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This week is Siggraph 2022 where Nvidia will be doing one of the keynotes.
While the metaverse on the consumer side is industrial use, outside of gaming which has effectively consisted of metaverse instances for years, Nvidia at Siggraph will be talking about its leadership in integrating AI into the technology, the creation and application of digital twins, and successes at major new robotic factories like the one BMW has created with the help of Siemens.
But what I find even more interesting is that as metaverse tools like Nvidia’s Omniverse become more consumer friendly, the ability to use AI and human digital twins will enable us to create our own worlds where we dictate the rules and where our AI-driven digital twins will emulate real people and animals.
At that point, I expect we’ll need to learn what it means to be gods of the worlds we create, and I doubt we are anywhere near ready, both in terms of the addictive nature of such products and how to create these metaverse virtual worlds in ways that can become the basis for our own digital immortality.
Let’s explore the capabilities of the metaverse this week, then we’ll close with my product of the week: the Microsoft Surface Duo 2.
If you’ve participated in a multiplayer video game like Warcraft you’ve experienced a rudimentary form of the metaverse. You also discovered that objects that do things in the real world — like doors and windows that open, leaves that move with the wind, and people who behave like people — don’t yet exist.
With the introduction of digital twins and physics through tools like Nvidia’s Omniverse, this is changing so that simulations that depend on reality, like those developing autonomous cars and robots, work accurately and assure that potential accidents are reduced without putting humans or real animals at risk because those accidents happen initially in a virtual world.
At Siggraph, Nvidia will be talking about the current capabilities of the metaverse and its near-term future where, for a time, the money and the greatest capabilities will be tied to industrial, not entertainment, use.
For that purpose, the need to make an observer feel like they’re in a real world is, outside of simulations intended to train people, substantially reduced. But training humans is a goal of the simulations, as well, and the creation of human digital twins will be a critical step to our ability to use future AIs to take over an increasing amount of the repetitive and annoying part of our workloads.
It is my belief that the next big breakthrough in human productivity will be the ability of regular people to create digital twins of themselves which can do an increasing number of tasks autonomously. Auto-Fill is a very rudimentary early milestone on this path that will eventually allow us to create virtual clones of ourselves that can cover for us or even expand our reach significantly.
Nvidia is on the cutting edge of this technology. For anyone wanting to know what the metaverse is capable of today, attending the Siggraph keynote virtually should be on your critical to-do list.
But if we project 20 or so years into the future, given the massive speed of development in this space, our ability to immerse ourselves in the virtual world will increase, as will our ability to create these existences. Worlds where physics as we know it is not only optional, but where we can choose to put ourselves into “god mode” and walk through virtual worlds as the ultimate rulers of the virtual spaces we create.
While we will have intermediate steps using prosthetics that use more advanced forms of haptics to attempt to make us feel like we are immersed in these virtual worlds, it is efforts like Elon Musk’s to create better man-machine interfaces that will make the real difference.
By connecting directly into the brain, we should be able to create experiences that are indistinguishable from the real world and place us in these alternative realities far more realistically.
Meta Reality Labs is researching and developing haptic gloves to bring the sense of touch to the metaverse in the future.
Yet, as we gain the ability to create these worlds ourselves, altering these connections to provide greater reality (experiencing pain in battles, for instance) will be optional, allowing us to walk through encounters as if we were super powered.
One of the biggest problems with video games is that the NPCs, no matter how good the graphics are, tend to use very limited scripts. They don’t learn, they don’t change, and they are barely more capable than the animatronics at Disneyland.
But with the creation of human digital twins, we will gain the ability to populate the worlds we create with far more realistic citizens.
Imagine being able to license the digital twin you create to present to others and use in the companies or games they create. These NPCs will be based on real people, will have more realistic reactions to changes, will be potentially able to learn and evolve, and won’t be tied to your gender or even your physical form.
How about a talking dragon based on your digital twin for instance? You could even populate the metaverse world you create with huge numbers of clones that have been altered to look like a diverse population, including animals.
Practical applications will include everything from virtual classrooms with virtual teachers, to police and military training with virtual partners against virtual criminals — all based on real people, providing the ability to train with an unlimited number of realistic scenarios.
For example, for a police officer, one of the most difficult things to train for is domestic disturbance. These confrontations can go sideways in all sorts of ways. I know of many instances where the police officer stepped in to protect an abused spouse and then got clocked by that same spouse who decided suddenly to defend her husband from the officer.
