Tag Archives: Innovation

Personalised, Digitally-enhanced Student Experiences at Imperial College Business School

Joёl McConnell, Executive Director of Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions at Imperial College Business School explains how they are enhancing student learning
Joёl McConnell, Executive Director, Imperial College Business School

Engineers in Business Fellowship has been awarding Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA scholarships to talented engineers with leadership potential for more than 35 years.  Our awardees attend the top international business schools in the world where they acquire a first-class business education.  Fourteen business schools are partners of the Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) scholarship scheme and we are delighted to be starting a series of articles contributed by these schools.  We are commencing with Imperial College Business School in London, the most recent to join the SMF scheme.  Joel McConnell, Executive Director at Imperial explains how the school is using digital technology to enhance student experiences.

What an unusual year it has been for students, staff and faculty at Imperial College Business School! Resilience has been key, but Imperial College Business School has made important investments under the broader context of COVID-19 that will benefit MBA students for years to come, and particularly in the area of digitally-enhanced student experiences that align with the broader benefit of studying at the business school of leading STEM-focused university, based here, in London.

Imperial College Business School aims to be at the forefront of personalised, digitally-enhanced student experiences
Today Imperial College Business School is firmly focused on the broader disruption happening in the graduate management education (GME) landscape and the various sectors where our graduates go on to work after they complete their degree with us.  We know that recruiters are demanding new and different leadership skills, which has only been accelerated by a change in processes and how people and organisations interact – especially under the extreme circumstances of a global pandemic.  Finally, we aim to amplify the student transformation and leadership journey as well as capitalise on digital innovations led by the Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions teams, our Careers and Student Life teams, and our award-winning Educational Technology (EdTech) teams as well.

Imperial College: An End-to-End Candidate Experience from Day One
The Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions (MRA) teams at Imperial College Business School provide an integrated candidate experience, from the moment a potential applicant registers their interest with the school, right through to when they step into our classrooms. Once a candidate has decided they want to study on one of the school’s programmes, they will have a highly interactive experience as they work to complete their application, the admissions process, and then enrol with us as well.  Under the pandemic, the MRA teams have made big investments in marketing automation platforms and CRM systems, with leading technology partners, that allow the teams to provide more personalised support, and we’re actively piloting new tools that will allow these teams to have the most effective technology stack in place so that candidates can complete their onboarding process as seamlessly as possible. 

A Full Support Package to Complement MBA Programme Delivery
For those candidates who obtain an offer to study the MBA programme at Imperial College Business School, joining the programme is just the first step.  This past year our Careers and Student Life teams have focused increasingly on integrating Digital and smart tools, virtual experiences, and technology that directly supports candidates as they prepare to return to the workplace upon graduation. We now make LinkedIn Learning available to all MBA students, so our students can top up their programme content with additional training in more technological skills such as C++ or Python for example.  Another great example is how we work with a company that leverages AI and Machine Learning to help candidates evaluate how their career profile matches their target job characteristics, and understand the strengths and weaknesses of their profile, and then we complement this tool with 1-1 appointments with dedicated career consultants to ensure our MBA students develop an action plan to reinforcing their profile and better meet their expected career outcomes.

EdTech and Learning Analytics for Optimal Student Outcomes and Programme Delivery
Imperial College Business School is working to better understand how MBA students are learning, and how the institution can make continued, neuroscience-based investments in the most impactful EdTech possible, which will help the programme delivery teams deliver optimal outcomes for our students. Under COVID-19, our EdTech teams have led key investment programmes that have seen our lecture theatres become more interactive, in a way that has allowed for the delivery of the MBA programme in multi-modal format – something that has been crucial to manage the uncertain environment this past year, but that will also allow for a more dynamic student experience in the future, that allows students to pursue multiple interests at once.  Finally, the EdTech Lab at Imperial College Business School works closely with our parent university infrastructure dedicated to instructional design and delivery, and other areas of the college such as the Department of Mathematics on a pilot project related to unsupervised machine learning to learning data.  Imperial College takes a research-based approach to EdTech, and MBA students benefit directly from this.

The Sainsbury Management Fellows Opportunity
Imperial College Business School is one of the newest partners to the Sainsbury Management Fellows programme, which is managed by the Engineers in Business Fellowship (EIBF).  As the business school of Imperial College London – a leading STEM university in the UK and top-ranked internationally as well, we actively welcome engineering graduates who wish to complement their previous studies and professional experience with an MBA from Imperial.  The fellowship is a unique opportunity as graduates not only become part of a national network aimed at connecting top engineers in the United Kingdom – which includes career and entrepreneur mentoring, but by completing the MBA degree at Imperial College Business School, you also become part of the business school’s alumni network of some 19,500 professionals, but also of the broader university that has 200,000 graduates located in some 190 countries. So, if you think you might qualify for a Sainsbury Management Fellowship, don’t wait, and apply for one of the fellowships, and the MBA degree at Imperial College Business School. 

Joël McConnell leads the Programme Marketing, Student Recruitment, Admissions as well as CRM, Data, and Insights teams at Imperial College Business School.  A graduate of the MBA and several other postgraduate degrees and certifications from leading business schools such as Saïd Business School (University of Oxford), IE Business School, IMD, and the Booth School of Business (University of Chicago), today Joël is also actively engaged in cross-college initiatives related to technology programmes and equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).  He has also been an active participant and leader in IEEE events and activities across Europe as well.

