Adaptation, repair, or a new opportunity?

Business Impact: Adaptation, repair, or a new opportunity?

How has Covid-19 changed Business Schools’ priorities? AMBA & BGA was joined by experts from technology company, Barco, and representatives from the business education community to explore what the future might look like for Business Schools and their students in the post-Covid digital economy. By Edward Jacques and David Woods-Hale

Digitalisation is deemed to be the most important concept in the running of a Business School over the next 10 years, with almost two-thirds of leaders (63%) believing it to be very important, according to AMBA & BGA Education Technology Research, in association with Barco. 

In fact, a whopping 83% of leaders think it is either ‘very likely’ or ‘fairly likely’ that the fundamentals of the MBA will change in the next 10 years, compared with 76% who were of this opinion in late 2019.  

The research also found that Business Schools are looking forward to a new era of education technology, having made a success of online learning provision in 2020 – and Business School leaders have shown their Schools to have been both pragmatic and agile in the face of 2020’s disruption.

The next steps for Business School leaders across the world is to move from crisis mode to further innovation, in order to develop and finesse their tech strategy as global economies start to move into recovery as vaccines reduce the impact of Covid-19. 

AMBA & BGA, in association with Barco, held a focus group with decision-makers from Business Schools across Europe to find out in more qualitative terms whether Business Schools have changed, updated, or tweaked their models because of the pandemic during the past year; what plans are afoot for the coming 12-18 months; how Schools are identifying new opportunities for the year ahead; and how they are driving digital transformation and skills development. 

AMBA & BGA was joined by experts from technology company Barco – as well as representatives from the business education community – to explore the challenges. During a lively discussion, panellists took stock of what had changed since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, what they have learned, and what the future might look like for Business Schools and their students in the digital economy. Here are some highlights from the conversation. 

Simone Hammer, Global Head of Marketing Teaching and Training, Barco

We worked with a couple of early-adopting Business Schools that tried out our virtual classroom when the pandemic started, and they were happy and deployed more and expanded what they had in place. 

Many [Business Schools] have used conferencing systems to get through the pandemic – but we all thought it would be over in a couple of months and we now know that this is not the case. These Schools had the option to expand because they had technology already in place. 

Lots of people needed to be educated in understanding the solutions that are out there that can really bring them an immersive and engaging experience. I would that, say since the end of last year, lots of Business Schools have come to understand that platforms such as Zoom or Teams cannot deliver the level of engagement and the learning outcomes that they would expect for their programmes – and specifically executive education. We also are working with the corporate community to deliver learning and development to employees, and we are observing the same trends in this arena.

So in light of this, what is the way into the future? What have we learned? I would personally like to go a little bit further, and ask what is the revolution now? What can we do to be more inclusive and reach out to more people [through technology]? How can we make it more engaging?  What about belonging? What are the priorities and how can we help Business Schools to be even better despite the pandemic?

Schools need to embrace horizontal learning and create connections. Technology must enhance the physical and digital learning experience. I believe hybrid working and learning will be the new norm. 

How do we prepare the students for life outside the university? Business leaders want people who have a certain experience. They want them to learn something but they also want them to be prepared for a future in their companies. 

Rebecca Loades, Director, Career Accelerator Programs, ESMT Berlin  

At ESMT, we have separated content creation and content delivery in blended and online learning. This allows us to share and swap content with other Schools more easily.

When designing for online, every single minute of the course is thought about in depth. We therefore have to be much more precise in our preparation than when we are offering a course in person. Having that control, and being able to apply that rigour, is the gift of an asynchronous environment. 

Each of our online courses has a defined manual about how it should be taught. This approach enables us to separate course development and course delivery so that students learn from faculty with superb domain knowledge but may engage with a different faculty member during their learning journey.

We have some 550 degree-seeking students and a relatively small faculty body, so we had to make sure that we are using them in a way that equips us to serve our population base now, and also creates a platform for the future. 

In the global online MBA, the advantage for students is that they’re going to be learning in – and from – a programme that has virtual collaboration at its heart.  This means students are using technology for learning, and are learning from technology.  The first module in the Global Online MBA focuses on managing in a connected world. It provides students with hands-on insights around how to work with, and within, virtual teams.

At our Business School, we have invested approximately €500,000 EUR to upgrade our auditoriums. We have microphones at every seat and cameras that focus on who is speaking. This helps us to create an engaging environment. We also assign what we call a ‘co-pilot’ to each of our faculty members. In pure online, the co-pilot manages the chat and the technology; in hybrid scenarios, the co-pilot is the bridge between the online and in-person attendees. By having someone focused specifically on students who are not physically present, we ensure their voices are heard. We want to remove any sense of physical separation, so that virtual participants are equal contributors to the classroom. 

In a hybrid session, all students are required to connect via Zoom, including those who are physically present. It has contributed to a richer classroom experience as students share observations, insights, and related resources through the chat function. This not only helps students who are shy or don’t have English as their first language, but also nudges students to share things they may not think are worth interrupting faculty for, and yet which will support learning.

