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Fall 2016 Issue
Volume 58, Issue # 1

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The Digital Future of Management

Frontiers Fall 2016

To celebrate the launch of Frontiers — a new MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management — we asked 15 leading lights from academia and industry to give us a glimpse into the future by contributing essays in response to this question: “Within the next five years, how will technology change the practice of management in a way we have not yet witnessed?”

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Management’s Digital Future Has Arrived

The impact of digital technology on how businesses design and produce goods, interact with their supply chains, manage internal communication, and connect with customers is a rich topic that has been, and continues to be, broadly addressed in both commercial and academic business media. But as the digital revolution enters its next phase, we find ourselves confronting a new set of questions about the relationship between technology and management. These questions go to the core of the organization.

The Hard Truth About Business Model Innovation

Attempts at business model innovation have led to both repeated failures as well as seemingly inexplicable successes — and few formulas to help guide business leaders. Yet a study of both failures and successes shows that the journey to successful innovation is predictable, although “travel time” differs by industry and circumstance. The manager’s dilemma is to identify whether the journey is one the company wants — or needs — to take.

Features

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Leading in an Unpredictable World

Frontiers |

Accenture’s chief executive on the challenges of leading in a world that’s almost impossible to predict.

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When Strategy Walks Out the Door

Managers should be skeptical consumers of external strategy advice. External strategy advice can be costly — and wrong. The best sources of insight about strategy tailored for your company can lie dormant within the company itself, in its employees. Ironically, companies often expend significant resources on obtaining flawed external advice while the employees with the best strategy ideas are ignored — and thus may walk out the door.

The 2016 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

This year’s winning article is “Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help,” by Fabian J. Sting, Christoph H. Loch, and Dirk Stempfhuber. The authors examine project planning and execution challenges and describe a case study of a company that designed a help process to encourage workers to seek and provide mutual assistance. The Beckhard Prize is awarded annually to the authors of the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development.

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Management’s Digital Future Has Arrived

  • Opinion & Analysis
  • Read Time: 2 min 

The impact of digital technology on how businesses design and produce goods, interact with their supply chains, manage internal communication, and connect with customers is a rich topic that has been, and continues to be, broadly addressed in both commercial and academic business media. But as the digital revolution enters its next phase, we find ourselves confronting a new set of questions about the relationship between technology and management. These questions go to the core of the organization.

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Harnessing the Best of Globalization

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 26 min 

Globalization offers significant opportunities, yet most companies approach key decisions haphazardly. Although the complexity of globalization means managers rarely can fully analyze a global business opportunity before they need to act, the basic tensions in global business models are straightforward. A simple analysis of global ventures along these dimensions can help entrepreneurs develop clearer expectations and decision-making processes.

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A New Approach to Automating Services

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 24 min 

Early adopters of software robots exemplify how companies generate tangible benefits via service innovations in three ways: (1) by developing an approach to service automation supported by top management, (2) by initiating effective processes that deliver value to customers and employees, and (3) by building enterprise-wide skills and capabilities. Managers interested in capturing the benefits of service automation need to pursue all three avenues.

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Why Digital Transformation Needs a Heart

  • Opinion & Analysis
  • Read Time: 4 min 

Digital innovation is transforming every part of the company, from customer experience to business models to operational management. But it’s people who make companies work. The digital economy shouldn’t be one where automation squeezes workers — and managers — out, but one where computers help employees to collaborate fluidly, make decisions scientifically, and manage better with automation than they ever could without it.

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Creating Management Processes Built for Change

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 13 min 

The business literature is full of references to “agile” processes, but what are they? Agility refers to an organization’s ability to make timely, effective, and sustained changes that maintain superior performance. Agile organizations continuously adjust to changing circumstances by changing product offerings, entering or exiting markets, or building new capabilities. This strategy requires management processes that can support adaptability over time.

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The Three New Skills Managers Need

  • Opinion & Analysis
  • Read Time: 5 min 

As digital technologies evolve, managers and employees will need to learn three important skills: partnering with new digital “colleagues,” creating a mindful relationship with omnipresent digital technologies, and developing empathy for the varying technology preferences of their human coworkers. Organizations, for their part, will need to design processes to support these efforts, and managers will need to be both flexible and thoughtful in how they respond.