The SMF MBA Scholarship
If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as a stepping-stone towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could be awarded a £50,000 scholarship. 

A Decade of Achievements for EIBF

As we say goodbye to 2019 and welcome a new decade, we reflect on some of our milestones.  We would like to thank our Patron, Lord Sainsbury of Turville and his Gatsby Charitable Foundation, our Sainsbury Management Fellows, partners and associates, who have helped us achieve so much in the last 10 years.

2009/10: Published Re-engineering the Board to Manage Risk and Maximise Growth, promoting multi-skilled engineers as business leaders.

2011: The Sainsbury Management Fellowship becomes incorporated and a company limited by guarantee.  The legal name becomes Engineers in Business Fellowship.

2012: Engineers in Business Fellowship becomes a registered charity.

2013: Executive Fundraising Committee is formed and plans to raise an initial target of  £5 million.

2014: Launch of Engineers in Business Competition Prize Fund for university enterprise education.

2015:  Published Engineering New Horizons, promoting the exciting careers of 25  Sainsbury Management Fellows.

2016: EIBF and the Royal Academy of Engineering launch promotions to increase the diversity of SMF applicants.

2017: EIBF President David Falzani receives the MBE for services to the engineering industry.

2017: SMF Fundraising campaign raises £2.1m to help sustain the MBA scholarship scheme.

2017: SMFs’ 30 Years Anniversary commemorated with the launch of Mentor30Engineers university competition.

 2018: Our MBA scholarship is raised from £30,000 to £50,000 and applications extended to computer sciences and tech engineers.

2018:  Engineers in Business Competition expands support for university enterprise education from four to 32 universities – £135,000 awarded already, with a £700,000 pot available.

2019: EIBF President David Falzani MBE appointed Professor of Practice in Sustainable Wealth Creation at the University Nottingham.

2019: Our Hard Hat Index reveals a dramatic 37% fall in the publication of hard hats in the engineering media.

2019: Over £9 million in Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA scholarships awarded to talented young engineers to study at the top international business schools

 2019: Our first Engineers in Business Champion of Champions Grand final sees 10 university teams compete for £10,000 in prizes with innovations in surfing, prosthetics for children, medical cell counting services and personal safety devices coming out on top.

It’s been a very fruitful and rewarding 10 years –  here’s to the next 10 years!

If you have any questions about Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship, please get in touch.

 

Nottingham University Appoints David Falzani MBE as Professor

We are pleased to announce that our President, David Falzani MBE, has been appointed to the eminent position of Professor of Practice in Sustainable Wealth Creation at Nottingham University.  David brings to the role significant experience having been involved with a variety of programmes as an honorary professor at the University’s business school for eight years.

During his term at Nottingham University, David has had the pleasure of teaching a wide range of seminars, lectures and workshops.  Undergraduates, MSc, MBA and PhD students have been able to gain insights into many areas of business innovation and finance from sessions that challenged conventional thinking – these included Innovation Management and the role of cognitive bias, Entrepreneurial versus Traditional Management Methods, Innovation and How to  Predict Success,  Raising Funds (venture capital and private equity) and Managing Risk.

Drawing on his commercial experience, David also delivered a thought-provoking range of seminars to both the SME and corporate sectors.  These included The Importance of Strategic Sales Skills, Sales & Marketing and Negotiation Skills for SMEs, and for corporate executive education, Sales Strategy, Market Analysis and Improving the Customer Experience.

These subjects will continue to be part of David’s remit.  He said, “As a formal professor with all the duties and responsibilities of that position, I will be able to support and work more closely with colleagues.  I very much look forward to this new role and to build on the courses that I have been privileged to teach.”

Through teaching at this level for the past eight years, David has learnt the importance of infusing world-relevant entrepreneurial instinct and skills as early as possible, to give new start-ups and innovations the best possible chance of post-graduation success.

As well as being able to share his own commercial experiences and expertise, David also looks forward to helping to expand the opportunities offered by the University as a whole. He hopes to help develop executive education programmes and to try and integrate Sales and Negotiation topics into more student programmes. He also hopes to help develop the ecosystem around the university. Working with real-world businesses and other stakeholders, helping develop interactions that provide benefits for the wider community.

David has a real passion for his role in educating innovators and leaders of the future and continues to work tirelessly to improve the UK economy using his skills and knowledge of both business and engineering.  No doubt this new post will help him further this ambition and will benefit many students.

SMFs, can you help the world’s brightest young engineers to become future engineering leaders?

SMF Sam Cockerill, CEO, Libertine FPE

The experience, network and friends I have gained through the Engineers in Business Fellowship have had an enormous impact on my career and personal development since I graduated from INSEAD in 2001, supported by a Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship. But perhaps the most valuable aspect of this continuing relationship for me has been the opportunity to work with the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Engineering Leadership Scholarship (ELS) scheme.

Over the past 17 years, I have worked alongside other SMFs, Academy fellows and ELS alumni to help select new ELS awardees from each year’s engineering undergraduate applicants, and to help train and mentor each new cohort. These are some of the world’s brightest young engineers, intent on using engineering skills to tackle society’s toughest problems, and looking for support for their personal development plans that will see many of them become future engineering leaders.

I hope sharing some of my experience of the ELS scheme will tempt you to get in touch to find out how you can help the Royal Academy of Engineering develop this next generation.