Today I read a story about a rookie who approached a legally armed civilian who was on his own property. The officer was nearly shot because he attempted to draw on the civilian who hadn’t broken any laws. That civilian was fully prepared to kill the officer had that happened. The officer was fired for this but could have died.
Being able to train in situations like this virtually can help assure the safety of both the civilian and the officer.
Anyone who has ever played a game in god mode knows that it really destroys a lot of the value of the game. Yes, you can burn through the game in a fraction of the time, but it is kind of like buying a book and then practicing a comprehensive summary with spoilers. Much of the fun of a game is figuring out the puzzles and working through the challenges.
“Westworld” explored what might happen if the virtual people, who were created to emulate humans, figured out they were abused. To be realistic, these creations would need to emulate pain, suffering and the full gambit of emotions, and it is certainly a remote possibility that they might overcome their programing.
However, another possibility is that people fully immersed in god mode may not be able to differentiate between what they can do in a virtual world and a real one. That could result in some nasty behaviors in the real world.
I do think we’ll find there will be a clear delineation between people who want to create viable worlds and treat those worlds beneficially, and those that want to create worlds that allow them to explore their twisted fantasies and secret desires.
This might be a way to determine if someone has the right personality to be a leader, because abusing power will be so easy to do in a virtual world, and a tendency to abuse power should be a huge red flag for anyone moving into management.
We are likely still decades away from this capability but we should begin to think about the limitations of using this technology for entertainment so we don’t create a critical mass of people who view others no differently than the virtual people they abuse in the twisted worlds they will create.
What kind of metaverse god will you be?
I’ve been using the Surface Duo 2 for several months now and it remains my favorite phone. I’m struck by how many people have walked up to me to ask me about the phone and then said, after I’ve shared with them what it does, they want to buy one.
It has huge advantages when consuming email with attachments or links. The attachment or link opens on the second screen without disrupting the flow of practicing the email that delivered it. Same with using the phone when you are opening a website that requires two-factor authentication. The authentication app is on the second screen, so you don’t have to go back and try to locate the screen you were on, again preserving the workflow.
For reading, it reads and holds like a book with two virtual pages, one on each screen. While I thought I might have issues watching videos because of the gap between the screens, I’ve been watching videos on both screens for some time now and, unlike my issues using dual screen monitors where I find the separation annoying, this gap doesn’t annoy me at all.
Ideally this phone works best with a headset or a smartwatch that, like the Apple Watch, you can talk and listen to — because holding this form factor to your head is awkward. However, many of us use the speakerphone feature on our smartphones anyhow and the Surface Duo 2 works fine that way.
In the end, I think this showcases why with a revolutionary device — like the iPhone was, and the Surface Duo 2 is — lots of smart marketing is necessary to make people really understand the advantages of a different design. Otherwise, they won’t get it.
Recall that the iPhone design, which emulated the earlier failed LG Prada phone, was backed by plenty of marketing while the Prada, even though it had an initially stronger luxury brand, was not.
In any case, the Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 remains my favorite smartphone. It’s truly awesome — and my product of the week.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.
Mecer Inter-Ed is committed to empowering women in tech through its comprehensive range of ICT courses.
These courses are a great way for women to acquire the skills that will enable them to progress and thrive in an industry that has historically been dominated by men.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, which is published by the World Economic Forum, only 42% of STEM graduates and 38% of ICT graduates in South Africa are women.
What makes this particularly notable is that 63% of all graduates from South Africa’s tertiary education institutions are female.
This shows that South Africa’s technology industry has tremendous potential to grow its inclusion of female professionals.
A Council of Foreign Relations report by Ann Mei Chang and Catherine Powell highlights several key reasons why enabling women in the ICT space is particularly important in emerging economies.
They noted the documented ICT skills shortage in countries such as South Africa and argued that encouraging more women to enter the ICT workforce can help bridge the gap between demand for these skills and their availability.
Chang and Powell explained this skills shortage is exacerbated by the fact that ICT skills are also coveted outside of the ICT sector – as technology has become a key part of running almost any business.
The pair also noted that as women become more prominent in the technology industry, they will be able to help make many products and services more relevant to female consumers.
This will help businesses reach new female audiences with their technology-driven products – ultimately resulting in greater business growth and success.
