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The Future Of Business Cannot Be Separated From Tech: Janat Shah, Director, IIM Udaipur

Shah believes that it is crucial to help students develop skills, knowledge, and perspectives for the digital era.

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Indian Institute of  Management, Udaipur has launched an MBA programme in digital enterprise management. Janat Shah,  Director, IIM Udaipur, believes that it is crucial to help students develop skills, knowledge, and perspectives for the digital era. Excerpts:

How do you look at the postgraduate management education ecosystem in the country today?
Indian Institute of  Management, Udaipur (IIMU) looks at the MBA programme as a transformational journey for students. Our academic rigour, career preparation and involvement in clubs and committees ensure this experience for the students. The skills and aptitude we particularly want our students to work on during the postgraduate programme are curiosity, adaptability and the ability to continuously learn.

Are we creating enough potential leaders or are we creating mere job seekers in this market?
I don’t think that there is a contradiction between preparing for an immediate job or a long-term leadership role. We focus on making students industry ready, simultaneously helping them get ready for a leadership role eventually. Students need to take care of their financial obligations (education loans) so it is not unusual that a job is their immediate priority. Also, they need the job to have on-the-ground experience for being a leader in the long run.

Even after all these reforms, why has the Indian B-schools failed to compete with the world’s best schools?
It is because management education has been insular for a very long time with faculty, students and by and large placements being domestic. Most importantly, because India has a sizable pool of high-quality aspirants, we have had the luxury to not worry about attracting international candidates and hence a good number of Indian B-schools never focused much on participating in global rankings. I would like to add that unlike global B-schools, our classes are less diverse, which is a disadvantage.

At IIM Udaipur we started our journey by setting a vision to be a globally recognised B-school by 2030. This guided us to put in processes and systems which helped us to be on the QS and FT Masters in Management rankings within the first ten years.

Why do we fail to update the curriculum in keeping with industry needs?
I believe this is not completely true. All good schools make sure that they are up-to-date in terms of their curriculum and have partnerships with industry leaders who can help them design relevant programmes. We also need to take into consideration that even though this overhauling is important, basic concepts don’t change dramatically. Tier two schools may have some catching up to do in this regard.

How do we make sure that the faculty is equally at home in theory as in practice?
Academic institutions need to look at this with a long-term lens. At IIM Udaipur, our model is that a young faculty will focus more on research during the initial five to six years and less in the world of practice. During this time they may not be at home in the world of practice. However, after six years we expect them to be adept at both theories as well as practice. Then, at the end of a decade, they are more likely to be at home in both the worlds.

Technology is evolving so fast that it’s difficult to predict what happens one year down the line. How do the B-schools prepare for such a scenario?
The present and future of business cannot be separated from technology and data. Given this scenario, it is crucial that B-schools design programmes in management that leverage the powers of digital technologies which help students develop skills, knowledge, and perspectives for the digital era which requires far more than the expertise of conventional business concepts.

At IIM Udaipur, we have realised this need and launched the first-ever one year MBA in digital enterprise management for experienced professionals. Structured around leadership, innovation, strategy, decision-making, and entrepreneurship, this programme provides a well-rounded exposure to business management, data analytics and emerging technologies that are high in demand in the corporate world. We are treating this programme as an opportunity to learn and bring those insights into all the other programmes of IIMU.

In India, the IIMs and a few other top B-schools are progressing well, but the rest churn out graduates who are hardly employable. What’s the way out?
Tier two B-schools should focus on taking advantage of the technology. There is a vast pool of open online courses which could be used to gain access to high-quality knowledge material. IIM Bangalore’s IIMBx is a very good example. 

To train the students, these schools should get faculty who are experts in terms of application in the industry and come with experience. These schools should hire faculty who have a high application orientation.

How often do you inspire your alumni to come back and teach at their alma mater and to contribute to it?
At IIM Udaipur we have strong alumni connect and they regularly mentor our students. However, being a young institute, it will take some time before our alumni is able to contribute as trainers or in terms of funds. We do reach out to the alumni from the older IIMs to teach.

We have always focused on ensuring that our students have valuable experience when they are at IIMU. I am confident that in the coming years our alumni would be contributing to the institute significantly.

How has the role of a B-school director evolved and how crucial is it in elevating a B-school to a global institution?
Directors of leading B-schools in the country have slowly started focusing on global accreditations, high-quality research and global rankings now, which is a positive indicator.

To have a global reputation, B-schools need to ensure that their approaches have a long-term horizon.

 At IIM Udaipur, we identified our 2020 goals and then planned accordingly. Consistently being among the top five in the country for research and among the top 10 to 15 for education are a testimony of this vision.   

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