About the Engineering Leadership Scholarship scheme
The ELS programme is an annual award scheme for undergraduates in engineering and related disciplines who have the potential to become engineering leaders, and in turn to act as role models for future engineers.  All successful applicants receive £5,000 to be used over three years towards personal development activities. Award recipients also receive training and mentoring to help them fulfil their potential to move into engineering leadership positions in industry soon after graduation.

The trigger for me getting involved in the ELS programme came at an SMF Annual Dinner 17 years ago, from a chance conversation with Dr Peter Revell, then Undergraduate Programme Manager at the Royal Academy of Engineering. I discovered that the relationship between Sainsbury Management Fellowship and the Royal Academy of Engineering was broad and synergistic, with reciprocal involvement across the selection, training and mentoring activities of each organisation.

Not only was my interest piqued, I also felt that getting involved in the ELS programme could allowed me to start ‘paying forwards’ the generosity of the SMF scheme from which my own career and personal development has benefitted.

Helping on selection day
My involvement in the ELS scheme has grown over the years, and began with supporting the interview and selection event. Held in March each year, this annual event brings together selected engineering undergraduates from top-ranked higher education institutions all over the country to take part in an intense, fun-packed day of group exercises and networking, with individual interviews taking place in between these activities.

Although not a formal part of the selection process, the group exercises help candidates to relax and socialise, and conversations during breaks and lunch with other applicants, ELS alumni, SMFs and RAE fellows provide a flavour of the energy, diversity, and common purpose of this high calibre engineering community. At interview, candidates get to share their perspective on the role of engineering in society, their background, ambitions and career plans, as they try to secure one of the £5,000 scholarships awarded each year.

I first began my involvement with the interview and selection process gently, initially sitting alongside a Royal Academy of Engineering fellow who would lead the interview. More recently I have led interviews alongside other SMFs and ELS alumni who are now also involved in the selection process. Around seventy interviews take place throughout the day, typically with 10 interview panels assessing seven candidates in a series of half-hour interviews. The supporting interviewer sits with one lead interviewer in the morning and another in the afternoon, which helps provide another perspective and ensure consistency across each of the interview panels. After the interviews are complete, the selection process concludes with a structured review of candidate interview performance against the ELS award’s selection criteria, in which all interviewers share their findings. Supporting interviewers can summarise their assessment of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, often providing an important second opinion that helps balance or qualify the assessment of the person leading the interview.

The ELS training weekend – Saturday all day & Sunday Half Day: October 5 & 6 2019
I also take part in the annual ELS training event held at Aston University each year. These weekend events are in theory more relaxed than the selection days, though are larger events since all three current cohorts attend, and in practice share much of the same atmosphere, energy and pace. For the new awardees it’s an opportunity to meet others in their group, compare personal development plans, and learn about the impact of the award for several ELS alumni who have begun their engineering careers.

Participants arrive on Friday evening or Saturday morning, with the most recent cohort arriving first for a formal welcome and scene-setting talk. The weekend’s schedule is punctuated throughout with coffee and lunch breaks where all three cohorts mingle and meet with their fellow award holders, and with SMFs and RAE fellows.

Saturday kicks off with a series of break-out sessions with each cohort having its own tailored programme of group-based interactive activities covering a range of topics from personal development planning, communication, team working, negotiation, marketing, and MBA-style business games and role-playing activities. SMFs play a key role in preparing, running and supporting these exercises.

Before breaking for dinner, two to three recent graduates of the scheme give short presentations to the whole group about their current roles, and how they have used their financial award.  Aside from the enthusiasm, confidence and charisma of the speakers, what is most striking in these alumni presentations is the breadth and quality of experience that the ELS scholarship has enabled – whether on a summer spent developing an energy access project in Africa, a study tour to visit high tech manufacturing businesses in China or an internship with a startup in Silicon Valley. This forum helps current award holders recalibrate their own personal development plans, and go on to test their ideas with other award holders who may be a year or two ahead of them, either through face to face discussion during the weekend or subsequently via LinkedIn and email contacts shared at the event.

Sunday morning sees each cohort group back at ‘work’ in another set of interactive group sessions followed by a career planning Q&A session with ELS alumni and SMFs before heading off shortly after lunch.

Getting involved
The level of volunteer time commitment required for the ELS scheme is entirely flexible. I started by supporting interview panels and then extended my involvement by supporting, and then delivering activities within the training weekend. I have mentored a number of ELS awardees and through my company Libertine FPE we have on one occasion provided an internship.

Although there is certainly value in having individual SMFs support any one aspect of the ELS scheme, I’ve found that participation in both the selection and training events has some synergistic benefit, with the training weekend highlighting the impact of scheme and the calibre of current and past award holders, and the selection event providing a first introduction to future award holders.

So, what do I perceive to be the benefits of the ELS scheme, and getting involved?  The media often highlights the UK’s skills gap, but the ELS programme demonstrates that UK universities are producing some very high calibre graduates. Apart from the opportunity to share my MBA and career experience with ELS award holders (possibly future SMF scheme applicants – many ask about the right time to study for an MBA) – mixing with the brightest talent also brings new insights about my own career and engineering business.

It’s also helped me to understand the processes and influences through which undergraduates decide on their engineering path, their career aspirations, what impact they want to have on society and their decisions about taking a job with a blue-chip engineering firm or a start-up business.