“Working together, the public and private sector should address the multiple barriers women and girls face, particularly in low and middle-income countries whose economies stand to gain the most from greater participation of women in vital ICT jobs,” said Chang and Powell.
Leading ICT training certification provider Mecer Inter-Ed offers an extensive range of training courses that will help South African women develop crucial ICT skills.
For example, it recently held a 10-week Data Analyst skills program specifically for 25 women.
This program provided these women with a variety of valuable skills including Business Skills, Advanced Excel, Introduction to SQL Databases, Transact SQL, Microsoft Power BI Data Analyst, and Data Engineering on Microsoft Azure.
The program was highly successful as it boasted a 98% pass rate, and Mecer Inter-Ed is excited to continue supporting women in tech through its great educational tools.
These include its Microsoft Partner Skills Academy, which offers self-paced training and instructor-led training options not only for building skills, but also for driving more certified individuals in South Africa.
The array of additional benefits like Practise Lab access, exams, and practice exams further enables these individuals to be successful in their upskilling journey.
With ICT skills in high demand from businesses, now is a great time for South African women to enter one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.
Visit Mecer Inter-Ed’s website to view their ICT courses.
“In my youth, I would’ve argued that life is just a series of random events, devoid of any meaning. But as a data scientist, I must recognise that patterns sometimes emerge.” When Gilfoyle, one of the main characters on the popular sitcom Silicon Valley said this, he could have as well extended this to patterns that emerge in the AI innovation space.
It is an undeniable fact that whenever a new, popular and eye-grabbing tool comes to the market, tech companies rush to replicate them and create their own renditions. This gives birth to a certain trend – a pattern. In accurate years, three domains of AI innovation have seen heightened interest – language models, code generation tools, and art generation systems.
Being a social media giant with a user base of over 3.5 billion, Meta (earlier Facebook) heavily leverages NLP technology. Its tech team develops and deploys advanced NLP systems to understand and communicate with users and offer, in the company’s own words, “a safe experience—no matter what language they speak”.
Speaking of NLP-related innovations, Meta has introduced several initiatives.
In May, Meta introduced the Open Pretrained Transformer (OPT-175B) – a language model trained on publicly available datasets. What made it different from other language models was that it was released along with pretrained models and the code required to train and use them. The Zuckerberg-owned company followed it up with the release of its 66 billion parameter model.
OPT-175B joins the list of other large language models from Meta. Last year, Meta used the Generative Spoken Language Model (GSLM). Unlike other language models, GSLM is a textless NLP model which uses raw audio signals as input. According to the company, GSLM overcomes the challenges of text-based language models, which is the requirement of large text datasets.
One of the most important pieces of research in the field of NLP from Meta came in the form of RoBERTa, an optimised method for pretraining NLP systems. This tool gives state-of-the-art results on General Language Understanding Evaluation (GLUE) – a widely used NLP benchmark.
RoBERTa is based on Google’s BERT model. When introduced in 2018, the BERT model truly revolutionised the large language model space. It offered state-of-the-art results in the machine learning community, especially in performing a range of NLP tasks. One of the biggest accomplishments of this model was not only in terms of its massive size (340 million parameters) but also in applying the bidirectional training of Transformer, a popular attention model to language modelling.
One of the watershed moments of language learning came with the introduction of the GPT-3 model. A 175 billion parameter model was unheard of when introduced by OpenAI in 2020. There have been several bigger and better models since then. In 2021, Google introduced the Switch Transformer model, which was trained on a staggering 1 trillion parameters. Other important large models include Deepmind’s Gopher and Chinchilla with 280 billion and 70 billion parameters; Microsoft-NVIDIA’s Megatron-Turing NLG model with 530 billion parameters; Google’s GLaM (1.2 trillion) and LaMDA (137 billion) models.
Recently, Google’s LaMDA model was in the news when a (now former) Google employee Blake Lemoine claimed the AI has become sentient. Lemoine was soon put on a break and eventually fired from the company.
OpenAI developed Codex, an AI tool that translates natural language to code; it can interpret simple commands in natural language and execute them on the users’ behalf. Based on Codex, OpenAI, in collaboration with Microsoft and GitHub, introduced Copilot in 2021. OpenAI calls it an AI pair programmer that helps write better code. The Copilot tool draws context from the code being worked on and suggests whole lines or entire functions.
