During an interview, Merage School Professor Vijay Gurbaxani (left) told John A. Byrne, the founder of Poets&Quants about the Merage School's digital transformation. “The world is really digital and it means business strategy needs to be different, product strategy needs to be different, organizational practices need to be different,” Gurbaxani told Byrne. • Jeanine Hill/UCI

Merage School Takes the Lead on Preparing Students for Digital Future

January 15, 2019 • By Aaron Orlowski

The UCI Paul Merage School of Business is doing what other business schools aren’t: preparing future leaders for a world vastly changed by the digital technologies that are driving fundamental economic and societal changes.

To find out more about the Merage School’s leading-edge approach to business education, John Byrne, the founder of Poets&Quants, visited campus this month and interviewed Merage School Professor Vijay Gurbaxani about the school’s digital transformation.

“The world is really digital and it means business strategy needs to be different, product strategy needs to be different, organizational practices need to be different,” Gurbaxani told Byrne during the interview.

Every core class at the Merage School has been updated with new, relevant content about the digital transformation happening in the business world, and new elective courses have been added to deal with more focused topics.

The changes reflect the reality that all aspects of running a business today — from advertising, manufacturing and service operations to distribution and supply chain — are affected by digital technologies. The changes will eliminate many jobs, but will create new ones for the workers who are prepared.

“It’s our responsibility, especially as a state university, to re-educate and prepare the population in this future world. It’s our ethical responsibility,” Gurbaxani said.

In the past, for instance, marketing was based largely on modest amounts of data and using standardized statistical techniques to analyze them. Now firms rely on big data which, of course, does not displace statistics, but requires the application of machine learning techniques. Merage School students are learning how to capture large amounts of data and analyze it to make optimal business decisions.

Since the economics of the digital world are quite different from those of the physical world, business strategy also changes. Merage School students are learning the economics of digital products and platforms, which might cost significant sums to produce initially but can yield high profit margins since marginal costs are zero. That’s different than physical products.

The Merage School also updated the delivery of courses, moving classes online and expanding digital learning initiatives.

“We looked at the landscape of what business schools were doing to educate students on the digital transformation affecting businesses across the spectrum, and we saw that they weren’t,” Gurbaxani said before the event. “There was an opening where we could build off our current and past strengths to offer a program that was truly different and really prepared students for this fast-changing future.”

“Since the 1990s, we’ve been focused on tech, so we had a natural advantage in focusing on digital transformation,” Gurbaxani added. “Everybody knows that the future is digital. But business schools as a whole aren’t acting on it. We are. And that sets us apart.”