Business schools must ready students for life after emails

IN THE 1990s, when I was head of communications for WWF International, I spent most of my time touring the Mediterranean. While sounding glamorous, it was tiresome and inconvenient.

Email was around, but I could only read messages when physically at my computer, meaning there were long periods when I was without access. Today, businesses have been transformed with the introduction of mobile devices and videoconferencing technologies.

Smartphones, iPads and tablets are now a staple in many boardrooms. Apple says that 93 percent of Fortune 500 companies are deploying iPads.

There’s also an emerging trend of using web-based portals and hubs to enhance communication, manage information and boost productivity, begging the question of how relevant email will be in the next few years. Many top global companies, like Cisco, Nationwide, AstraZeneca, Alcatel-Lucent are using web platforms like Yammer. These provide employees with a private, secure web space to connect, work and exchange information, avoiding altogether the use of emails and paper documents.

Business schools have a duty to immerse their students in this environment from day one. In this era of intense competition and fast-changing business scenarios, students need to be fully practised and prepared to take advantage of all tools and platforms when they enter their career.

We’ve run a pilot scheme on our MSc Strategic Marketing programme, providing all students with an iPad and redesigning all programme material and communications to make full use of the applications and scope of the device. The results were very positive and we are looking to extend the scheme to our other programmes from October 2012.

Learning was taken beyond the barriers of the classroom. Students continually create content via downloads, annotations, editing and note sharing applications and access faster and better feedback from their lecturers. By providing a digital focus, and combining it with topical courses, we could get students to think beyond theory, and work together as a professional creative marketing team.

This was put into practice with a project for the Met Office. Students were tasked with marketing a web-based platform for environmental data. They could get to grips with a new and complex idea that had previously been hard to explain, and in a short time could use their knowledge and experience of digital services and social media to find innovative ideas to grow the community and social aspects of the platform. The Met Office was so impressed it is now considering how to incorporate these ideas into the next phase of its project.

At the rapid pace that businesses are now moving, future business leaders need to hit the ground running. By giving students the opportunity to embrace all the digital age has to offer, business schools must fully prepare them for the business world of today.

Alessandra Poggiani is visiting lecturer in Digital Economy at Imperial College Business School.