Soon after, Salesforce open-sourced a machine learning system called CodeT5 that can understand and generate code in real-time. As per the team, CodeT5 could achieve state-of-the-art performance for tasks like code defect detection, predicting whether the code is vulnerable to exploits, clone detection, and detecting snippets of code which may have the same functionality.
Earlier this year, DeepMind introduced AlphaCode, a code generator that uses a transformer-based language model to output lines of codes at an ‘unprecedented scale’. It displays skills like language understanding and problem-solving ability. When tested against human programmers on the popular competitive programming platform Codeforces, AlphaCode averaged a ranking of 54.3% across ten contests.
Another famous code generation tool was from the researchers at Carnegie Mellon University – Frank Xu, Uri Alon, Graham Neubig, and Vincent Hellendoorn. Called PolyCoder, it is a model based on GPT-2 (trained on the database of 249 GB of code in 12 programming languages).
Other code generation tools from major tech companies are Facebook’s TransCoder, Intel’s ControlFlag, and a new feature in Microsoft’s Power Apps.
AI-based art generation tools marked the AI scene in the year’s first half. It began with the launch of DALL.E 2 by OpenAI. This image generation tool creates realistic images from a natural language text description provided by the user. It can combine concepts, styles, and attributes. It can also add and remove elements while taking shadows, reflections, and textures into consideration. OpenAI recently made the beta version of this tool available to the general public.
DALL.E 2 is the successor of DALL.E, introduced by OpenAI at the beginning of 2021. The name DALL.E is actually a portmanteau of Salvador Dali and the robot from Wall-E. It is a neural network that is trained on 250 million pairs of images and texts collected from the internet. Along with the introduction of DALL.E, OpenAI also launched the Contrastive Language–Image Pretraining (CLIP) model that builds on zero-shot transfer, natural language supervision, and multimodal learning. The model learns visual concepts from natural language supervision; it can be applied to any visual classification benchmark.
Circling back to DALL.E 2, the kind of rage that it created not only in the AI research community but also in the general public was unprecedented. Soon after, Google introduced Imagen. It is a text-to-image diffusion model which offers superior levels of photorealism and language understanding.
Recently, Meta too introduced an AI-based art generation tool called Make-A-Scene. It is a multimodal generative AI method to generate images corresponding to the textual prompt provided by the user.
Other major and popular AI art generation tools include HuggingFace’s Craiyon (formerly DALL.E Mini) and Midjourney from the Midjourney Lab.
With the introduction of several art-generating tools in just the last few months, it is easy to identify it to be the flavour of the AI season. But anyone who has closely followed the field would tell you that this may not last very long. The AI community will move to better and shinier pastures. As long as the pasture is developing, no one is really complaining!
Microsoft has made changes to its channel leadership, giving longtime employee Nicole Dezen the title of chief partner officer and corporate vice president of the Global Partner Solutions organisation.
This title was formerly held by Nick Parker, who has been promoted to president of the Industry & Partner Sales (IPS) organisation, according to Microsoft. Dezen will report to Parker.
The news comes ahead of Microsoft Inspire, which will be held online Tuesday and Wednesday. Unlike other tech conferences, which have returned in person or done a mix of live and online events, Microsoft held Inspire entirely online as the world continues to grapple with COVID-19. Dezen and Parker are set to speak during Inspire.
CRN has reached out to Microsoft for comment.
Other new channel chiefs named recently include Zoom Video Communications channel chief Todd Surdey, IBM channel chief Kate Woolley and Amazon Web Services channel chief Ruba Borno.
Nicole Dezen: new chief partner officer
In a post on her LinkedIn account, Dezen said, “I am both humbled and thrilled to take on the new designation of Chief Partner Officer for Microsoft. This is a new title, and one that speaks to the enormous opportunity we believe we can unlock in concert with partners around the world.”
Dezen – who in August received the title of corporate vice president of device partner sales – said she has experience working with global systems integrators (GSIs), independent software vendors (ISVs) and other partner types worldwide.
“As a long-time Microsoft employee and someone who has deep ties in our sales and partner organizations, I have always been motivated by the opportunities for growth and innovation that our partner ecosystem presents,” she continued. “The companies that comprise this ecosystem – device partners, GSIs, ISVs, services partners and others around the world – are enabling digital transformation for customers every day in ways that were unimaginable even a few years ago. It would not be a stretch to say I am passionate about helping these organizations harness the power of the Microsoft Cloud through services like Azure, Microsoft 365, Microsoft Mesh and others.”