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Designing and Developing Analytics-Based Data Products

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 18 min 

The combination of new analytical capabilities and burgeoning data assets are being used to form value-added “data products.” Such products have powered rapid growth in the value and success of online companies, but the expansion of analytics means the standard model for developing these products needs to evolve. An updated model needs to reflect new “time to market” expectations and input from a variety of stakeholders.

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Predicting a Future Where the Future Is Routinely Predicted

  • Opinion & Analysis
  • Read Time: 4 min 

The ability of artificial intelligence to sift through mountains of data and identify patterns — and problems — in real time is its key value for business. Using AI to predict failures and take action to prevent them will become commonplace in the very near future. But it can also offer insights into human behavior to help managers improve customer service and employee relations.

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A New Era of Corporate Conversation

  • Opinion & Analysis
  • Read Time: 5 min 

Social media technology is changing how managers and employees communicate and is breaking down traditional corporate heirarchy. To gain advantage from this trend, executives must recognize the value of dialogue and employees need to know that their leaders won’t punish them for expressing dissenting opinions. Executives will also need patience and a thick skin — but leaders who invest in truly open dialogue with their workforce will reap the long-term benefits.

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Unleashing Creativity With Digital Technology

  • Opinion & Analysis
  • Read Time: 4 min 

In business, it’s costly to try something new, especially if it doesn’t work out. But in the digital era, technology can be deployed to augment the creative abilities of people and organizations. Today’s digital technologies have reached a level of maturation that enables cheap and rapid iteration to make new, invaluable forms of innovation possible.

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Digital Today, Cognitive Tomorrow

  • Opinion & Analysis
  • Read Time: 4 min 

Digital transformation is happening all around us, but it’s the foundation for a much more profound transformation still to come. With huge challenges facing humanity on many fronts — climate, disease, population, food and water — we need cognitive technologies to augment human problem-solving capabilities. And those technologies are almost here.

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The Hard Truth About Business Model Innovation

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 30 min 

Attempts at business model innovation have led to both repeated failures as well as seemingly inexplicable successes — and few formulas to help guide business leaders. Yet a study of both failures and successes shows that the journey to successful innovation is predictable, although “travel time” differs by industry and circumstance. The manager’s dilemma is to identify whether the journey is one the company wants — or needs — to take.

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When Strategy Walks Out the Door

  • Opinion & Analysis
  • Read Time: 5 min 

Managers should be skeptical consumers of external strategy advice. External strategy advice can be costly — and wrong. The best sources of insight about strategy tailored for your company can lie dormant within the company itself, in its employees. Ironically, companies often expend significant resources on obtaining flawed external advice while the employees with the best strategy ideas are ignored — and thus may walk out the door.

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How to Manage Alliances Strategically

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 19 min 

Companies that lack the resources and knowledge to undertake key strategic growth initiatives often seek partners who can fill in the gaps. The skills that make such alliances work, however, aren’t well understood; executives often make flawed assumptions that prevent the partnership from achieving its goals. An integrative, holistic framework for alliance management helps executives avoid these pitfalls and create value via strategic alliances.

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The 2016 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 2 min 

This year’s winning article is “Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help,” by Fabian J. Sting, Christoph H. Loch, and Dirk Stempfhuber. The authors examine project planning and execution challenges and describe a case study of a company that designed a help process to encourage workers to seek and provide mutual assistance. The Beckhard Prize is awarded annually to the authors of the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development.

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Using Artificial Intelligence to Set Information Free

  • Opinion & Analysis
  • Read Time: 7 min 

Artificial Intelligence is about to transform management from an art into a combination of art and science. Not because we’ll be taking commands from science fiction’s robot overlords, but because specialized AI will allow us to apply data science to our human interactions at work in a way that earlier theorists like Peter Drucker could only imagine.

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Managing the Bots That Are Managing the Business

  • Opinion & Analysis
  • Read Time: 5 min 

We are just at the beginning of the transformation from an economy dominated by human workers to one dominated by electronic workers. The great management challenge of the next few decades will be understanding how to get the best out of both humans and machines, and understanding the ins and outs of who manages whom.