MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

Category: Digital Transformation and Emerging Technologies

Why enterprises should care about blockchain

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 6 hours ago

Why businesses should care about blockchain

Blockchain technology is hard to understand and even harder to predict. But given the promise of blockchain and its golden child, Bitcoin, you’d be wise to start making sense of it now. For the uninitiated, this recent article from the MIT Sloan Newsroom sheds helpful light on these intertwined terms. We’ve also blogged about crypotechnology previously, in posts related to Bitcoin’s role in digital strategy and its meteoric rise in value in 2016.

The MIT Media Lab's Digital Currency Initiative describes blockchain as a decentralized public ledger of debits and credits that no one person or company owns or controls; its users control it directly. This system lets people transfer money without a bank, for example, or write simple, enforceable contracts without a lawyer.

“Blockchain technology is particularly useful when you combine a distributed ledger together with a cryptotoken (as in Bitcoin),” explains MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Christian Catalini. “Suddenly you can bootstrap an entire network that can achieve internet-level consensus about the state and authenticity of a block’s contents in a decentralized way … This is one step away from a distributed marketplace, and will enable new types of digital platforms.”

Blockchain and business

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies have enormous potential impact on global enterprises.

When Bitcoin was introduced in 2008, the Internet saw the effects of a drastic reduction in the cost of verification and the cost of networking. “For the first time in history, value could be reliably transferred between two distant, untrusting parties without the need of a costly intermediary,” writes Catalini in a research paper on the economics of blockchain.

Blockchain technology could also mean greater privacy and security for businesses and their customers. Blockchain has the capacity to make transactions more secure by increasing transparency about sellers, buyers, and supply chains, increasing the speed of transactions, and by providing built-in recourse for unfulfilled contracts. In his paper, Catalini writes, “While this is still an active area of research, new protocols are being developed to obfuscate transaction data, offer full anonymity to users, and implement different degrees of access to transaction information.” Distributed ledgers, secure identity mechanisms, and end-to-end encryption have the potential to revolutionize applications ranging from smart contracts to supply chain management, automation, and artificial intelligence.

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MIT’s Charles Fine envisions the future of urban mobility

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 3 days ago

Faster Smarter Greener by MIT's Charles Fine

We’ve had a century-long love affair with the car and, for the most part, it’s been a great ride. But our relationship with automobiles is changing.

In the U.S., recent studies suggest that Americans are buying fewer cars, driving less, and getting fewer licenses with each passing year. People are more attached to their smartphones than their cars; millennials in particular value cars and car ownership much less than they value technology. Combine this disenchantment with the fact that, in many cities around the world, cars are not always the quickest mode of travel. And, of course, emissions from the rapidly growing number of cars threaten the planet. It makes one wonder: is our global love affair with vehicles cooling?

We recently spoke with MIT Professor Charles Fine about his new book, slated to hit the stands in September: Faster, Smarter, Greener: The Future of the Car and Urban Mobility. Fine teaches operations strategy and supply chain management in MIT's Communications Futures Program, and he is Faculty Director of the MIT Sloan Executive Education program, Driving Strategic Innovation: Achieving High Performance Throughout the Value Chain. His research focuses on supply chain strategy and value chain roadmapping, with an emphasis on fast clockspeed manufacturing industries. Fine's work has supported the design and improvement of supply chain relationships for companies in electronics, automotive, aerospace, communications, and consumer products.

Faster, Smarter, Greener brings Fine’s research into the future, envisioning a new world of urban mobility that is connected, heterogeneous, intelligent, and personalized—what Fine and his coauthors Venkat Sumantran and David Gonsalvez refer to as the CHIP architecture. This architecture embodies an integrated, multimode mobility system that builds on ubiquitous connectivity, electrified and autonomous vehicles, and an open, entrepreneurial marketplace.

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New research shows integrated solutions are key to digital transformation

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 6 days ago


Digital disruption is rapidly changing the entire competitive landscape for companies, prompting them to learn how to apply new technology and organizational capabilities. In a working paper published earlier this year, "Designing Digital Organizations—Summary of Survey Findings," researchers including Jeanne W. Ross of the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) looked at the digital capabilities of 171 senior business and IT leaders and offered recommendations on how companies can stimulate their digital transformations.