Under the description of her new title on her LinkedIn, Dezen said she leads “the commercial partner business and a global team responsible for building and selling Microsoft Cloud applications, services and devices with partners.”
She continued: “We collaborate with a broad set of commercial partners including Advisory partners, device partners, Global System Integrators (GSIs), Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), and services partners to drive digital transformation, scale, business growth and profitability with partners.”
Dezen has more than 25 years of tech sales experience, including 15 at Microsoft. Dezen joined Microsoft in 2007, according to the tech giant. Past titles include general manager for consumer device sales in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Before Microsoft, Dezen worked in the telecommunications industry, according to the tech giant.
In a blog post announcing Dezen’s new role, Nick Parker said that her new designation as chief partner officer “demonstrates our continued investment in our partner strategy and commitment to the importance of the entire partner ecosystem to Microsoft.”
“As Chief Partner Officer, Nicole will have singular accountability for the commercial partner business,” according to the post. “She will have a tremendous opportunity to lead, innovate and grow our mutual business with partners. I couldn’t be more excited for Nicole as she takes on this new leadership role for our phenomenal partner ecosystem.”
Nick Parker: new president of industry & partner sales
The Industry & Partner Sales organisation Parker now heads includes “Microsoft’s multi-billion-dollar sales business spanning industry, partner and enterprise commercial teams,” according to the tech giant.
“The alliance of global Industry Teams, the Strategic Partnerships Team (SPT), the Enterprise Commercial Operations team, Global Partner Solutions (GPS), and IPS Strategy & Operations, adds increased dimension to Microsoft’s sales capabilities,” according to Microsoft.
Parker has worked at Microsoft for more than 20 years, according to his LinkedIn. He held the title of corporate vice president of Global Partner Solutions starting in August 2020.
During the unveiling event of the partner capability score (PCS), Parker said that Microsoft has seen $28 billion in annual contracted partner co-sell value since the 2018 fiscal year, with 37 percent co-sell revenue growth.
David Smith: new VP of channel sales
Other title changes to accompany Dezen’s include David Smith becoming vice president of channel sales and Julie Sanford serving as vice president of partner go-to-market (GTM), programs and experiences. Both will report to Dezen.
Smith “will focus on sales and business growth with our channel partners,” according to the post. Sanford “will be accountable for partner programs and GTM engines.”
“These new roles and the increased investments we continue to make in our partner business demonstrate the importance of our ecosystem, the needs of our partners and the opportunity we have to serve customers together,” according to the Microsoft post.
The post continued: “Our mission in the Global Partner Solutions organization is to build and sell Microsoft Cloud applications, and services and devices with partners, empowering people and organizations to achieve more. We will deliver on this with partners across our solution areas and industries, to create new customer value, and you’ll hear much more about this at Microsoft Inspire next week.”
Smith previously held the title of vice president of U.S. partners, according to his LinkedIn. He has worked at Microsoft for more than 23 years.
Sanford has worked at Microsoft for more than 15 years, according to her LinkedIn. She has held the role of vice president of the GTM Strategy and Programs team within the Global Partner Solutions organization since May 2021.
Rodney Clark and partner program changes
Dezen’s promotion comes two months after Microsoft channel chief Rodney Clark decamped, and less than a week until Microsoft’s major partner event Inspire.
In May, Clark – then Microsoft’s corporate vice president of global channel sales and channel chief – announced he was leaving Microsoft as the tech giant rolled out controversial changes to its partner programs. The most controversial changes included a 20 percent premium on month-to-month commitments of popular software packages including Microsoft 365.
Partners alleged that the premium pushed customers to annual commitments – which lock customers in with their current managed service providers and lock MSPs in with their distributors. Annual commitments also prevent customers from changing their number of Microsoft licenses if they lay off employees or go out of business, potentially leaving partners on the hook to pay out the rest of the contract.
The other major change – set to take effect in October – is the introduction of partner capability scores to determine which Microsoft partners classify as “solutions partners” and receive “specializations,” replacing the old gold and silver system and giving partners more incentives and training from Microsoft.
In June, Clark started his new role as vice president and chief commercial officer of Johnson Controls.
Inspire this week
Microsoft’s channel leadership changes come ahead of Microsoft Inspire, which will be held online Tuesday and Wednesday. Unlike other tech conferences, which have returned in person or done a mix of live and online events, Microsoft held Inspire entirely online as the world continues to grapple with COVID-19.