Taking part in the ELS training weekend also provides time for reflection. I am very conscious that in my choice of career at Libertine, I have deliberately chosen to focus on building a company that could help address the global challenges of our generation at the intersection of population growth, resource consumption, energy and climate change.

It’s a finely balanced one because the world is facing unprecedented and urgent climate and resource crises that loom larger each day. Pessimistic media headlines can add to the impression that politics will be too slow to react, that national action will be too limited to be effective and that the challenge is likely to be insurmountable. The Royal Academy of Engineering ELS events are the perfect antidote to this sort of fatalism. Mixing with 300 or so of these stellar new engineers, all energised by the idea of bringing engineering solutions to bear these big challenges, and realising that this is not unique, that all over the world millions of scientists and engineers are graduating each year to join the fray, I get a renewed sense of shared purpose and technology optimism.

How you can help
James Raby has played an important role in supporting ELS selection process and delivering several of the group sessions in the ELS training events over many years. James has also helped build awareness of the ELS scheme and the essential supporting role of SMFs. His tragic death last year leaves a gap that must be filled.

My hope is that a handful of SMF volunteers can get involved in the Engineering Leadership Scholarship programme, helping the RAE to develop the next generation of engineering leaders. The most urgent priority is to provide continuity of SMF support to help define and deliver the October 2019 training weekend, and ensure that this is a success.

In future, I hope that SMFs will continue to play an important role in the ongoing development and delivery of the ELA scheme. It has been a great experience for me. If you would like to know more and join a meeting with the RAE in August to help plan the October 2019 training weekend, please email cathy.breeze@smf.org.uk.

Keep Your Early-Stage Company on Track

New ideas are thrilling. So many of us are great at starting things; the genesis of an idea, the moment the lightning strikes, that flash of inspiration is pure joy. Taking your first steps into a start-up business are some of the most exciting steps. You are moving at break-neck speed to set up your platform for success.

But, as with all the greatest success stories, eventually, a wall is hit. Nothing worth having ever comes easy, and when it comes to start-up businesses, that struggle often comes in the form of early stagnation. The vision is in your head, the picture of the palace you are going to build is set firmly in your mind’s eye; now you have to go through the potential mundanity of building it brick by brick.

The unfortunate fact is, the majority of new businesses fail within their first year of trading. These failed start-ups are usually victims of common mistakes and misconceptions. Here we have some tips on how to ensure that your early-stage company becomes the success it deserves to be.

Track Your Metrics
On the face of it, this seems like an obvious thing to mention. However, new businesses, especially when low on cashflow, tend to focus mainly on profits and revenue. These are hugely important of course, but there are other data that you should be paying close attention to in order to get a rounded view of performance. Keeping an eye on the following will also ensure that you catch potential pitfalls before they happen…

Customer Acquisition Cost: How much does each new customer cost you? This can be easily assessed by dividing your total marketing and sales costs by the number of customers you have had within a specified time period. How do those figures look against your projections and business plan?

Customer Retention: Retained customers are vital for reputation and cashflow. How good are you at retaining business? Is there anything you could be doing to improve customer experience?

Return on Advertising Spending: Is the revenue you gain as a direct result of advertising sufficient for your investment? Advertising is not cheap and is always a gamble. Divide total sales by advertising spend in order to see what kind of return this investment generates.

Profit Margin: Profit is everything in the end. You must keep a very close eye on the bottom line.

Traction and Momentum
Getting things moving is widely regarded as one of the hardest things to do; getting noticed, getting talked about and getting a great reputation out there. It is a grind, but you have to keep the faith; keep pushing forward. You might have to take it one customer at a time, but, as Mother Teresa once said, “the ocean is made up of drops.” Keep pedalling and the breakthrough will come.

Momentum and passion are tough things to keep hold of on your own. Make sure you have other people around you who are happy for you to bounce ideas off them, and who will inspire fresh ideas and enthusiasm. When you are grafting away on your own, it is vital to have input from people who understand the difficulties of the process.

Delegation
As your business develops, so will your workload. You need to recognise when this workload is too much for you on your own. There is no use in running yourself into the ground before your venture has even left it! To avoid this, take a look at the workings of your business and break them down into separate roles. This could be delegated to interns, or even employees if you are in a position to afford them.

Invest Effort in Talent
When a fresh venture is your baby it is really hard to take parts of it out of your hands and into the hands of others. But this transition must be made in good time. It is essential to invest real time and planning into hiring the right people. Do not wait until it is too late and get into a situation where you have to hire fast; this way you will most likely end up with employees that are the wrong fit for your company.  Make hiring the right talent a priority well ahead of when they are required so that you can put the focus, but not stress, into the task.

Under Promise and Over Deliver
This is a good rule of business in general. This rule not only helps you to gain a great reputation but also takes a little pressure off. An example of this is always promising a later completion date on some work than you intend to deliver so that when you do deliver, earlier than quoted, the customer is happy. This also buys you time if the demands of a start-up slow down a project or task for some reason.

Self-Promotion
Don’t work in secret. Many new companies fail because they are too timid, self-deprecating or fear apparent over-confidence in their product or service. With social media being in its heyday, self-promotion is easier than ever, go for it! Also, if you are planning a publicity event or advertising campaign, don’t be afraid to ask for things. Perhaps you can get a free venue for your launch if you promise to promote the venue. The worst thing they can say is ‘no’!

