What is the role of academia in the digital transformation that is taking place in companies in Portugal?
Academia can have a very important contribution in supporting the digital transformation processes of companies: first of all, it supports organisations in the development of their digital literacy, that is, in the knowledge of the main technological trends and enablers and the way they can serve the business. This type of knowledge is fundamental, because it is from it that technology meets the concrete reality of each organisation. If I don't understand what 5G or Artificial Intelligence are, I will hardly be able to imagine the opportunities that my business might find in these technologies. On the other hand, the academy is a centre of knowledge production, both for the research work it produces and for the close contact it has with the corporate and institutional world. This positioning allows the academy to monitor, aggregate and analyse the examples, good practices, main opportunities and risks inherent to the digital transformation that is being observed in the corporate and institutional fabric. In addition to these dimensions, there is a third factor related to the school's fundamental mission: training. The academy can help in the empowerment of human capital, whether in the context of preparing future employees or in the reskilling and upskilling of the organisations' current employees.
What are the objectives of Nova SBE Digital Experience Lab (DEL)?
To be a meeting point between people and technology, so that it results in a clearer understanding of the way technology can serve business. This mission is based on Nova SBE's conviction that the skillset of today's executives must contain a substantial level of digital literacy, enabling them to navigate an increasingly technological business world. Therefore, the integration of the Digital Experience Lab in Nova SBE's Innovation Ecosystem results from this idea that the present and future competitiveness of organizations will be digital by default.
What are the main activities?
DEL acts mainly on the educational side, thinking and preparing executive training programs linked to digital transformation and technology. In these programs, the innovative methodologies of Nova SBE are used, which are complemented by practical workshops of empathy with concrete technologies, such as Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality, cybersecurity, blockchain, among others. But as literacy is not only built in the classroom, we also organize events for discussion and debate on the opportunities and risks that technology has on business. These events are aimed at executives and students from our community, because as part of the Nova SBE Innovation Ecosystem, we want to be a bridge between these two groups.
How do these activities relate to business outside the academic context?
The Innovation Ecosystem (IECO) of Nova SBE, by being a space for dialogue and collaboration for the community at the school - students, teachers and researchers - and for the corporate world has the mission to support the faculty to deliver to society the knowledge that is produced in academia. The Digital Experience Lab, as part of IECO, provides support in this mission.
What partnerships currently exist and for which projects?
The Digital Experience Lab has a set of technology partners, experts in their areas, which support us in our initiatives. The most recent partnership in this context was established with Imprensa Nacional / Casa da Moeda and with an Israeli company called CyberGymIEC. From this partnership was born a Nova SBE training offer in cybersecurity, through which we intend to support organisations and, in particular, their leaders, in the development of their cyber literacy.
The pandemic will have served to accelerate in a few years the digital transformation in Portugal. What is important to transform at the point where we are now?
The pandemic had the effect of forcing companies to digitise their operations, or else they would not be able to operate at all. But this sense of urgency has led some companies to digitise rather than digitally transform. It may sound like a play on words, but it's not: digital transformation is not just taking a conventional, physical process and turning it into digital. It's about thinking "how can I improve the way we carry out this activity, with the support of these technology enablers?" We have been going into the post-pandemic and we see some companies going back with some more digital measures, such as the possibility of teleworking. I think that will be the main transformation to make now: to reflect on the benefits that this forced digital transition has brought, to recognise the contribution that technology has had during these difficult two years and, on that basis, to continue to adopt technology wherever it can serve the business.
Regarding the digitalisation of the State, what are the priority points in Portugal?
In my opinion, there are two very important axes of action: operational and legislative. In the first, it is important to continue working on the digital transformation of the Public Administration and the services provided to citizens, in which significant progress has been made in recent years. As the digital literacy of citizens increases, the State has a very useful means of proximity with its mission. But still in this axis, it is also important to promote the digital transformation of companies. Only in this way will we be able to have a competitive business fabric in today's technological and global world. Of course, none of this will be successful if legislation is not prepared to accommodate digital. That is why I believe that a second priority is to work with legislators to help them understand the role of technology, so that their work results in legislation that encourages and supports the adoption of technology, instead of hindering it.
How are we linking all this transformation to the theme of sustainability?
Technology can be a major enabler of sustainability. According to a World Economic Forum analysis, the use of technology for intelligent planning and asset management can lead to a reduction of 8.8 billion tons of CO2 emissions by 2025 in the energy sector. 5G could help, for example, in the automation of agriculture (where, even with 4G, significant advances have already been made). IoT is bringing new ways of managing infrastructures that will make buildings and cities smarter and more energy sustainable. We have in our Innovation Ecosystem some of these companies, working on smart cities solutions, which allow a much more refined management of lighting and other public resources. Of course, there are also challenges: it is estimated that 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste will have been generated in 2019 alone. This is a consequence of a more digitalised society, which we will have to learn to mitigate quickly, at the risk of ending up in a Pyrrhic victory in this battle for a more sustainable world.
What are the big future trends when it comes to digitalisation?
I believe we will continue to see a move towards personalisation of experiences, services and relationships. 5G networks will help in this regard, enabling the generation, transaction and analysis of more data, leading to smarter artificial intelligence algorithms that will offer each consumer more personalised experiences. Immersive technologies will benefit a lot from these conditions created by 5G, which will bring new use cases for Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, which I understand is also a technological trend to watch. And we also have the much talked about metaverse, which could well become the next level of the digital evolution we have been witnessing.
What major disruptions could still happen in this decade compared to what we know?
I believe that the big change we will see in the coming years is a new iteration of the internet - Web 3.0. This version of the internet is made possible by distributed ledger technologies (of which blockchain is the best known example), which allow us to create ownership over digital assets. Since mid-2005 we have been living in the second iteration of the internet, Web2, where we don't really own anything in the virtual world. We access music, images, videos, items in a video game, etc. through centralised platforms, access to which we can lose if they so decide. Moreover, outside of these platforms, ownership is difficult to verify. The example of personal data is interesting in this respect: the appropriation of our data by the platforms we use has been so extensive that it has become necessary to develop specific legislation to give the user back control over this digital asset. Let's face it: business, society, our lives - the world in general - has taken an increasingly digital path. Assuming this trend does not slow down, our existence will be increasingly digital. It is therefore natural that we start wanting to have in the digital space, the same way we can have in the physical space.
In this aspect Web3 and the metaverse enhance each other. Let's imagine I have family in Brazil, with whom I have a video call once a week. Why shouldn't I make that meeting experience more immersive, moving from 2D on the screen to 3D in a metaverse space? And if these meetings are frequent, why not having my own space, decorated my way? The same applies to my digital representation: why can't my image in the digital space have the kind of clothes that best define me?
All these things are digital assets that we can have through Web3. It's easy to imagine that this will create new businesses, ways of relating between companies and customers and other opportunities.
This article is a republication of an interview published in the April issue of ExecutiveIT.