Gunther Friedl, Dean, TUM School of Management

We are still offering a classroom experience. If students have time, then they can come here; if they don’t, they basically tell us they cannot travel. 

Some students would like remote access [to learning] and others say they want to have the social experience. We have to accommodate all these needs in the classroom and that is a challenge because it requires technology. 

We learned how to integrate students from abroad into the hybrid learning setting, but this was quite a journey because students need to understand everybody in the room, so you require the technology to make this possible. 

This demand has grown extremely quickly during the past 15 months. Before [the pandemic] we were able to say ‘no’ to such demands. This is now our offering, and I don’t think [saying ‘no’] will be possible in the future so this [hybrid] flexibility
will be required by all institutions moving forward. 

Mindsets [in Business Schools] need to change to draw on possibilities and flexibilities, but students themselves need to be flexible as this is the new normal. 

Hybrid extends to other areas. No one thought hybrid meetings and learning [would replace] physical meetings, but this format will be around in the future.

Céline Davesne, Associate Dean, NEOMA Business School

We are currently working on hybrid and online learning with new pedagogy and a task force – including students, faculty, and other stakeholders. 

We are looking at ways we can manage networking experiences, and social aspects for students. We do feel, at NEOMA, that our virtual campus will be able to answer all these elements. Our virtual campus is a campus just like the others at the School: it has a library, amphitheatres, and student clubs. Everything is there, so students just use their avatars within that campus. 

We strongly believe in it and the high satisfaction rate from students means we are able to meet [their expectations]. The students were able to discuss things together, play football together, they could attend concerts together, and so on. We managed to recreate a social environment via virtual reality. 

This is something we want to keep and even to extend and I want to apply all these innovations to our executive MBA cohorts in Iran or China, for example.The virtual campus will be the place where our students have common case studies, and they can work together from cross-cultural perspectives. This makes a difference from Zoom because we can have the whole cohort in one amphitheatre to start with and then they can all join online as they wake up [in their respective time zones] and go to different classes and work together. This means that time and space can be seen completely differently, and that is an added value that we want our MBA students to explore.  

MBA students can use the virtual campus when they want to work with participants from different continents, and this means they can truly experience technology. They don’t simply use [technology], they experience something that’s almost fixed physically and cognitively. When they go back to their companies, students can say that they have worked with people of various nationalities remotely and have used a different technology that might be of interest to their company or [a future employer] when they want to boost their career. This is something we really want to enable for them. 

We’re talking about the digital workplace, so we want to enable the transition between what students are experiencing at Business School during their MBA on the virtual campus, and the working environment. 

Terri Simpkin, Director, Executive MBA, Nottingham University Business School

We’ve found that it’s not just about replacing the physical on-campus experience because of the [Covid-19] crisis. We’ve seen that students who would – under normal circumstances – sit in the back of the room and would probably never engage at all; people who perhaps can’t get a word in because there are more assertive people in the room. Those people are having their voices heard.  

People who are introverted, who don’t feel comfortable, or people who don’t have English as a first language are making highly valuable and timely contributions to a much broader conversation. It comes back to the idea of this learning experience being co-created.  

Before Covid-19, there was no compelling, burning reason for us to move to a situation in which we were putting ourselves into a position – as educators – where we were replicating and amplifying the emerging managerial and leadership paradigms that we were seeing coming from industry. 

We want to produce graduates who can manage in crisis situations; we want graduates who are able to think more expansively; we want to be able to challenge the prevailing notions of what leadership actually looks like. You can do that much better when you’re immersed in a space where it is a moving feast. 

We can’t underestimate the value of providing that real-time, real-life experience, but the technology has to be there to support it. Now the technology is a platform that provides [Business Schools] with the tools to do this. The whole notion of how MBAs are actually put to our communities, not just the students but our communities more generally, has to be reimagined and this is a really good point in time to do that. 

Antonio Giangreco, Director of Graduate Programmes, IESEG

In terms of technology and what we can use, there is a very long path ahead, because during the Covid-19 pandemic, we had a considerably higher volume of requests for psychological counselling that we had pre-Covid. 

In our School, we have very small groups with classes of less than 30 participants, so interaction in the classroom is guaranteed. Of course, in any other classroom –with 300 students – being there physically or accessing the lectures remotely from home, does not make a lot of difference. But when you are in a small environment, your peers push you to participate, even if you are in front of a computer. 

The world will never be the same. Everything has become reachable from everywhere. I think that this will lead to more flexibility so that, in some companies, employees will not need to go into the office anymore. 

This means we need to have people who are able to train, be trained, and then work in this context. This is a very good – but very tough – challenge for us as educators.

Learning should be enabling and if we ask what the enablers of learning are, the answer would be this horizontal learning, connections, and networking.

As Business Schools, we have to ask ourselves whether we can build something that might not be able to completely substitute a classroom experience but can help students get more from online learning; in other words, we nee to replicate the connection to the business world using horizontal learning. 

We need to be able to deliver the connection and networking, as well as the social aspect of a Business School, in an online environment. 