The bottom line is ‘make some noise’. You might have invented the greatest thing known to man, but all you will hear is crickets if the only living thing that knows about it is your cat!

Don’t Overwork Yourself
This is so easy to do. You have to relax a little; tension has never benefitted anyone or anything. We are told from a young age that the harder you work, the bigger and better the results. This just isn’t the case. It is an attitude that will grind away at you over time, extinguishing the flame that once was your initial idea. Many studies over the past decade have proven that sleep, rest and a healthy work/life balance are essential to wellbeing and success. Take breaks, delegate, keep to sensible working hours, eat properly and keep fit.

In conclusion, perhaps the most important thing to do to keep your business on track is to look after yourself first. Keep that positive vision in your head by keeping yourself healthy, happy and inspired.

The Pitfalls of Peer-to-Peer Lending

According to Bloomberg, the Financial Times and a handful of other newspapers, peer-to-peer lending could be headed for a collapse. What began as a new, innovative way of lending capital may have become a ticking time bomb.

The Chief Executive of Bibby Financial Services, David Postings, notes that the signs are negative:  “We are seeing signs of overheating in the small and medium-sized business lending market. Credit terms are stretched and pricing is down. It has all the hallmarks of what happened to personal credit pre-2007. There will be a crash sooner or later. Peer-to-peer is unproven through a credit cycle. The platforms are not at risk but the people who put the cash in could lose everything. If you put your money in a bank the shareholders take the hit – they are the ones taking the risk.”

Peer-to-peer
At its core, this form of lending is a more individual form of finance. It allows interested investors to loan money to inventors, business owners and entrepreneurs, based on a pitch.  Interest on the loan is set by the investor, but an attractive project or opportunity will likely receive several different loan offers, forcing potential investors to compete with each other.

As Postings has argued, interest rates may already have become too low, hinting a crash may be imminent.

For several years, however, peer-to-peer lending has gone from strength to strength.  In 2015, the market peaked at $12 billion in loans. In the majority of cases, these were unsecured loans. Another problem is that investors in many instances knew little about the businesses they were loaning money to, and no understanding of the risks they were facing.  There is also the question of the time and knowledge it takes to read the information provided by a company, and the ability to exert shareholder control. Listed equities are governed by extensive disclosure rules and rights that protect minority investors.  Peer lending does not offer these kinds of controls.

It is common for banks to face criticism that they are reckless with their risks, or even abusive to customers. However, banks have the benefit of experience. They’ve seen many financial cycles, as well as weathered frauds and catastrophes. Although a big enough crash could bring them down, they’re generally diversified enough to prevent it. Peer to peer does not offer this kind of security.

There are several peer-to-peer lending platforms. The UK’s leading platform is Zopa, which has facilitated the lending of almost £3 billion since 2005. According to their website, 60,000 investors have lent an average of £13,000 to businesses and startups.

The Case of Rebus
Rebus was a company that primarily dealt with clients who had been mis-sold financial products. Through Crowdcube, a peer-to-peer lending platform, Rebus was able to raise over £800,000 from small investors. Over a hundred people had lent money to Rebus, with amounts ranging from £5,000 to £135,000, with the promise of gains between 6.4 and 10.6 times their investment.

The fall of Rebus would be the largest equity crowdfunding failure in the UK. Investors lost their money.

Julia Groves, of the UKCFA noted: “We should be in no doubt that there will be failures like Rebus [but]…the question is whether people understand the risks they are taking.”

The case of Rebus should be a reminder that all investments can fail, all investments can result in losses. The key difference between small-time lenders that use peer-to-peer platforms and larger scale investors is a diversity of portfolio. It is vitally important for prudent investors to manage risk by spreading investments – something that amateurs will not be aware of, or be able to afford. It has made peer-to-peer appear more and more like gambling, rather than as a needed source of finance to spur innovation and small businesses.

It’s likely that peer-to-peer lending in its current form does not have long left before a crash. However, the concept of lending to small businesses will continue. Large financial institutions are starting to see the benefit, and they can protect themselves much more effectively than small-time lenders.

AI: A threat or opportunity for UK businesses?


SMF President, David Falzani,  explores the challenge AI poses to business and wider society.

The hypothetical outcomes of AI for business have ranged from utopian to hysterical among commentators, with many focusing in particular on the implications of AI and automation for work – and the risk of redundancies. The Bank of England estimates that 48% of human workers will eventually be replaced by robotics and software automation.  ArkInvest meanwhile predicts that 76 million US jobs will disappear in the next two decades.

Daniel J. Arbess, writing for Fortune magazine, goes as far as to argue that “the accelerating penetration of job-displacing software presents maybe the most serious (and still underappreciated) socio-economic challenge to market economies in generations, both in our own country and abroad.” Jobs, it seems, are the biggest worry. “Applied software technology reduces costs and prices, taking fewer consumption dollars a longer way. We’re starting to hear a lot about this, because entrepreneurs, investors and shareholders of companies will be enjoying epic financial rewards from the AI economy–but what about everyone else?  People still need jobs.”

Meanwhile, Professor Stephen Hawking raised the stakes somewhat in 2014 saying “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” whilst Elon Musk warned that AI is “our biggest existential threat”.

AI is, then, conveyed as a threat to business, employment, and even existence, sometimes by people who don’t understand how the technology is currently being used, sometimes by the science and technology community. At the same time, it’s floated as the basis for a universal basic income and the new Industrial Revolution, as well as massively increased efficiencies across all industries. So is AI a threat or an opportunity for UK businesses?