Dezen, Parker and Sanford are set to speak during Inspire – not to mention Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella – according to the event’s website.
Parker and Dezen will participate in a discussion on “partner opportunity” during the event, according to the website.
Dezen will participate in a separate discussion on “how partnering to build solutions across the Microsoft Cloud better positions you to address customers’ business imperatives,” according to the event website.
Parker will participate in separate discussions on “how to put Microsoft industry clouds and opportunity into perspective” and “Microsoft’s approach to selling and the critical role partners play in bringing solutions to market.”
Sanford will participate in a discussion on the solutions partner designation, specializations and “coming investments related to the Microsoft clouds for industry,” according to the website.
Nadella’s keynote will focus on “how Microsoft is creating new opportunity for our partners as we help every organization use digital technology to differentiate, build resilience, and do more with less,” according to the website.
Nadella and VMware CEO Raghu Raghuram will “discuss industry trends and how they impact cloud adoption, our shared opportunity to help customers thrive with Microsoft and VMware Cloud offerings like Azure VMware Solution (AVS), and how leaders are navigating these shifts amidst continued uncertainty,” according to the website.
This article originally appeared at crn.com
Federico Frattini, dean of Milan-based POLIMI Graduate School of Management: “Starting from 2020, we entered a process of deep rethinking about what the school stands for. What is its responsibility in society? What do we really want to achieve in terms of our purpose, our vision?”
It has been a busy two years for Federico Frattini. Appointed dean of one of Italy’s premier business schools at just 39 in 2020, he has presided over the introduction of cutting-edge new programs, including a newly revamped and repurposed MBA, as well as a digitalization effort that includes the launch of a pioneering AI platform.
But the biggest change began soon after Frattini took over, and continues this year. Frattini’s B-school, MIP Politecnico di Milano, rebranded to become POLIMI Graduate School of Management, a move that involved more than a name change for a B-school founded 43 years ago: It was part of a strategic plan and “repositioning” to become a school “recognized as one of the most innovative business schools,” Frattini says, “and because of its commitment to building a more equitable, inclusive and mindful society.”
It’s a big ambition in any environment. That it was undertaken amid a worldwide pandemic is doubly impressive.
“The path we have taken is not limited to a new logo and visual identity,” says Frattini, who assumed POLIMI’s deanship after a dozen years at the school as a professor of innovation. “POLIMI Graduate School of Management, in fact, wants to be a school rooted in Milan but present all over the world.”
Sustainability is a priority for one reason, Frattini says. Graduate business education is not only the likeliest agent of positive and sustainable change in the world — it may be the only one.
“Because there are 13,000 business schools in the globe, millions of people studying in these business schools every year and millions of alumni who are in touch with their business school,” Frattini tells Poets&Quants. “I really don’t see another place from which to source change, from which a trigger for positive change can come. It will not come from institutions. It will not come from regulation. It will not come from financial markets. It will come from a new generation of leaders trained mostly in business school who become more aware of the role that they can play, of the paradox that they can solve between maximizing profits and shareholder values and impacting positively on society. As I said before, there’s growing evidence in research that this can be done — that there’s a way to combine the happiness of shareholders and the suite of higher purposes. But it’s still not, I would say, in the core of business schools’ actions.
“And so it’s really, I would say, a social responsibility that we feel for ourselves. We have a belief that education is the most powerful weapon that you can have to change the world, using the words of Nelson Mandela. This is the time when, in business schools, we need to act. There are special issues in top management journals discussing repurposing business schools — forums, books — but action is still lagging behind. So this is our little attempt in our small business school.”
An expert in AI, Frattini has overseen an ambitious digitalization effort at POLIMI, which for the first time in 2022 was ranked among the top 100 B-schools by The Financial Times. It is ranked second in Italy behind only SDA Bocconi — and given its ambitious array of undertakings, even higher positions in the rankings seem likely in future.
Earlier this year POLIMI launched FLEXA, an AI learning platform developed in partnership with Microsoft that acts as a career coach for potential students, current cohorts, and alumni networks. FLEXA analyzes each individual and suggests personalized materials to close skills gaps while promoting their profiles to recruiters. As dean, Frattini has also been heavily involved in POLIMI recently achieving “B Corp Certification,” an award recognizing companies’ commitment to sustainable development and building a more inclusive society. POLIMI is the first Italian business school to secure the designation, and just one of a few worldwide.