Digital disruption, as Ross explains in this 2016 video, involves the impact of "SMACIT"—social, mobile, analytics, cloud, and the Internet of Things. In the course of their research, the paper's authors noted that efforts to leverage digital technologies and enhance customer information and engagement is resulting in the need for greater integration of products, services, and processes across entire organizations.

Among the report's key findings:

  • The extent to which digitized solutions are integrated and customer engagement is personalized predicts a company's performance relative to competitors.
  • Companies that create both integrated digitized solutions and personalized customer engagement demonstrate more innovativeness and agility.
  • Companies rely on three key technology resources to build this innovativeness and agility: an operational backbone; a digital services platform with reusable business, technology, and data components; and linkages between newer digital services and data and infrastructure services embedded in the operational backbone.

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Is exercise contagious? Yes, but in ways that might surprise you

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 15 days ago

Exercise is contagious

If you're involved in the marketing efforts of your business, you may be aware of influencer marketing, a practice where companies and brands focus on key leaders to drive your brand’s message to the larger market, often using social media. The ability of individuals to persuade and influence behavior by way of social channels is by no means limited to business, of course. Research shows how some "ordinary" individuals really can influence friends when it comes to specific activities.

For example, let's look at fitness. Between wearable devices and tracking apps, there are many methods with which to track, communicate, and share fitness accomplishments--or even just their daily activities. Fitbit has more than 23.2 million active users. RunKeeper claims it has 50 million runners. And Strava, a running and cycling tracker, reportedly has approximately 1.2 million active users (note: Strava does not release its numbers publicly). Clearly, lots of people, presumably across a wide range of demographics, use various fitness devices and apps on a regular basis.

One might assume that choosing to work out (or to not) is an individual decision based on motivation, training goals, how one is feeling that day, weather, and more. In a new study recently published in Nature Communications and widely covered by the New York Times, the LA Times, Runner’s World, and more, Sinan Aral, Professor of Information Technology and Marketing at MIT Sloan, proved that social networks can influence exercise routines.

The research project included a collaboration with a fitness device maker to better understand the influence of social networks on activity. By taking activity data and overlaying it with both weather data and social network information, Aral was able to deduce that less active people had a bigger influence on their friends than those who were very active, like marathon runners.

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Making sense of IoT with the best of MIT

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 29 days ago

Contributed by Peter Hirst, Associate Dean, MIT Sloan Executive Education

Making Sense of IoT with the Best of MIT

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending the Internet of Things World Forum (IoTWF) in London, and participating in several conference events as a speaker. One panel in particular--"IoT in Society," which focused on the intersections of various areas of life and work—brought the idea of interconnectedness into high relief. The Internet of Things is--of course--not limited to "things" or just to the Internet or even to the tech sector. As business leaders grapple with the IoT reality and prepare their organizations and themselves for the future, understanding the importance of interconnectedness among different sectors of business and life is essential.

Here at MIT, we have a long history of different kinds of thinkers collaborating, which is just what organizations need to be doing, and which makes the Institute a naturally appealing place for managers to learn how to develop the skills needed to lead in the era of IoT. We have faculty members in engineering and technology, and science and social science, as well as business--all at the cutting edge of their fields, but also used to actually interact with each other and collaborating both in research and teaching. And so the ability to bring all of those resources into an executive education program, for example, and collaborate with partners from across departments, is unusual for a business school. MIT's Sloan School of Management is in a fortunate position to tap into the whole of MIT.

The executive education programs that we offer--in partnership with the School of Engineering, the Office of Digital Learning, MIT Media Lab, and the Computational Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL)--are about "demystifying" IoT, as our Digital Capability Leader Paul McDonagh-Smith puts it. A tech industry veteran, McDonagh-Smith knows where we need to shed the light. Prior to working with us, he spent decades at companies like Nortel and Avaya, and now is driving a lot of the development of our IoT-focused programs and making sure that we engage the best partners from across MIT.

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7 systems principles you need to know before implementing IIoT

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 months and 24 days ago

The system principles you need to know before implementing IIoT

The use of Internet of Things technologies in manufacturing--known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)--has been heralded as a way to improve operational efficiency by correcting inefficiencies and identifying problems sooner. Ultimately, this will also lead to more rapid supply chains and greatly enhanced customer satisfaction. In many ways, the IIoT stands to revolutionize manufacturing, from behemoth organizations down to "mom-and-pop" manufacturing shops. This is why IIoT is often referred to as the "4th Industrial Revolution."