Blake Irving, the CEO of GoDaddy, a global web hosting company, explains that “the AI that’s real today is known as ‘Narrow AI’.” Rather than worrying about super intelligent Skynets wiping humanity off the face of the earth, Blake argues we should instead focus on narrow AI as “what’s actually changing everything.” Citing Rand Hindi, who defines narrow AI as “the ability for a machine to reproduce a specific human behaviour, without consciousness… a powerful tool to automate narrow tasks, like an algorithm would”, Irving argues that narrow AI will replace or transform any job where information gathering and pattern recognition drive a volume business. “That’s not just labourers. That’s accountants, traders, estate agents, lawyers, software developers, and on and on.”

A good example of this ‘narrow AI’ can be seen in eBay’s introduction of personalised homepages and a ‘ShopBot’ for its users. “Using structured data – a transformative step to drive discoverability of our vast inventory, insights into supply and demand, pricing trends, among other things – and artificial intelligence, we’re creating a shopping experience that is tailored to each eBay user’s interests, passions and shopping history,” CEO Devin Weing explains. “With more than one billion items … we’re making shopping on eBay all about you, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.” This is massively increasing sales conversions for the company and its traders.

Irving goes on to examine three categories of ‘AI insulated jobs’: those which require meaningful creative interactions with other people; those that won’t be replaced due to the limitations of robotics but will be transformed side-by-side with Narrow AI tools; finally, entrepreneurial roles, which can encompass such a diversity of work as to be difficult to automate. Irving uses these categories to argue that the ‘end result’ of AI displacing jobs will be the need for a population better educated to manage or interface with AI. It will, in other words, incentivise skills-based specialist technology education and ultimately spur a demand for creative thinking and skills, the things that narrow AI cannot provide.

The structuring of data that narrow AI affords us isn’t so much abolishing old skills and roles, then, as it is creating a demand for integrating new capabilities into the modern business plan. If anything, it is actually increasing the demand for creative entrepreneurs, whose skill sets are more valuable than ever while productivity and efficiency shoots up across the board thanks to AI. A similar increase in productivity was seen in the 1990s due to the implementation of MRP and MRP2 that saw skilled and semi skilled roles replaced with algorithms.

It might be worth considering that every threat is an opportunity because it forces change. The exploding volume of literature on the so-called AI revolution suggests that these technological developments may offer massive efficiency improvements, and radical changes to how businesses get things done. Are you able and willing to turn AI into an opportunity to radically overhaul skill sets and workplace practices to keep ahead of the curve, or are you not in a position to invest in this fledgling technology yet, and at risk of falling behind? The answer depends largely on the kind of organisation you run, to what extent it has information gathering and pattern recognition centred tasks, and how open it is to change, as well as how well you grapple with the reality of AI technology as it currently stands.

What sectors can we expect AI to transform?

Perhaps one of the biggest transformations unleashed by the AI revolution is that of customer insights. James McCormick, writing for Forrester, predicts that AI will be “rapidly assimilated into analytics practices” by the end of the year, offering businesses “unprecedented access” to powerful, contextual, data-driven insights. Up until now, unstructured and undifferentiated ‘big data’ has been difficult to navigate, much less tie to a customer base. AI is becoming more and more relevant to every sector.

With investment in AI predicted to triple across sectors, as well as the emergence of cognitive computing solutions better able to unpick and integrate data into analytics, this will provoke a sea change in how business is conducted in many sectors. In a 2015 survey, 80% of business leaders stated they believe AI will create more jobs and increase productivity. Let’s take a look at some of the sectors already feeling its impacts.

Insurance
AI’s ‘smart’ grasp on data is already having big impacts on the insurance sector, as one story earlier this year demonstrated. Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, a firm based in Japan, made the headlines when over 30 of its employees were made redundant and replaced with an AI system. Capable of analysing and interpreting any data, IBM’s Watson Explorer calculates insurance payouts to policyholders at such an accelerated rate that the firm predicts it will increase productivity by 30%, saving the firm about £1 million per annum. It’s a good example of how AI in its current form is drastically increasing efficiencies while altering the structure, size, and skill set of different organisations.

Education
Education is already being transformed by VR and AI technologies, among other things. The rise of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), such as those run by Udemy, are a prime example of how large ‘classes’ can be run online with hundreds of students. AI is set to make these courses more and more effective. We are already seeing specially-trained AI programmes (an ‘e-rater’) mark and grade exam papers, as well as virtual teaching assistants being deployed throughout universities and schools to help answer student questions about the course. With the global market in education-based applications of AI set to grow exponentially over the next four years, it’s clear that AI is not only getting better at learning but teaching too.

Medicine and healthcare
AI has seen a lot of investment partially thanks to its huge potential number of applications for medical research and front-line healthcare. AI chatbots, such as WoeBot, are now being offered as a way of augmenting mental health treatment. Meanwhile, the analytical power of AI is being used to help make cancer diagnoses earlier and more accurately, with Vinod Khosla, cofounder of Sun Microsystems, even predicting that human oncologists will become obsolete in the face of much more data-competent AI systems. “I can’t imagine why a human oncologist would add value, given the amount of data in oncology,” he told an audience at MIT this month. IBM’s Watson is likewise being introduced to the doctor’s office.

