very same social network to identify mentors and influencers for their ideas.
- Ecosystem thinking – Digital innovators know how to leverage and build complex ecosystems, which help them generate synergistic relationships with other companies and satisfy a customer needs. They create working environments—with others, with technology, and with platforms—conductive of calculated testing and action.
Over the past year, faculty in the Division of Technology, Operations and Information Management have been deeply engaged in the process of transforming our information technology management concentration. We have identified a set of courses and pedagogical approaches for educating digital innovators. Based on our findings, the concentration has been divided into four tracks from which students can select the four required courses. In addition to the four concentration classes, our concentrators take a core introductory class in managing information technology and systems.
The four tracks designed for our concentrators are: Creator, Analyst, Designer and Entrepreneur. We require that all the concentrators select one course from the Creator track. All the students concentrating in information technology management will be primed on the traits and deliberately practice the competencies of a digital innovator.
- The Analyst track includes courses that will prepare our students to be productive in their roles as consultants or analysts. It includes courses like modeling with Excel, social network analysis, business intelligence and data analytics, digital marketing, and project management.
- The Designer track includes classes on design thinking, agile methods, UX design, and security topics.
- The Entrepreneurial track helps our budding entrepreneurs use the existing infrastructure to accelerate their new business ideas. Under this domain, we include our social network class, a class on understanding clouds, platforms and ecosystems, a new course studying the architecture of mobile apps, and a class that will expose our budding entrepreneurs to the current technologies for productivity and enterprise resource management.
All of our classes teach students key concepts and frameworks from the discipline, followed by tools that can support and implement the strategy. We find that hands-on skills are essential for students to claim understanding of concepts and help companies implement their strategy. In addition, each course includes projects that help our students gain hands-on experience with the tools, challenging their understanding of concepts, making them reflect, and building awareness on outcomes and improve performance. These experiential elements and individual reflections on lessons learned help our students tell a clear story to recruiters on what they are capable of doing for their companies.
We offer a number of courses following this pedagogical approach. Our design thinking class will expose students to a unique method of problem solving. Also, in many of the courses that our students may take subsequently, will use the design thinking method in a hackathon format, learning to problem solve under time constraints.
Our students will experience integration with other disciplines via class projects that encourage them to apply course concepts across disciplines. We uphold the strong believe that understanding and managing technology is essential for all majors, not just for our concentrators. We aim to educate the future generation of knowledge workers—no matter what their field of study in business is—to leverage technology and be digital innovators.
We will also be introducing new courses that are cross-functional by design. For example, we may introduce a course on marketing and IT that will teach students how to use marketing automation tools to implement a marketing strategy. Currently, we are designing a technology boot camp for our entrepreneurs with an interest in information products or services. These cross-functional courses will be offered according to student demand.
Next year, we will be introducing a few classes that are based on industry collaboration. We are in discussions to teach a class on cognitive computing that will use technology provided by IBM’s Watson. As another example, in a class that will be focused on the Internet of Things we will use platforms that are supported by PTC or Xively. This close association with industry sponsors will help us find experts in emerging areas and create internship opportunities for our students.
To help us with the redesign, we sought guidance from an advisory board that has gone over the first version of our revised curriculum and provided us with great feedback. Also, in collaboration with the career center, we had a technology day event that helped our students learn more about career opportunities within the information systems field.
To further the agenda of the division and promote the creation of startups relying on digital products or services built on digital infrastructure, our next step is to create a lab that will support all our technological needs. We already have a DesignZone that supports our design thinking classes, but we need to equip it with data storage, IoT platforms, hardware and software technologies to experiment, and analysis software to make sense of the data generated by the technologies and apply what students learned in their analytics courses.
We would love to hear about other innovative curriculum designs in the information systems field. In addition, if you have recommendations for classes we ought to be teaching, please leave us a comment. We value your input and appreciate your feedback, and will post any changes made to our curriculum during our next round of revisions.