The Future Of Tech And Leadership: Insights From Oxford – Forbes

Soumitra Dutta, Dean and Professor of Management at the Saïd Business School at Oxford University.
Stephanie Ricci contributed to this story.
When Soumitra Dutta began his career, technology was primarily perceived as a back-office function, lacking strategic significance in the broader business landscape.
It was then that Michael Porter and Victor Millar introduced the concept of competitive advantage in their 1985 text. They argued that harnessing technology for information acquisition, processing, and transmission could profoundly influence a company’s competitive position in the market, laying the groundwork for a paradigm shift in strategic thinking.
“If you talk to any company, any executive, any sector today, technology is right at the heart of it,” says Soumitra Dutta, Dean and Professor of Management at the Saïd Business School at Oxford University.
“If you want to be a CEO, you better know about technology trends,” he says.
Dutta holds a B. Tech. in electrical engineering and computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, as well as an MS in both business administration and computer science, and a PhD in computer science from the University of California at Berkeley.
During his time at Berkeley, he remembers using early versions of word processors and primitive internet and email systems. While the Internet was accessible to computer science students in some universities, its usage was not yet commonplace or routine.
He observed how the integration of technology into daily life accelerated significantly after the 1990s. This period marked the rapid development of the PC and internet revolutions.
Currently, in addition to his role as the Peter Moores Dean at the Saïd Business School, he maintains a fellowship at Balliol College at Oxford.
Before his tenure at Oxford, Dutta was a Professor of Management and the founding Dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University, New York. Before that, he held the position of Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean at the Johnson Graduate School of Management, also at Cornell University. He has also served as a Deputy Dean at INSEAD.
His research centers on leveraging the optimal blend of human resources and technology to foster business innovation and facilitate growth. As the founder and co-editor of seventeen iterations of the Global Innovation Index, produced in collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Organization, he spearheads a comprehensive global evaluation of countries’ innovation capacities.
“The next five, ten years are going to be good because you apply AI, you raise the productivity of current employees, and you’ll see benefits,” says Dutta. “Ten years post, what happens after that—and that’s a big question mark.”
We know that technology is great at streamlining and increasing accessibility for all, which is propelling the evolution of businesses of today.
It enables a greater understanding of customers, facilitates direct interaction, improves customization, and offers valuable insights which all directly impact how organizations operate but also provide products and services. This shift fundamentally alters the foundational understanding of what business entails.
According to Dutta, this also implies that the next phase of business transformation is going to be more and more about leveraging technology for the benefit of societal and environmental concerns.
While he anticipates that the next five to ten years will bring even more dramatic technological advancements than the last, it remains challenging to envision how the next generation of tech will take shape.
Many tech giants have found themselves mistaken in their predictions of the next big tech breakthrough, yet one certainty is that technology is bound to become increasingly pervasive in our lives.
“Some of these things sometimes might be difficult to imagine, but I think the metaverse is going to become a reality. Attempts to try and connect biology with the internet, Neuralink, and other similar systems might seem very far-fetched today, but it could become just a real thing.”
“The big question would be, how do we combine humans and technology most effectively? And what is the role of humans in that society?” asks Dutta, who believes this will lead to not only ethical but also operational issues.
He paints a vivid picture of his vision for the future by describing a modern factory—a wide space where multi-functional machinery largely outnumbers a sparse of gathering of people tasked with overseeing a complex network of systems.
“Now, imagine a service environment in a large school or a large hospital with the same kind of operation,” says Dutta.
While this scenario may evoke a sense of unease, Dutta underscores the inherent difficulty in predicting timing for this. Yet, he highlights the potential implications of these tech-forward conditions infiltrating industries that, as we currently know them, have a substantial workforce operating at the forefront. On one hand, there’s the prospect of significant productivity boosts. On the other hand, it raises profound questions regarding the role of leadership.
“If you don’t need as many people, what do you do?” raises Dutta.
Since the Industrial Revolution, much of our self-image and self-worth has been closely tied to the nature of our employment, the associated salary, and the perceived authority we hold in the workplace.
However, with rapid changes in the job market, these traditional identifiers could be subject to being reshaped.
So, how does one of the world’s leading universities and business schools equip its MBA students for this changing landscape?
According to Dutta, Oxford’s guiding direction—and strength—lies in its current focus on cultivating a purpose-driven approach to management.
Oxford founded the Institute for Ethics in AI dedicated to addressing the increasingly significant and complex ethical concerns surrounding the technology. Additionally, efforts are underway to integrate the topic within the business school curriculum.
The Oxford Science Park, located at the southern edge of Oxford City, is a vibrant center for science and technology. With over 100 companies ranging from startups to multinationals, and a community of over 3,500 professionals, the park fosters an influential environment. It is poised for substantial growth, aiming to add more than 600,000 sq. ft. of new office and laboratory space by 2026.
The University’s approach to tech transfer and startup scaling has been a pivotal factor in the success of companies emerging from its ecosystem.
It involves not only creating companies, but also nurturing them through a two-step process. The first involves Oxford University Innovation, the tech transfer unit that identifies promising research and initiates small companies. The second step is facilitated by the Oxford Science Enterprise, a private company with a 5% stake owned by the University.
This strategic partnership grants the second enterprise the first right to invest in companies from the initial phase, effectively enabling a seamless transition and robust scaling for startups with high potential. The integrated approach has proven immensely powerful, paving the way for successful scale-ups, and fostering a vibrant entrepreneurial landscape within Oxford’s academic sphere.
“What gives me optimism is less the state of the world we are leaving young people, and more when I look at their dynamism, their creativity, they are so much better informed with the technology, Internet and everything else happening around them, and they are much more passionate about trying to create a better world.”

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