'To see new opportunities,
you have to dig deeper'
You know there is a digital revolution going on. But how do you steer your company through today’s changes? That is the focus of the third edition of Take the Lead , a unique collaboration between De Tijd / L’Echo and Vlerick Business School, due to start again on 21 March.
Any regular De Tijd or L’Echo’s reader knows how radical the digital revolution is. Think of Proximus: today the telecom company faces yet another radical transformation. ‘And the same happens in almost every sector: digitization has a much larger effect on our economy as we first thought, ‘adds Isabel Albers, Editorial Director at De Tijd and L’Echo, immediately.
‘If you do not realize that this is a fundamental change, you really are hiding from the facts,’ agrees Marion Debruyne, dean of the Vlerick Business School. ‘In the meantime, all companies became aware of it at all levels. The question that remains is how we react to it.’
‘As De Tijd/L’Echo we want to help here and now to embrace the digital economy instead of walking away from it and continue to work according to old recipes.’
Which subjects Take the Lead wants to tackle?
Isabel Albers: ‘When it comes to technology, all sorts of buzzwords pop up: artificial intelligence, the internet of things, blockchain, machine learning … Take the Lead is not a technical education programme that teaches you all about technology, but it looks at the matter from a management standpoint. How do you manage that digital transformation? We are way beyond the phase of just adding some digital gizmo to our existing business. We know we have to move to the next phase, with radical new business models as well as major changes in processes, in ways of working together. It is not about selling an album in a record shop or on iTunes: Spotify is the new model. It is about the ecosystem, about working together with others and – bottom line – how you can earn money that way.’
Marion Debruyne: ‘Which business models can we create? How can we make processes more efficient and even redraw them? How can we use these new technological possibilities in a business-like way? How is the revenue model changing? Which competences are needed? There are many new questions to ask about business models, and it is crucial to ask them to be able to derive value from digital transformation. To see the new opportunities, you have to dig deeper. ‘But Take the Lead is also about the leadership that is needed to realize the digital transformation in a company. There is no clear path forward and we do not know what the world will look like in five or ten years. This requires a different kind of leadership than the one that used to work before, when the people at the head of the company knew all the answers and drafted five-year plans.’
It is already the third year in a row that De Tijd / L’Echo and Vlerick Business School organize Take the Lead. What are the main novelties in this edition?
Isabel Albers: ‘We have learned a lot from the past very successful editions. This year we have invested a lot in order to pay more attention on how you can start to work with that digitization in your own organization, much more than on why digitization is important.’
Marion Debruyne: ‘In digital transformations you will think a lot more in ecosystems, and thus – practice what you preach! – we do it too in Take the Lead. ‘There is not only the collaboration between Vlerick Business School and De Tijd/L’Echo, but we also include testimonials from companies that had to adapt to digitization such as Ericsson, Colruyt Group and ING. We also collaborate with Microsoft and Barco, which provide relevant technological contributions. That is how we have built a real ecosystem around the programme.’
How does this programme fit in the rest of Vlerick Business School’s wider educational offer?
Marion Debruyne: ‘Digital transformation is a core domain of our school, both in research and in training. That is a great added value for this programme: we can add a lot of our own experience and expertise. But Take the Lead is also a part of our own digital transformation. This year, for example, we launched our first 100 percent online MBA.’
Isabel Albers: ‘It remains an online programme – since day one, we noticed how keen people where for this type of educational programme – but with the input of professors and people from the field. And we also offer three ‘live’ days, during which we confront the participants with a real case during a so-called hackathon, or during which we work together on a digital business case. Last year, participants appreciated this enormously and, this year, we focus even more on that kind of events.’
‘How can we use these new technological possibilities in a business-like way? How is the revenue model changing? There are many new questions to ask about business models, and it is crucial to ask them to be able to derive value from digital transformation.’
How unique is this training programme?
Isabel Albers: ‘In Belgium, there is a need for educational programmes that teach you how to question your business model and reinvent it using inspiring examples. The intention is to learn a lot from each other and from the business testimonials across the sectors. Two years ago we established that there were virtually no training courses on the Belgian market that went deep enough. That is why we wanted to provide our own contribution.’
Is Belgium lagging behind when it comes to digital transformation?
Isabel Albers: ‘Certainly in a number of cases. In some sectors we have less digital business than other European countries, although, in other areas, we are absolute world leaders – just think of the digitization and the robotization in the health sector.’
Marion Debruyne: ‘In any case, we have a lot of assets in terms of knowledge and research. With this programme we want to inspire that it is possible, even here in Belgium. If we look at the Vlerick professors who participate, but also the people from the business community who testify about what they have achieved and how they do it, then I think that this can help to free us from the underdog position.’
Who can we expect?
Isabel Albers: ‘There are many inspiring examples.Think of Jürgen Ingels, who was a forerunner with his payment technology company Clear2Pay.Since then he spreads the ‘virus’ through various funds, but also by inspiring many young start-ups.Such a person can certainly achieve a lot when it comes to creating a new mind-set. ‘
Marion Debruyne: ‘The programme also explains how to embed corporate agility in your organization. There are some organizations that implement agility by exempting some teams from the business as usual and giving them the freedom to experiment. That is good, but at the same time you have to realize that the core also has to transform. The problem lies in the fact that people have difficulties to find the right balance and the right cross-fertilization between the different approaches.’
Can you learn that kind of agility?
Marion Debruyne: ‘There are quite a few frameworks that can give structure, so you can also tackle agility in a disciplined way. Experimenting, being agile, these are also management disciplines. Just as you learned 20 years ago to plan strategically and to draw up and implement multi-year plans, today frameworks for management in the digital transformation do exist.’ ‘Above all, our vision, as a business school, is that you can only remain in charge if you continue to learn, at all levels in the organization. Lifelong learning is essential to stay up to date.’
Isabel Albers: ‘We share that with each other and it is part of our mission. De Tijd and L’Echo are not only media to inform you about the news, but also to learn things. We guide you as an entrepreneur, policymaker or professional by providing information that you need in order to make decisions, to better manage your business, to improve your work. In that sense, such a training is the next logical step that fits with what we offer every day in our own media. As De Tijd/L’Echo we want to help here and now to embrace the digital economy instead of walking away from it and continue to work according to old recipes.
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