Preben Schack, VP of Sales, Learning Experience Division, Barco

It’s exciting being part of this revolution in online learning. I have been part of many disruptions throughout my life in the media world and I see this as one of the next disruptions. I’m fascinated to find out how we can use technology to make our education even better. 

I don’t think that what we have experienced throughout the pandemic is at its end. I think it’s at its beginning. I can confirm that what we hear around the world is that executives love to use online platforms, but they are more discerning when choosing software and programmes. This might have to change as we move forward to meet the needs of different MBA students and their courses.  

The big question for me is how do we make that experience better and how do we use technology to connect? The experience of teaching needs to be engaging and immersive but also affordable. And for this to happen, a possible strategy could be for institutions to collaborate and share technologies and platforms. 

How can we give professors, teachers, and students an even better experience in the educational space?  That is what I’m passionate about.  

Moderator 
David Woods-Hale, Director of Marketing and Communications, AMBA & BGA

Panellists
Céline Davesne, Associate Dean, NEOMA Business School
Gunther Friedl, Dean, TUM School of Management
Antonio Giangreco, Director of Graduate Programmes, IESEG
Simone Hammer, Global Head of Marketing Teaching and Training, Barco
Rebecca Loades, Director, Career Accelerator Programs, ESMT Berlin  
Preben Schack, VP of Sales, Learning Experience Division, Barco
Terri Simpkin, Director, Executive MBA, Nottingham University Business School

This article is adapted from one which originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Ensuring managers of the future have the skills they need

Vladimir Vano, Group Economist at CentralNIC Group, was a keynote speaker at AMBA & BGA’s Business School Professionals Conference 2019 in Vienna, Austria. Here, he outlines his views on the changing workplace and how new skills will be required to grapple with digitisation and automation

What topics did you cover in your talk at AMBA’s conference?

I focused on how MBA programmes should prepare for the automation, robotisation and technological transformation of the workplace. How should MBA programmes change, in order to adapt to that transformation? The answer is by focusing on the following seven skills that are unlikely to be automated in the foreseeable future: 

  1. Effective communication skills
  2. Critical thinking skills and having an innovative and creative mindset
  3. Having a broad perspective and the ability to understand context
  4. Emotional competence: self-awareness and social awareness 
  5. Teaching and coaching skills; the ability to lead people
  6. Networking skills and the ability to build fruitful relationships 
  7. A moral compass: the ability to make ethical decisions and having a set of core values

How will digitisation and automation change the workplace of the future? 

We are talking about the third generation of automation. It began, in the 20th century, with the automation of repetitive, mundane manual work and tasks. In the 21st century, even decision-making processes will be replaced by the machines, algorithms and AI. From the economist’s viewpoint, digitisation and automation should free up humans to take on more fulfilling, creative tasks, leaving the repetitive, mundane and boring tasks to the machines. But the workplace of the future will be a blend of semi-autonomous, or even autonomous, machines which will interact with and work alongside humans.

How can the managers of the future ensure they have the skills needed to remain employable? 

I would say that there are five steps towards remaining employable in the future, and these are to:

  • Upgrade your level of education: take an MBA or do some executive. education; keep challenging yourself
  • Strengthen your ‘human skills’ that cannot be replicated by machines.
  • Learn to interact with, oversee and monitor the machines and algorithms that will be present in the workplace of the future. 
  • Find a niche that is too expensive to automate.
  • Learn to code; it will be one of the basic skills of the future. 

What are the ethical implications of the digital revolution? 

In the analogue world, business leaders were focused on optimisation; satisfying the needs of existing customers using the resources available to them. 

There was a limited workforce with the required skills available. However, now, you can create as many robots as you need. You can optimise your profits in line with global demand. 

Therefore, digitisation is significantly broadening business horizons and bringing ethical dilemmas to the fore. This means it will be even more important to have strong human leadership to set boundaries. In future, with the almost unlimited supply of robot workforce, we may be able to produce cheap gadgets for literally everyone on the planet – potentially putting a huge strain on the environment. Do we allow this to run unchecked, despite the consequences for the planet? That’s just one example of an ethical dilemma we will face going forwards; another is the potential dangers associated with driverless cars. 

There will be a growing need for leaders to have a moral compass – something that cannot be replicated by a machine and that should be in a manager’s core skill set.

This article previously formed part of a larger feature published in Ambition, the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

How to use education technology in Business Schools – and why

Technology can help Business Schools meet the evolving needs of their students. Alain Goudey outlines NEOMA Business School’s use of virtual reality in the classroom

The adage, ‘tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn’ is often attributed to US inventor and polymath, Benjamin Franklin. My years of experience as Marketing Professor at NEOMA Business School in France, have shown me that this saying holds true. And now, as Chief Digital Officer at the School, I challenge my faculty colleagues with the power of digital tools for a highly needed transformation of the higher education sector. 

My mantra is ‘disrupt before being disrupted’. It’s time for today’s digital culture to spread into Business Schools, worldwide. The mission of the Business School Professor has dramatically evolved in the past two years, due to the huge technological wave which we are now riding. I believe that, as a Professor, I have to prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that have not yet been invented, to solve problems that have not yet been raised. 

