Thrive in the Digital Age with SMU’s New Business Major and Track

By the SMU Social Media Team

As with every other industry, digital disruption has rocked the world of brand communication and marketing, with organisations rethinking their approaches to engaging with tech-savvy customers and storytelling across omnichannel touchpoints.

The future of marketing lies beyond the one-way communication endeavours of yore. Today, brands need to engage customers in meaningful conversations, in part by harnessing a plethora of insights provided by data, from consumer behaviour to trend forecasting.

Mark Chong, Associate Professor of Communication Management

As such, the Communication Management major offered by SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business (LKCSB) is introducing a new track in Data, Design and Communication (DDC)—to further develop skills in data analytics and visualisation, design as well as storytelling for the digital age. A track is a sub-category under a major that offers students a finer focus on a specific area within that major.

“The DDC track was born from conversations I had with my colleague Professor Sungjong Roh about how developments in data science, design and technology are fundamentally shaping the way organisations and stakeholders interact with one another,” says Mark Chong, SMU Associate Professor of Communication Management.

“We need to prepare our students for this ‘new world’. So we organised a data, design and communication symposium at SMU in November 2019 to signal our intent, and went on to launch the track this year.”

Some interesting career possibilities available to DDC graduates include analysts for media tech companies, content strategists, online community managers, digital copywriters and UX designers.

Geng Xuesong, Associate Professor of Strategic Management

Further, with traditional retail and other businesses impacted by the effects of social distancing during a pandemic, brands are making the transition to omnichannel strategies faster than ever before. Hence, SMU will be offering a second major in Digital Business. The second major will provide a foundation in areas such as digital transformation, digital business technologies, and an introduction to programming to equip graduates with pertinent skillsets for omnichannel brand communication.

“The pandemic suddenly challenged old perceptions held by society about going digital and stimulated an overwhelming interest in digital transformation in all aspects of business and society,” says Associate Professor of Strategic Management at the LKCSB, Geng Xuesong.

“Recognising the trend, we realised the time was ripe for a new major that can systematise the otherwise scattered knowledge, techniques and skills into one integrative structure, and created the new Digital Business second major.”

Here are four ways one can adopt innovative strategies to thrive in tomorrow’s digitalised businesses:


1. Strategy in a digital age

Designing a comprehensive digital strategy is a must for management practices in any industry, given the immense force of disruption brought about by technology and innovation.

“More and more businesses in Singapore are going digital,” notes Assoc Prof Geng. “Closely following the trend in the market, LKCSB has been gradually adding digitalisation content to various courses like marketing, finance, and operation management.”

A unique pair of modules, suggests Assoc Prof Geng, is the combination of Digital Transformation Strategy or Digital Business Transformation (offered by the SMU School of Computing and Information Systems) and Managing Strategic Change and Digital Transformation (offered by the LKCSB).

“Both courses discuss how to apply digital technologies in business operations to gain competitive advantage, although one takes the perspective of technology management, while the other takes that of business management,” explains Assoc Prof Geng.

“This provides the timely managerial tools and new perspectives on how to solve business problems as the thriving digital economy changes the way business is conducted.”


2. Mastering digital transformation


“Students with two majors can provide ready-to-use ideas and solutions that integrate both managerial techniques and digital technologies.”


In an uncertain global business environment driven by digital transformation, organisations now seek internal pivots for much-needed competitive advantages. Specifically, companies that are able to change entrenched ways of operating are the ones that can achieve business sustainability.

“This second Digital Business major can be combined with any other business majors by providing new perspectives and additional managerial capabilities,” explains Assoc Prof Geng.

“For example, if it were to be combined with a strategy major, it helps our students hone capabilities for jobs relating to business consultancy and market intelligence. The demand is rising for many firms to conduct digital transformation, and students with two majors can provide ready-to-use ideas and solutions that integrate both managerial techniques and digital technologies.”

The Managing Strategic Change and Digital Transformation module, for example, delivers a deep understanding of digital concepts and technologies like omnichannel platforms and eco-systems, blockchain technology, Internet of Things (IOT), artificial intelligence, and cloud computing. Such a knowledge base will prepare graduates in tackling challenges and discerning opportunities in technology-based, internet-based, and data-based business contexts.

“One big problem in digitalisation is that those who know business may not know digital technologies, whereas digital engineers may have little idea on how businesses operate,” says Assoc Prof Geng.

“The integration of technology-oriented modules and management-oriented modules is a unique selling point of this Digital Business second major.”


3. Harnessing the power of data

Faced with a deluge of information and noise in the online world, today’s communication specialists face an uphill task of propelling their brands above the competition. But the realm of digital marketing has also armed communicators with an arsenal of tools to deep dive into consumer behaviour, driven by data analytics.

As Assoc Prof Chong says: “Data analytics enables communication professionals to better understand their audiences, create data-driven content and design strategies, and measure the impact of their strategies.”

Beyond marketing, according to Assoc Prof Geng, Singapore is going to see more career opportunities in e-commerce, e-marketing, new retailing as well as new roles in smart manufacturing, smart logistics, e-business analytics, digital consultancy, and digital process reengineering.

“In a broader sense, our graduates will see more traditional positions with new digitalisation-related job requirements,” he adds.

“For example, business development agents are sometimes required to understand programming language like Python (for business analytics) and e-business systems, while risk-management positions may require knowledge about digital scams or online fraud.

These new roles will require our graduates to understand both traditional business knowledge and emerging digital technologies and digital business models.”


4. Adopting a design mindset


“Design thinking is a powerful tool for organisations in any industry.”


To the uninitiated, design thinking might seem solely embedded in visual creativity, and applicable only to aspiring art directors and graphic artists. However, design thinking is a powerful tool for organisations in any industry, perfect for encouraging creative innovation and coming up with human-centric solutions.

“The design thinking process centres around the understanding of real human needs and the constant iteration and testing of prototypes,” explains Assoc Prof Chong.

“It therefore invariably fosters constant and meaningful communication with the organisation’s stakeholders. In addition, the Beginner’s Mindset that design thinkers typically adopt allows communication practitioners to put aside biases and to approach design challenges with fresh eyes.”

Besides visual communication, having a design mindset is essential for success in this Fourth Industrial Revolution. Design thinkers are prepared to take on not just evolutionary changes in the business world, but also revolutionary shifts, brought on by automation, technology, and volatile economic conditions.


Want to be future-ready and be prepared to make a difference in business and society? Find out more about the SMU Bachelor of Business Management here!