How the university of Salford MSc Digital Business has prepared me for a career in consulting in the UK.

Any sane person would have to wonder why Bruce Greeff, a nearly 60 year old IT Architect from Johannesburg would embark on reading an MSc in Digital Business from a University in Manchester.  On reflection there are many reasons. Starting with self-actualisation, it seemed like a good challenge, Salford is a highly ranked University. Which leads to the second motivation. Salford is recognised as a leader in the Digital Business and Entrepreneurship space, with deep contacts into the business community, as well as having the academic recognition. That was important to me, as a small business owner, relevance, value and return on Investment is quite high on my list of priorities. You could say I was an early adopter of distance learning, having done my BSc through UNISA. The ability to study remotely, using the technologies, and interacting with the faculty as a Digital Business appealed for a couple of reasons. First, practicing what you preach, the Social Media Marketing once I expressed interest, and subsequent use of Digital platforms is quintessential “eating your own dogfood”. Secondly I don’t have the luxury of taking a sabbatical, so I had to be able to fit this into a demanding professional schedule.

Then there is the formalisation of knowledge aspect.  As an experienced enterprise architect and consultant in digital business transformation I have practitioner experience but felt a lack of organisation and theoretical knowledge. The University of Salford MSc DB has provided me with a well-structured set of theoretical tools and techniques to apply in increasing the quality and rigour off my consulting. It is always good to learn and improve.

Then there is the aspect of employability. In the market, an internationally recognised, and current Masters Degree ., from a UK University that is internationally rated in the field lends credibility.

Last but not least. Relationship marketing based on word of mouth and being known in your market works fine until you want to work in new markets. Then distance makes it essential that a more deliberate and effective Digital Marketing approach is taken. As an inveterate stealth marketer, I made a decision to formalise the marketing of my little company some time ago. Salford has delivered on expectation, in teaching , and forcing me to develop a plan and to start developing a personal digital brand. This post is evidence of that journey.

Getting hired in my market relies on a combination of awareness, people do have to know who you are, what you can do, and engagement. In the post COVID world, remote work and hiring is prevalent.

Consequently, developing my personal brand involves building an ecosystem or network of prospects and professionals who will derive mutual benefit. Social Media, and digital platforms are ideal for building these networks of shared interest in the Digital Consulting ecosystem.   “Business ecosystems can be defined as an at least partially open structure made up of different interdependent, yet autonomous, actors who coordinate their activities towards a shared purpose to co-create value”  (Hoeborn & Gonzalez, 2023, p. 1)  The challenge is to provide value such that each participant is motivated to collaborate and co-create solutions using Systems Thinking to redefine boundaries, relationships, and systems. One of the challenges is data governance, particularly relating to customer and network member’s information. (Clauss & Ritala, 2023).  All of the theory and results driven approaches are well covered in the course material. In this regard the University of Salford lecturers’ relevant and current Industry experience and participation really shows , and students such as myself are then prepared for the current market.
Hopefully , this all facilitates getting to do some interesting assignments, particularly in the UK.

For those who want to know  a little more about the MSC in Digital Business, the course covers four subject areas and a dissertation, covering taught theory and research skills.  Salford’s approach which is one of results driven human centric and theoretically sound approaches to digital transformation. The four subject areas comprise using project management for transformational purposes, Information systems and digital Transformation, Digital business and entrepreneurship which covers the appropriate business models and changes to ways of work and tools and processes and last but not least the subject of search and social media marketing for the purposes of developing a personal brand as well as understanding how digital businesses can be positioned in the market.

Project Management, Leadership and Skills: Planning and Control

In my experience one of the key areas which is weak in my own practise for digital business transformation is the deliberate use of project management and related developments in delivery especially the agile development process and the associated theories and processes for achieving digital transformation. The project management and leadership approach required for achieving digital ways of work and delivery on a broad range of projects, not just information technology projects was extremely interesting. As a member of the Institute of Directors of South Africa, the stakeholder management, ethics and communication align well with the King IV Code of conduct. Emphasis on the subject of information sharing collaboration measurement of operations and goals not just for the critical parts of the project but for all aspects of the project and particularly for involving the appropriate third parties and general public and the aspects of transparency are refreshing to see in a commercial setting. The project management and leadership module also covers aspects of leadership which are often overlooked in practise. Applying the theories of motivation and the fact that different groups of participants may have different motivations and different measures of success and taking a holistic approach increases my prospects of successful projects with positive engagement from Stakeholders. Having a clearly articulated  mission and vision and understanding the difference between these elements, together with the appropriate tools for stakeholder management planning and scheduling risk management people management and report integration and coherence create a useful framework and a theoretical groundwork to be able to create an appropriate project management approach to any digital transformation project and in substantially increases the probability of success of those projects. In summary a project management is as much about a well-structured and theoretically grounded project plan as it is about leadership planning and controls. If you understand the change you’re attempting to achieve, clearly articulate the approach to achieve this transformation, design the programme appropriately and measure the change objectives, your chances of achieving it are much greater.