Employment: a technological shift

According to a 2008 article by Centron and Davis in The Futurist, everything we knew about technology in 2008 will account for only 1% of what we will know about it by 2050. Research and technology is evolving at an exponential rate and this will have a deep impact on organisations and jobs, reshaping skill requirements. There are a great number of figures to illustrate this trend: 

  • Up to 85% of jobs that will be available in 2030 don’t exist yet, according to a 2017 report from Dell Technologies. 
  • Almost half (47%) of jobs in the US and 35% in the UK are at risk of automation over the next decade or two, according to a 2013 study by economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne. 
  • In France, 42% of jobs are under threat of automation, according to the consulting firm Roland Berger (2015).
  • The average projected job loss across OECD countries is 57%, according to a 2016 World Bank Development Report.

I’m convinced that 100% of jobs will be transformed in the coming years and a significant proportion of them will effectively disappear due to automation with wide-ranging impact on local and regional job markets. In parallel, new jobs have been appearing for decades thanks to the evolution of the internet, and mobile and data markets. 

New ways of learning

A vast quantity of information is now widely available online. With more than 4.7bn web pages to choose from, hundreds of new videos uploaded to YouTube every minute of the day, a wide choice of social networks and millions of apps to download, access to information, experts and tools has never been easier. Much of this information is streamed directly to your pocket 24/7 thanks to the mobile phone.

Finding relevant and accurate information is far less simple. Nowadays, the challenge is finding the right information at the right time. Professors have to enhance their students’ skills around the critical analysis of online content, tools and expertise. 

The student demographic is also evolving, with so-called ‘digital natives’ proliferating within Business Schools, but there is a tremendous need for all employees to become lifelong learners.

Game-changers in higher education

In the early 2000s, the very first e-learning platforms appeared in the education sector and, in 2008, the MOOC phenomenon gained momentum, thanks to companies such as edX, Udacity or Coursera. During this period, education technology (edtech) providers, including the Khan Academy, Udemy, Coorpacademy, and LinkedIn Learning, also emerged, leading to a plethora of accessible content direct from experts. 

Knowledge is available in the desired format anytime, anywhere, and on any device: from a two-hour recorded masterclass to a one-minute ‘how-to’ YouTube video. Moreover, e-learning platforms are evolving into adaptive learning platforms so that content can be adapted automatically, thanks to algorithms and data, which can set the pace of the learning to suit the abilities and preferences of the learners. This could be the end of the ‘one-best-way’ approach to higher education. In short, it is impossible for us to continue teaching in the way we have done for decades. 

The needs of businesses have also evolved. The World Economic Forum expects critical thinking, creativity, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility to be the key skills that individuals now need to develop for the workplace. Business Schools are therefore strongly advised to explore alternative and disruptive ways of teaching in the classroom.

Using virtual reality case studies 

Since 2016, I have been using immersive virtual reality (VR) to teach merchandising and marketing to thousands of students, thanks to the #ExE Project (experiential education). This is an immersive, VR-based application designed and developed at NEOMA Business School for its specific needs.

VR is a great tool for enhancing the learning experience. For instance, VR can:

  • Make business students experiment with technology and consider what they could do with the technology later as managers.
  • Reinforce the involvement of students by breaking the learning routine. Students are totally engaged during the class, have fun and are active with the learning.
  • Develop a systemic approach, in a non-linear way, to analysing complexity. The experience is much more realistic than a traditional business case with dozens of pages of linear facts and interviews.
  • Avoid group think; students are fully immersed and can live the experience as individuals.
  • Promote interactive and action-based learning by offering access to a wide variety of locations and managerial contexts. The feedback is faster and more efficient.

With this technology, we aim to achieve three key improvements around learning: 

1. Faster learning: the use of VR speeds up the learning process. Students are more engaged and involved in the case studies, and this means that they pick up the marketing concepts linked to the business case more quickly.

2. More memorable learning: students are likely to be positively influenced by this innovative and novel style of teaching. Its effects will therefore last longer and they stand to remember key concepts more clearly.

3. More complete learning: students experience the world in its full complexity and in a ‘natural non-linear’ way: they enhance their critical-thinking skills and creativity, thanks to shorter feedback loops around the experience itself during class.

Neuroscience has shown that incorporating gaming and active student involvement into learning creates powerful shifts. This is precisely what VR technology facilitates. I therefore recommend that other Business Schools invest in this area in the very near future.

Innovation and faculty

Launching the #ExE Project was a wonderful adventure because it gave us the opportunity to understand how people respond to disruptive technology, such as VR. Students were amazed that their Business School was so innovative and discovered this technology as a result of our classes. Staff and faculty members were more sceptical, however, and wished to see the technology in action before being convinced.

At the outset, VR was viewed by many staff and faculty as a gimmick as they lacked a thorough understanding of the value it brings to the classroom. To convince them, we organised demonstrations and seminars in which we explored how to engage a class with VR and what it can provide, both for students and professors.