Law
From processing deeds to identifying relevant documents, the traditional work of lawyers is slow and painstaking. Law firms are now using AI technology (often a version of IBM’s Watson) to augment their legal research functions, empowering lawyers towards more comprehensive and efficient analyses of legal precedents, contracts, and cases. The first ‘top five’ law firm to sign a deal with an AI service provider was Linklaters, early in 2016, with other firms quickly following suit. Some of the systems in use can reduce tasks that usually take three hours down to three minutes, which could lead to cheaper access to legal services and even redundancies of paralegals, as one legal consultant predicts – although some are more sceptical. Robert Morley notes that training contract numbers have increased, so lawyers are not becoming redundant – AI is, rather, a “remarkable tool”.

What next for the sharing economy? – SMF President, David Falzani

While conventional markets and brands were under financial siege by the recession, the concurrent development of a global, data-driven, mobile infrastructure provided an answer to the strife: the sharing economy. Billed as a radical new, ‘alternative’ socio-economic system based on the values of ‘sharing’ and ‘collaboration’, the sharing economy seemed like a fluid, big-picture response – one which some commentators have described in utopian terms since.

Benita Matofska, of The People Who Share, defines the sharing economy as, “A socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human, physical, and intellectual resources. It includes the shared creation, production, distribution, trade, and consumption of goods and services by different people and organisations.” It is, in other words, a new, ‘alternative’ market which “Embeds sharing and collaboration at its heart” – a ‘hybrid economy’ enabling different forms of value exchange using shared physical or human assets. Matofska points to the ‘gig economy’, social media, peer-to-peer (P2P) trade and exchange, upcycling and recycling, as examples of economic sharing in action.

At the core of the sharing economy is the principle of people renting things they need from each other, The Economist argues, “The big change is the availability of more data, which allows physical assets to be disaggregated and consumed as services.” Apps and data, therefore, act as conduits for people to get in touch with one another and share what they need within this economy. Technology has reduced transaction costs, making the sharing of assets cheaper and easier than ever – or so the story goes.

The Economist is right in noting the significant disruptive effects of the sharing economy, which seem only to be increasing as these P2P markets develop. The consumer peer-to-peer rental market alone is worth around $26 billion. However, in their bid to market the sharing economy as a collaborative, user-first way of delivering services and products, the major players that make the sharing economy possible, and by claiming to be merely middlemen for ‘independent contractors’, large corporations like AirBnB and Uber understate their own involvement and responsibility for the sustainable development of the sharing economy.

This has impacts not just on ‘conventional’ rental markets but gives way to a whole host of regulatory and workers’ rights issues. Bike couriers for Deliveroo, said to be paid a mere £4 per delivery, receive no hourly rate from the company. This has led to spontaneous strikes and collective action from their drivers, followed by an aggressive response by the corporation. The adverse effects of AirBnB on local rental markets is well-documented, particularly in small cities such as Reykjavík, Iceland, which, in the context of a massive tourism boom, has seen a huge increase in rents and property values as a result of the sharing economy and has reportedly led to a major housing shortage in the capital.

As we get swept up in the excitement of this new means of meeting demand, we are arguably losing sight of the important question that must be asked of the sharing economy: what is being shared, and for whose benefit? Uber and AirBnB may claim to be middlemen for ‘independent contractors’, but they take huge amounts of commission from their contractors and have even been described as, “Giant corporations pursuing monopoly power.” They have not just disrupted the markets and the profit margins of their competitors, but it could be said that their desertion of responsibility has, in some ways, led to the disruption of the lives of the people who work with them by escaping regulation and giving them only precarious ‘access’ to work, rather than solid, reliable jobs. As the sharing economy develops and brands consolidate their grip on markets, its once seemingly-liberatory potential seems to be surpassed by many of the problems facing the ‘old’ ways of doing things. As the casual workers that make the sharing economy possible become increasingly organised, the sharing economy must reckon with its responsibilities and duty of care to contractors and consumers. The regulatory battles they already face with cities such as New York and Los Angeles will set the stage for what’s to come in this regard.

This is not to say that the sharing economy requires more regulation. It is the lack of broad state regulation which has generated many of its advances and entrepreneurial development, after all. What the major players in the sharing economy must do is to put their money where their mouth is and open up their brands as well as their services. That means sharing not just some more of the wealth (revenue at AirBnB increased by 80% during 2016), but the infrastructure and technology that makes the sharing economy possible.

Some have argued this should take the form of open brand APIs. The sea change in the relationship between producers, marketer, and consumers has turned brands into ‘platforms’, ‘ecosystems’, and the collaborative nature of this relationship and the role of consumer participation makes the possibilities for scaling different aspects of the sharing economy endless. For the sharing economy to prosper and grow, it requires the active participation and input of the people doing the sharing. By making their processes and insights open-source in a genuinely transparent developmental dialogue, a true sharing economy might finally emerge. By placing the locus of organisational power in the hands of a few small, closed-off and increasingly powerful companies, the sharing economy risks lapsing into the same old patterns that made conventional corporate culture no longer able to compete or meet the demands of consumers as efficiently.

The battles around regulation and consumer and worker rights are not mere teething problems –they will determine the shape of what’s to come. The cooperative nature of the sharing economy comes from the technology, and it is the technology which must change to be more inclusive and open to innovation in order to meet the sharing economy’s increasingly unstable demands on local economies and workers.