However, before any facility, plant, or organization starts down the path of implementing IIoT, there are a number of factors to examine and consider. Dr. John Carrier, Senior Lecturer of System Dynamics at MIT Sloan, detailed these steps in the recent MIT Sloan Executive Education webinar, "The 7 System Principles You Need to Know Before Implementing IIoT." Carrier takes an even deeper dive into system dynamics as applied to the industrial Internet in his new Executive Education program, Implementing Industry 4.0: Leading Change in Manufacturing and Operations.

If you want to understand a system, try and change it

The seven principles Carrier presents in his webinar can serve as a checklist of what to assess, analyze, and potentially adjust before implementing any aspect of IIoT. He likens this process to preparing to move to a new home. If you take the time to assess, examine, and identify which belongings are worth keeping and which should be tossed, your new home will have less clutter and contain more items of value, instead of just "stuff." In theory, your move should also take less time and money. In the words of Kurt Lewin, the late German social psychologist, "If you want to understand a system, try and change it."

Carrier also points out that implementing IIoT can help expose the "hidden factories" within manufacturing operations--a chaotic mix of unstable and ad hoc procedures and norms.

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Implementing IIoT: A systems challenge disguised as a technological one?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 4 months and 6 days ago

Industry 4.0

The current challenge facing operations across the globe can be summarized as follows: Make an increasing variety of products, on shorter lead times with smaller runs, but with flawless quality. Improve our return on our investment by automating and introducing new technology in processes and materials so we can cut prices to meet local and foreign demand. Mechanize – but keep your schedules flexible, your inventories low, your capital costs minimal, and your work force contented.1

While these words succinctly address the majority of challenges companies are trying to address with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), it should be noted that they come from Wickham Skinner's 1966 Harvard Business Review article, "Production Under Pressure."

Advances into IIoT and initiatives such as Industry 4.0 may seem to operations executives to be more of a threat to defend against rather than an opportunity. Perhaps this is why a 2016 Cisco survey found leaders skeptical regarding investment in IIoT2. As expressed by Daryl Miller, vice president of engineering at Lantronix, "Companies need to keep the IoT simple by adapting their existing systems to become compatible with the IoT."3

In other words, the introduction of a new technology often reveals a lack of understanding of the current system, rather than that of the new technology. Therefore, adoption of IIoT is primarily a systems problem, rather than a technological one.

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Nothing says love like putting down your devices

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 5 months and 9 days ago

Nothing says love like putting down your devices

It's hard to find bigger fans of technology than the staff, faculty, and global participants of MIT and MIT Sloan. We love using it, inventing it, and sharing it with the world. Tens of thousands of innovators have masterminded new technologies while here, or took programs to understand how best to bring those innovations to market. We also love using technology in the classroom itself, from management flight simulators and collaborative software to some of our newer experiments with telepresence and virtual reality. MIT researchers have even launched a new decision-making tool to help teachers, administrators, governments, and development practitioners around the world make smart decisions about incorporating technology in the classroom.

Given all of the above, the title of this post may seem counterintuitive. And yet, in light of Valentine's Day, we thought it worthwhile to remind our readers and ourselves that our love of all things digital can sometimes thwart true connection.

Breaking up [with smartphones] is hard to do

Smartphones, the most likely culprit, have been reshaping our etiquette for years now. Particularly in America, our "always on" state of mind has posed significant challenges for users vis-à-vis their relationship to others--whether colleagues in the boardroom or a romantic partner across the dinner table. According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, for many Americans, cellphones are always present and rarely turned off, and this constant connectivity is creating ever-evolving social challenges. Of the 3217 people surveyed, 89% of cellphone owners say they used their phone during the most recent social gathering they attended. And similar studies have shown that the mere presence of cellphones in face-to-face conversations inhibits the development of closeness and trust and reduces the amount of empathy we feel from our partners.

Americans are not alone in their smartphone temptations. A national study released last week in Australia shows that nearly a quarter of Australians have played second fiddle to a smartphone on a first date, with their prospective partner switching their attention to their digital device. The Intel Security study of 1200 Australians found more than a third of people have argued with friends or family about their smartphone use.

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