We brought together a team of five marketing professors to disseminate the findings around our first VR-based case study. During a two-hour meeting, I personally taught them how to use it in their classes; I was also present when they used the technology for the first time, to assist and reassure them. 

In addition, our technical VR team is always on hand to help faculty set up technical elements of a case study. A member is present at every class using this technology, to ensure it goes smoothly and to enable professors to focus on teaching. Two years later, we launched our second VR-based case study; this was designed by my colleague Aurélien Rouquet on the subject of supply chain management, featuring the biggest drive-in hypermarket in France, E.Leclerc. We have a third case study planned for the field of HR, using another large French company. 

Faculty lie at the heart of successful innovation within Business Schools and it is incumbent on Schools to create an environment that supports innovation. At NEOMA, we are lucky to have faculty rules that recognise the value of innovation in teaching. Without such rules, innovation would be unlikely to take root.

It may take time to convince colleagues of the value of a disruptive technology. I have had to explain to peers the value of VR, show people how it works in practice and repeat this time and again, in order to win their trust and backing. Not all disciplines or individual professors will be interested in innovation, and it is unlikely that you will convert everyone to your way of thinking. Demonstrating value creation for learners and professors will support your cause.

It should, however, become clear to all that today’s Business Schools are operating within a period of technological transformation, which is affecting entire sectors and most organisations. Schools need to support students and lifelong learners through this period of drastic change, and to do this successfully they also need to transform themselves. Digital transformation is not an option but a necessity.

To conclude, let me remind you of a quote from management guru, Peter Drucker: ‘The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.’ Don’t be afraid of the turbulence, go forth and transform. 

Alain Goudey is Chief Digital Officer and Professor of Marketing at NEOMA Business School in France. He is also Founding Partner of AtooMedia, a sound design agency, and its subsidiary, Mediavea, a retail marketing provider. 

Winning at interview and preparing for AI-infused recruitment

If your CV was good enough to get you an interview, that’s great, but looking good on paper is just the starting point. At interview, you have to demonstrate that you have the skills to do the job and will be a good fit with the team.

Your audition

An interview is an audition – your opportunity to shine and prove you are the perfect person for the role. The actor Harlan Hogan is famous for delivering the catchphrase, ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression…’ and it certainly pays to be well prepared.

The interview is not, however, just an exercise in self-promotion. The hiring manager has a specific brief and, in effect, you are there to convince the interviewer that you can solve their hiring problem. An interviewer will focus on gaining an understanding of you and your motivation and how these fit with the role, existing team and organisational culture.

Be prepared to show how you will add value and that you are the best candidate to help the organisation succeed. When you are asked to tell the interviewer about yourself, what this request really means is that you should show ‘what value would you bring to us?’

Thorough preparation and the way in which you present yourself are crucial to success; but, since performance at interview is not a reliable indicator of job performance, interviews these days tend to be quite structured and often concentrate on competencies with targeted behavioural questions.

The basics

Clarity and brevity are your touchstones. Show you are articulate and able to think on your feet while communicating effectively under pressure. Be ready to provide work-related examples that show your personality and how you operate and illustrate that you will be a good fit in the role. Ensure you pinpoint your strengths and expertise and emphasise your points with examples that showcase your achievements. Show how you will make a real difference when you are appointed.

You may be asked some tricky questions as interviewers probe to assess how you react. Keep your answers concise and relevant. You are likely to be asked competency-based questions relating to your previous roles, so make sure you have plenty of examples prepared.

Employability skills are also an important factor for success at work and showing that you have these skills and focusing on them during the interview process, along with your technical expertise, will help differentiate yourself from the competition. Concentrate on showcasing good communication skills, commercial awareness, a commitment to lifelong learning, problem-solving skills, and professional manner and attitude.

Demonstrating your skills at interview is not easy and we all have ‘off days’ but interview practice will help. If you can, get a friend, colleague, career coach or mentor to help with some sessions to rehearse your responses, improve your confidence and hone your performance.

The changing face of recruitment

HR now use robotics to enhance and expedite the recruitment process and leave hiring managers free to concentrate on more complex tasks. AI is supposed to remove human biases that adversely affect some candidates and it seems that nearly all Fortune 500 companies are using some form of automation to enhance hiring processes.

It’s interesting to consider what changes job seekers are likely to see as robots are used in the interview process more often. A large Swedish recruitment specialist, TNG, has been experimenting with such a system to offer candidates job interviews that are free from the unconscious biases that managers and recruiters may bring to the hiring process. The idea is to make the experience ‘seem human’ while ‘background-blind’ AI programmes manage tests and perform initial online interviews.

The robot interview doesn’t indulge in pre-interview small talk and asks all questions in an identical way, in the same tone, and typically, in the same order. This is believed to create a fairer and more objective interview. Recruiting managers are then provided with transcripts of the interviews so they can decide which candidates to move to the next stage of the process, based on their answers alone.