Understanding the ingenuity process

Vector set of conceptual flat line illustrations on following themes - creativity and inspiration, idea and imagination, innovation and discovery, think outside the box

David Falzani, SMF President and honorary professor of entrepreneurship at Nottingham University Business School (NUBS) takes us through NUBS’ ingenuity process which is at the heart of its entrepreneurship module.

Ingenuity, inventiveness, originality – all these are at the heart of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs, after all, are fundamentally problem solvers that offer creative, innovative solutions and responses to problems – gaps – in organisational or market-oriented thinking.

However, creative solutions don’t just materialise out of thin air. They emerge from lateral thinking processes and problem-solving approaches which attempt to grapple with not just the problem itself, but the factors leading to the problem, the consequences of the various solutions potentially available to us, and the possibility of new, unique ideas which can be mobilised into a concrete plan of action. In other words, ingenuity is not innate. Whether we’re talking about products that fill a particular gap in the market or internal changes to a business, ingenuity is a problem-solving process that taps into a natural human capacity for creative solutions.

They say that quick decisions are not always the best decisions. That’s why the ingenuity process demands organisational time and respect to get the best results – that is, after all, why we talk about it as a ‘process’. It represents a progressive working-through of the obstacles and issues in question. So, what might this process look like?

Defining the problem
If you’re looking for creative solutions, you must already be aware that there is a problem or obstacle. The ingenuity process firstly seeks to understand the problem in its entirety by asking questions such as, but not limited to:

      • Whose problem is this?
      • How urgent is the problem?
      • How might we break the problem down into manageable parts?

In other words, ingenuity first requires a comprehensive, concrete analysis and explanation of the issue at hand—as this will form the basis of the next step, ie your strategy. Knowing the component parts of the problem should give you a clearer idea of the various objectives required to solve each element of the issue individually.

It will also allow you to test your potential strategy against the problem itself by making clear the various implications and impacts of your solution on the different factors leading to the problem in the first place. Defining the problem in this way may even solve the problem immediately by making clear the various blind spots in the organisation’s relationship with the issue thus far. To come up with an original, ingenious solution, however, requires you to document the problem – and your strategy – in its entirety. There is no single answer to a problem, and that’s why all possible avenues must be explored before action is taken.

Documenting the ingenuity process
Documentation is vital in any organisational context, as it will form the basis of any concrete, problem-solving proposal to your colleagues, shareholders, or fellow management team. It enables you to communicate the gravity of the problem and all its complexities in a way that creates a case for taking action and moving forward.

You’ve hopefully thought about the problem in depth, measuring its impacts, causes, and implications of your proposed strategy. You need to communicate this creative thinking in clear, concise terms – not only to justify your strategy but also to hit the nail on the head, so to speak. So, write a statement describing the predicament which addresses:

      • The processes involved
      • The facts as they are and why they demand action
      • The consequences of not solving the problem

This should form the basis of a concise justification as to why your strategy is not only a good potential course of action but an imperative one too. Supplementing this statement with a comprehensive analysis of root causes, a map of the different processes leading to and from the issue, and arranging different considerations according to priority, will provide a solid basis for moving forward and generating real solutions and ideas with your colleagues.

Discovering creative solutions
So, you’ve analysed the problem in its entirety, demonstrated the importance of solving the problem, and hopefully proposed a basic strategy for moving past the issue. Everyone agrees creative solutions are needed, and there are clear ideas about where the problems lie and where action needs to be taken.

If these steps represent an objective, concrete approach to a problem, one that attempts to quantify the issues at hand, then it is from here that real creativity comes into play. You need to designate a time and a place for non-judgmental idea generation.

Exercises such as looking for analogies in other markets or previous experience can be helpful in illustrating where other solutions have fallen short and what needs to be done differently. Take an example from another company, perhaps, and try to generate a set of hypothetical solutions for the problems they faced – it will give you a much-needed detached perspective while providing a focal point for new ideas. Get to the root of your current problem-solving processes. What organisational assumptions are underlying them? How might you change those assumptions to move beyond paradigmatic thinking?

Brainstorm, argue, debate, deconstruct – and ultimately, generate as many ideas as possible in response to the problem at hand. Many of these ideas might not solve the problem in its entirety, but they might solve it partially – and if not, the point is that they open up new space for alternative, lateral solutions. This is the most important element of creative idea generation – allowing yourself to be wrong, questioning your assumptions, and making the box small enough that thinking outside of it becomes second nature.

Determine your course of action
This is the hardest part of the ingenuity process, and the part most burdened with the kind of risks entrepreneurs must take on. Firstly, you need to step back from the idea generation stage. Getting sucked into individual ideas and potential responses can mean losing sight of the bigger picture. You now need to consider all your ideas in their entirety and as a collective whole, asking yourself:

      • What kind of underlying logic characterises the different groups of ideas generated?
      • What solution does this logic point towards? Does it sufficiently address the problem?
      • Have all derivative ideas or combinations of ideas been seriously considered?

It’s time to collate your ideas and think hard about the nature of the problems they’re speaking to. The ingenuity process is then not so much about idea generation as it is about critical self-reflection on the logic and norms governing ‘business as usual’. It’s only by questioning your assumptions and considering your ideas in relation to these assumptions that a truly original, creative solution can emerge. Here, the ingenuity process transforms: it is no longer just about thinking outside of the box; it is about questioning how you ended up inside it in the first place.

Image: vasabii