Information Systems and Digital Transformation

Is an experienced digital transformation architect and consultant I’ve participated in some form of digital business transformation for decades. While it is true that approximately 50% of businesses in the UK or at level 0 Digital Maturity, or not digitally involved at all, it is also true that most formal businesses are experiencing digital transformation In the ecosystem in which they participate. For most businesses, digital transformation is a reality and the research shows that the advantage is with those that take a strategic approach to adopting digital technologies and exploiting the opportunities to improve the business environment for all stakeholders. The ISaDT module provides a critical overview of the processes that are involved. One of the common concerns around the ever-accelerating adoption of advanced technology is the ethical and societal aspect of the change. This module addresses the ethics and intent of technology and information systems to assist businesses in achieving a mutually desirable business model where all stakeholders in the transformation achieve a positive outcome. The module addressed interesting theory on the subject of the possibility of information systems to emancipate re as opposed to exploitive. One particular area where the pace of innovation and the marginal cost of innovation have provided cause for concern is in the use of generative artificial intelligence and the necessary controls and approaches to ensuring the constructive application of these technologies. Strategic planning of transformation and integrating business information systems is a critical capability to mitigate risk as the evolution of business models. The entrance of competitors using disruptive business models and emergence of technologies necessitate increased digital business maturity to compete effectively. An unplanned, externally imposed transformation, inevitably results in dis-intermediation, loss of profit and increasing difficulty in responding to changes because of technical debt. Complexity really is the cost of making poor decisions, understanding both transformative project management and transformation of Information Systems.

Digital Business and Entrepreneurship.

The COVID pandemic probably accelerated the adoption of Digital ways of work by decades. In a period of weeks, entire economies discovered that location can be irrelevant to the effective performance of the majority of professional work. Simultaneously, a substantial cohort of the workforce found their income at risk or curtailed. Socially, there has been a significant change in values, and career approaches. The business environment is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) (Fenton, Fletcher, & Griffiths, 2020)

The DB&E module provides insights into the practical and theoretical skills required in this context. I have learned critical assessment skills, and learned to apply them to, social, disruptive, and innovative technologies as business enablers and facilitate strategic competitive advantages. How agility is an advantage to the smaller business, but larger organisations have the advantage of being able to nurture new ideas without the financial pressures of a startup. The insights on how successful digital transformation benefits from proven concepts and theories, and extrapolates these in the context of the current theory to generate robust, but unique Digital Business models are profound. Business 4.0, employs workforce 4.0… The post boomer generations are less materialistic, care more about quality of life. Digital business tools, platforms, and the social disruption of COVID have enabled significantly less corporate, more independent, entrepreneurial approach by this workforce.  The Cambrian explosion of enabling technologies, business platforms and the ability to engage digitally, have greatly amplified the change. Just as Information Systems transform to enable this new way of working, and Transformative Project management executes it, so this module expands the scope to understand of the role of emergent business models which are enabled by these innovative and disruptive technologies. The modules focus on entrepreneurial skills appropriate for the kind of self-determined and careers that will succeed in these digital business contexts.

As a Certified director I found the ethical and stakeholder management aspects interesting and topical with the updates of the Cadbury code to more closely align to the South African King IV code of conduct. Being involved in Digital Ecosystems, as a practitioner, structured exposure to research such as Ethical governance model for the data economy ecosystems  (Koskinen, Knaapi-Junnila, Helin, Rantanen, & Hyrynsalmi, 2023) has been invaluable. With the effective curation by lecturers focusing on results driven approaches to their subject areas, the

We learned about concepts such as Discourse and rules-based governance.  Discussions on the ethics and effectiveness of governance of Ecosystems subject to commercially exploitative behaviour by dominant platforms is particularly relevant to the Search and Social Media Marketing module.  

Search and Social Media Marketing

In this area of Digital Business there are all too many examples of gross abuse of data by multiple technology platforms, and data breaches. Consequently, this is an extremely important issue for many stakeholders. The subject of data sovereignty and the ethics of business are as topical to Marketers as to regulators and Lawmakers. Digitally mature companies and individuals collaborate as data subjects in this market. In my case, building a Data-Driven relationship marketing strategy using digital platforms is a critical success factor for expanding into the United Kingdom market. This modules focus on developing a theoretically sound but practical, results driven approach. While I am not selling a physical product, nor monetizing digital content, the module has forced me to think of myself as a brand, and to develop a strategy and plan for marketing that personal brand.  While marketing theory and many of the principles remain the same, it is particularly challenging to remain relevant and up to date with the pace of change in the Search and Social Media Management space. The Salford S&SMM lecturers use personal experiences, and a balance of Academic research and practitioner inpuit to remain relevant.


So there you have it. I am certainly not the median student, and my employment objectives and roles certainly differ from most of those who I have had the pleasure of working with on the course. However, I believe the objectives have been met. My knowledge is expanded and better organised, I have learned a set of new skills, particularly around research, and it will no doubt lead to some interesting work. Time and money well spent.

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