Impressing the algorithm

Interviewees can’t relax too much in this context as the AI programme records and analyses responses, and where there is a video interface, monitors facial expressions. Some candidates will find they are comfortable with such an interview, as they will perceive it as a non-judgmental, non-threatening and non-invasive means of interaction which affords them scope for presenting themselves in a relaxed manner. Others may find talking to a screen and recording their answers more challenging.

There is some discussion around the issue of bias and AI. After all, the algorithms at work here are programmed by people who have flaws, biases and preconceptions that are all too easily inherited by an AI system. That said, many candidates seem happy with these developments. Randstad, a Dutch multinational recruitment firm, found that a majority of US job candidates believe technology, AI included, has made applying for jobs more efficient. These same candidates also felt more respected and engaged in the recruitment process as they received automated updates.

Impressing a robot at interview may require candidates to adjust their focus. Answering questions that will be analysed by an algorithm means your responses must focus on the job specification, using words and phrases directly related to the role. You cannot rely on building rapport with the interviewer because a robot is not interested in bonding with you. It will still be important to be well prepared for the interview, having read not just the job description but also the organisation’s website information to see what qualities they prioritise and the culture they portray.

The plain fact is that a robot can interview many more candidates per day than a person can and will also review a candidate’s social networking activity thoroughly and quickly. At least in the early stages of the recruitment process, we are likely to see automated AI powered systems being used as a matter of course. Whether the interviewer is human or machine it remains important that the applicant makes a good impression.

Liz Sebag-Montefiore is a Director and Co-Founder of career management firm, 10Eighty and has provided HR solutions to a wide range of industries since 2005.

Is AI making dangerous decisions without us?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to take control of many aspects of our lives, but not enough is being done with regards to accountability for its consequences.

The increasing application of AI across all aspects of business has given many firms a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, its meteoric rise also paves the way for ethical dilemmas and high-risk situations. New technology means new risks and governments, firms, coders and philosophers have their work cut out for them.

If we are launching self-driving cars and autonomous drones, we are essentially involving AI in life-or-death scenarios and the day-to-day risks people face. Healthcare is the same; we are giving AI the power of decision making along with the power of analysis and, inevitably, it will have some involvement in a person’s death at some point in the future, but who would be responsible?

Doctors take the Hippocratic oath despite knowing that they could be involved in a patient’s death. This could come from a mistaken diagnosis, exhaustion, or simply missing a symptom. This leads to a natural concern about research into how many of these mistakes could be avoided.

The limits of data and the lack of governance

Thankfully, AI is taking up this challenge. However, it is important to remember that current attempts to automate and reproduce intelligence are based on the data used to train algorithms. The computer science saying ‘garbage in, garbage out’ [describing the concept that flawed input data will only produce flawed outputs] is particularly relevant in an AI-driven world where biased and incomplete input data could lead to prejudiced results and dire consequences.

Another issue with data is that it only covers a limited range of situations, and inevitably, most AI will be confronted with situations they have not encountered before. For instance, if you train a car to drive itself using past data, can you comfortably say it will be prepared it for all eventualities? Probably not, given how unique each accident can be. Hence, the issue is not simply in the algorithm, but in the choices about which kinds of datasets we use, the design of the algorithm, and the intended function of that AI on decision making.

Data is not the only issue. Our research has found that governments have no records of which companies and institutions use AI. This is not surprising as even the US – one of world’s largest economies and one that has a focus on developing and deploying AI – does not have any policy on the subject. Governance, surveillance and control are all left to developers. This means that, often, no one really knows how the algorithms work aside from the developers.

When 99% isn’t good enough

In many cases, if a machine can produce your desired results with 99% accuracy, it will be a triumph. Just imagine how great it would be if your smartphone can complete the text to your exact specification before you’ve even typed it.

However, even a 99% level of precision is not good enough in other circumstances, such as health diagnostics, image recognition for food safety, text analysis for legal documents or financial contracts. Company executives as well as policymakers will need more nuanced accounts of what is involved. The difficulty is, understanding those risks is not straightforward.

Let’s take a simple example. If AI is used in a hospital to assess the chances of patients having a heart attack, they are detecting variations in eating habits, exercise, and other trends identified to be important in making an effective prediction. This should have a clear burden of responsibility on the designer of the technology and the hospital.

However, how useful that prediction is implies that a patient (or her/his doctor) has an understanding of how that decision was reached – therefore, it must be explained to them. If it is not explained and a patient [that is given a low chance of having a heart attack] then has a heart attack without changing their behaviour, they will be left feeling confused, wondering what the trigger for it was. Essentially, we are using technical solutions to deal with problems that are not always technical, but personal, and if people don’t understand how decisions about their health are being made, we are looking at a recipe for disaster.

Decision making, freedom of choice and AI

To make matters worse, AI often operates like a ‘black box’. Today’s machine learning techniques can lead a computer to continue improving its ability to guess the right answer or identify the right result. But, often, we have no idea how the machines actually achieve this improvement or ‘learn’. If this is the case, how can we change the learning process, if necessary? Put differently, sometimes not even the developers know how the algorithms work.

