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Julie Maranda, the chief medical officer at Accenture, took the Digital Transformation Executive MBA at McMaster’s DeGroote School of Business in Hamilton because she wanted to gain skills that increased her digital literacy.Christinne Muschi/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

To help her decide where to do her MBA, Julie Maranda made an elaborate spreadsheet, taking into consideration cost, time, prerequisites and a slew of other factors, including what skills future business leaders need to stay relevant.

The Digital Transformation Executive MBA (EMBA) through McMaster’s DeGroote School of Business in Hamilton won out because Ms. Maranda, who is the chief medical officer at consulting firm Accenture, says she needed to go beyond the traditional leadership teachings of an MBA and to tap into the skills that were outside her comfort zone.

“Being in health care in particular, the reason for me to go back to school at my age was because I really felt that as a leader, I needed to up my digital literacy,” she explains. “I recognized that the only way out of the challenges we’re facing in our current government and health care system is to really rethink things. Not to do the same old, same old, not to do incremental change, but that we really need to flip this thing upside down.”

Business leaders need to be equipped to handle their business’s digital future and make data-driven decisions. It’s no longer simply about analytics and big data, but about communicating across finance, marketing and technology to ensure your business isn’t siloed.

While the business world is speeding toward digital transformation, many organizations are still scrambling to keep up, which is why some business schools are redesigning their programs to ensure their leaders can talk business and technology.

According to International Data Corp.’s (IDC) Worldwide Digital Business Spending Guide, digital transformation spending is forecast to reach US$3.4-trillion in 2026 with a five-year compound annual growth rate of 16.3 per cent. But a 2020 report by consulting firm KMPG highlighted that 31 per cent of chief executives reported the top challenge to accelerating digital transformation was difficulty making quick technology-related decisions.

Business schools all over the world are incorporating digital transformation into their curriculums, such as Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto and York University’s Schulich School of Business, which both offer courses on digital transformation throughout their business programs. Worldwide, Stanford School of Business offers a certificate in digital transformation as does HEC Paris. At Harvard Business School, executive business students are given the option of digital-focused programs, including “driving digital strategy.”

“As a business leader, you need to be digitally literate, but you need to understand it’s all about the change, managing people, engaging people, changing organizations,” says Michael Hartmann, executive director of the EMBA in Digital Transformation at DeGroote.

DeGroote’s program is currently in its seventh cohort and consists of projects and course work throughout the 14-month program, alongside four 10-day boot camps where students come to campus for a more immersive experience.

“It’s about focus and flexibility,” says Dr. Hartmann, adding that while there are “tech people” taking the program, there are also those in leadership who need to know how the coming digitization of business will impact their organization.

“[Leaders] in marketing or finance have to think about: ‘How do we become better versed with the disruptive technologies that are coming? How do we work more effectively with our tech folks across the organization?’ It’s a learning experience across both,” he says.

As part of the MBA at Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, students can choose to do a concentration in digital transformation, which is a new offering as of this year.

“In the past, we used to talk about data-savvy managers, meaning managers who understood how to use data to help improve performance outcomes – but it’s gone beyond data now,” says Gregory Richards, vice-dean of graduate professional programs at Telfer. “Now what we’d like them to do is to graduate understanding the art of the possible with all of these new tools that are out there at different layers in the organization.”

Even students who are not in the digital transformation concentration will be exposed to these concepts throughout their MBA as more of a “sprinkling,” says Dr. Richards, explaining that this is the way business is going and leaders need to know how to integrate technology into every aspect of the organization.

“Take tools like RPA – robotic process automation. If I bring that into my organization, it does a couple of things,” he says. “It can help me with my staffing problems, which means I don’t need as many staff to run a particular process, but I do need to understand exactly how it works and who’s responsible for it and how to set it up and all those types of things.”

For Ms. Maranda, she is emphatic that her choice to attend DeGroote’s digital transformation MBA was the best course of action for her. “There’s no way I would’ve been able to do this job [as chief medical officer at Accenture] without having done that MBA.”