Consumers need to be made more aware of which decisions concerning their lives have been made by AI, and in order to govern the use of AI effectively, the government needs to give citizens the choice of opting out of all AI-driven decision making altogether, if they want to. In some ways, we might be seeing the start of such measures with the introduction of GDPR in Europe last year. However, it is evident that we still have a long way to go.

If we are taking the responsibility of decision making away from people, do we really know what we are giving it to? And what will be the consequences of the inevitable mistakes? Although we can train AI to make better decisions, as AI begins to shape our entire society, we all need to become ethically literate and aware of the decisions that machines are making for us.

Terence Tse is an Associate Professor of Finance at ESCP Europe Business School and a Co-Founder of Nexus FrontierTech, which provides AI solutions to clients across industries, sectors, and regions globally. His latest book, The AI Republic: Building the Nexus Between Humans and Intelligent Automation is due for release in June 2019.

A calling in business

From Sri Lanka to Europe and grocery shop to international corporation, Allirajah Subaskaran, Founder and Chairman of Lycagroup, has remained agile and adaptable, creating an 8,000-strong business with a family feel. Interview by David Woods-Hale

Can you tell us about your career to date, outlining some of your biggest challenges and achievements?

I was born in the town of Mulllaitivu, Sri Lanka, to a working-class family. 

I am from humble origins, having lost my father at a young age and being brought up by a single working mother as a result. During my childhood, Sri Lanka experienced internal conflict caused by a civil war and my hometown was a major conflict zone. My family decided to emigrate in the hope of finding safety and increasing our chances of having a positive future.

In 1989, I followed my brother to Paris and was joined shortly after by my mother and sister. After some time, my family, led by my older brother, opened a restaurant. It was entirely family run and it was soon joined by a grocery shop. We began selling calling cards for people who wanted to phone abroad. Initially, a distributor was providing us with
the calling cards to resell. However, they stopped providing the cards, creating a sudden vacuum. My brother recognised that there was a demand for the product and identified the opportunity for us to distribute the cards ourselves.

As this venture developed, instead of selling cards produced by someone else, we started producing and distributing them ourselves. By 1997, our market had grown from just Paris to a number of countries in Europe, and we found ourselves, led by my brother, travelling from Paris to many European cities.

After marrying in 1999, my wife and I decided to move to London and continue the business; in 2002, I started Lycatel, a telephone calling card company. 

By 2006, with advancements in technology and the emergence of the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) market thanks to government regulation, there was a void to be filled. This is how Lycamobile came to be.

Due to our price positioning and the global movement of people, the company has been able to expand rapidly and now, 10 years on, we are operating in 21 countries and have become the world’s largest international MVNO and the market leader in international prepaid mobile calls. 

We have also expanded beyond the telecommunications space, launching a range of complementary businesses servicing different market segments, including LycaMedia, LycaHealth, LycaFly and Lycaremit. 

In my younger days, I didn’t have any plans for the future. I always focused on seeking out and seizing the opportunities available to me. This approach has been fundamental to the growth of Lyca Group over the past 10 years and is something I continue to live by now. 

What does your role as Chairman involve?

In the early days, we were very focused on the day-to-day business activities and tried to be spontaneous, seizing every opportunity as it came along. 

Now, while I play a very active role in everyday business activities, my priorities as Chairman involve developing a long-term strategy that will ensure we are delivering the best services to our customers and meeting their ever-changing needs. This involves thinking outside the box and introducing innovative and complementary ideas, as well as looking for big investment and expansion opportunities. 

Part of my role has also been about building a strong team from the ground up throughout the business. I believe in the need to diversify a company’s power base and I know the business would not be where it is today without the work and support of my management team. These individuals play a vital role, overseeing the development of the business as we continue to innovate and grow. 

What has fuelled the growth of Lyca Group over the past 10 years and what are your next steps? 

Lyca certainly looks different now than 10 years ago. Geographical expansion has been a long-term focus and strategy of Lycamobile, in particular as we work towards our goal of reaching 50 million customers by 2020. We are now present in 21 countries around the globe, ensuring we are the largest MVNO by geographical footprint. This means we are able to offer a cost-effective service, and we are constantly innovating to meet the needs of diverse markets, geographically and across sectors and communities.

Some of our recent product launches have seen us breaking into new territories to bring our low-cost calling, messaging and data services to emerging markets such as Tunisia and Macedonia, and we have plans for further expansion into six new countries this year, including Ukraine, Serbia, Russia, South Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and South-East Asia. The market context in these regions presents numerous challenges that we have continued to tackle through focused innovation and building meaningful relationships with partners.

To meet the needs of a rapidly developing global community, we have also needed to innovate, not only by launching Lycamobile’s services into new territories, but also by expanding our range of services into new business sectors. 

Today, it isn’t enough for families to be able to contact each other; they want to be able to transfer money to each other, watch the same shows, listen to the same music, and share in each other’s everyday lives. It is along these lines that the Lyca Group has evolved. The Lyca Group is now a multi-national corporation delivering low-cost products to more than 15 million customers, not just in telecoms but also across technology, media, financial services, travel and transport, healthcare and entertainment.

We have bold ambitions, and have already launched a number of new products and services in recent months, including Lycalotto and ChilliTickets, which we acquired earlier this year. Ultimately, we want Lycamobile to be an industry leader in the technology, media and telecoms (TMT) sector and for the group to be a well-established brand, synonymous with connectivity, trust and affordability.

What are the challenges and opportunities you’re facing in a VUCA world? 

We are operating in a highly competitive environment that is becoming increasingly saturated. 

Our flagship brand Lycamobile is faced with the entrance of businesses from a wide variety of sectors, which are showing an interest in launching MVNOs, be it post offices, football clubs, social-media start-ups, multilevel marketing groups, banks, and non-for-profit associations. 

In addition, the sector is rapidly changing with new technologies coming to market, and new regulations being brought in to manage them.

We need to ensure that we are always offering a differentiated service to our customers. We have done this not only by expanding our existing MVNO business into new geographies, ensuring we are able to offer a cost-effective service in the market today, but also by diversifying the business, offering our customers a range of complementary offerings that meet their needs. 

Do you think it’s possible to have a long-term strategy in business, or is success based on agility within the marketplace? 

In this volatile environment, I believe it is important to focus on a long-term strategy and core product offering, ensuring it is delivered consistently, with the highest possible levels of service. 

At Lyca, this means being dedicated to driving forward our ambitious growth plans and customer acquisition target. However, it is crucial to ensure this long-term strategy is never static and continuously reviewed. We must continue to have an innovative, dynamic and entrepreneurial approach that will allow us to react quickly to changing technology, customer needs, and the developing economic and political climate. 

We would not have got where we are today without this ethos. We have always been committed to staying ahead of the game, and so must remain dynamic and adaptive and push forward into new areas and markets that others haven’t, adapting to our external environment accordingly. 

What do you see as the trends impacting most on employers’ strategy globally? 

We are predominantly a technology-focused business and must compete with some of the world’s largest tech companies, to source and retain people with the right skills to drive the business forward and remain on top of the recent technological advancements. 

By fostering employee growth and development, we aim to create an environment where our staff are able to thrive, feel supported, become adaptable to different situations and want to remain loyal to the firm. Despite being a company with more than 8,000 employees, we retain a strong family feel, with everyone invested in the success of the business and experiencing the same highs and lows together. Everything we do at Lycamobile is about connecting with people and bringing communities together, and that’s also our attitude towards our employees. 

How do you ensure there is a culture of innovation throughout the organisation? 

Ensuring a culture of innovation within the group is crucial as we continue to develop high-quality products and services to meet our customers’ varied needs. 

Lycamobile is proud to be a market leader in our industry, and a large part of that is down to our commitment to staying ahead of the game by pushing forward and moving into new areas or markets that others haven’t. Not only have we been able to capitalise on this approach, but we’ve ensured we are delivering the best services to our customers, by continuing to meet their ever-changing needs.

We are dedicated to supporting, developing and nurturing the next generation of senior management, so hiring the right people at all levels of the business is vital, ensuring we maintain and foster the company values of trust, connectivity and innovation. It’s important that despite being a company of 8,000 people, we’ve maintained an open atmosphere, where staff at all levels feel comfortable putting forward ideas, big or small, which are supported, discussed and explored. 

You’ve moved between borders throughout your career. How have you been able to adapt?

I’m not sure how rare this trait is; the movement of people is as old as the world itself. However, having moved from Sri Lanka to Europe to escape the civil war at an early age, I’ve had to learn how to quickly and purposefully adapt to new cultures, markets and contexts in both my personal and business lives, and this certainly hasn’t been easy. But, over the years we’ve managed to transform these survival tactics into a set of core skills which have become the foundation of Lyca’s success and the key to running a successful global company. 

These skills – agility, flexibility, being relationships-driven – are not only the skills that we drive every employee to have, but also enable us to adapt our products and services across borders, and build strong and constructive relationships with partners across our operating regions. 

Lyca Group has employees in 21 countries – how do you ensure there is
a consistent mission and culture?

Working across such a diverse range of markets, it’s important that we uphold the clarity of our mission to connect communities and bring people together through a range of high quality products and services. To ensure that this message is spread across all our operating regions, we have a strong culture driven from the centre of the Lyca Group. 

Our management team is committed to travelling across the different markets to lead negotiations, build lasting relationships with our partners, and place people who share Lyca’s values in key positions.

Do you feel optimistic about the future of business in the age of the ‘new normal’?

As a group, we continue to adapt and evolve to market developments and new environments and are excited about plans to ensure the continued success of the Lyca Group through a programme of expansion into new markets and sectors. 

Reports have shown that the MVNO market will continue to grow in the coming years and we aim to be at the forefront of that growth, with plans to have 50 million people using Lycamobile by 2020, focusing on Africa, Asia and South America for growth – huge, largely untapped markets for MVNOs. We know we can make a real difference to people’s lives by bringing cost-efficient, high-quality products and services to help them better connect with their communities. 

I certainly feel very optimistic about the future. 

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