In the classroom, too, POLIMI under Frattini’s guidance is making news. In January the B-school announced a “NewGeneration MBA” that aims to train a new generation of leaders for an era focused on sustainability, promising to deliver advanced management skills combined with tools “to unleash the latent power of purpose and enable a new generation of leaders to meet the unique challenges of the 21st century.” The new MBA launches this fall. Even more recently, POLIMI announced a partnership with French B-school SKEMA to create a unique double degree in product management and UX design that offers students the combination of tech, business, and design skills most valued by companies looking to strengthen their product teams. The new program’s first cohort, which will split time between Paris and Milan, also gets underway this fall.
“We want to be a place of experimentation where innovative, practical and applicable solutions are born to solve the most pressing problems that our society is experiencing,” Frattini says. “A school capable of promoting a true sense of community that brings together students, teachers, and alumni, but also all the school staff. An institution that is committed to inspiring and promoting a genuine commitment to making our planet and society better, more sustainable, more equitable, and more inclusive places.”
In an exclusive interview with Poets&Quants, Frattini talks about his plans for the growing B-school, including the rebranding that has led the school to launch a new strategic plan and to redefine its purpose and values. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Poets&Quants: Let’s start with the rebrand of the school. We’re still only a couple of months into the new name. It’s no small thing to change the name of a business school, but this was about more than just a name change, wasn’t it?
Federico Frattini: Yeah, there are two interconnected things that explain why we decided to go for this brave, let’s say, step. One is the fact that starting from 2020, we entered a process of deep rethinking about what the school stands for. What is its responsibility in society? What do we really want to achieve in terms of our purpose, our vision? And this led us to identify a clear positioning of the school as a place where we inspire people and organizations that believe in innovation, to really shape a better future for all, which means that we are seriously committed to take on a more active role in creating a new generation of leaders who are deeply aware, deeply conscious of their inner values, their inner motivations, the meaning that they supply to their work. And through this process of building awareness, they are also able to become positive agents of change in their organizations.
We are very much convinced that sustainability and impact do not come from outside, and cannot be seen as something you have to do, because there are certifications, because there are political, societal, institutional pressures. It’s something that really happens, if it comes from a deeper understanding of the role that we play in our everyday action, not only in maximizing the value for our shareholders, but also in impacting broadly our society. So this led to really setting up a new culture for the business school, a new set of values for the business school. And we wanted all of these to be reflected in the entire experience that we offer to our prospective students, current students, alumni, and companies we work with. Which of course required also a change in not exactly the naming, but for sure the branding experience, the values that it conveys. So this is one important trajectory.
The second one is acknowledging that our previous naming today stands for something that is not really identifiable, goes back to our legacy where we were founded in 1979. MIP was the acronym of Master in Production Engineering, which was the very early positioning of the school. So a school which trained engineers on more management-related topics. In 40 years of history, even before our new strategic plan, the school has become really a business school, where we open up our programs also to non-engineers, non-technical people. And so even without the strategic developments that started in 2020, we understood that our name didn’t really convey what we became. We did this process together with Interbrand, one of the top consulting firms in branding, and with data they proved that our name didn’t really convey the essence of a modern business school.
And we decided in the naming to establish a stronger connection with Polytech Milano, the university we belong to. Because it has become really a internationally recognized brand. It’s among the top 10 technical universities in Europe, among the top 15 in the world. In design, it’s No. 4 in the world, architecture No. 5 in the world. So a very well-reputed technical entrepreneurship innovation school. So we wanted to establish that closer connection and then strengthen also our belonging to the city of Milan, which after Expo 2015 has gone through a period of real growth, development, and innovation, and now it’s considered among the top destinations in Europe for students coming from everywhere in the world.
So this is about the name, the values, the tone of voice, the responsibility that we feel are more reflected into the type of graphic elements of the brand, the colors that we use, the tone of voice that we apply. And this is the process that led us to change our name and brand.
See the next page for the rest of P&Q‘s interview with POLIMI Dean Federico Frattini.
P&Q: Talking of sustainability, just about every top B-school is talking about it right now, in Europe and the United States and elsewhere. How does your school stand out? In what way would you like it to stand out even further?
Federico Frattini: I think that today, most of the efforts of business school in the field of sustainability are very much related to teaching sustainability skills framework, how to design a sustainability strategy, a materiality matrix, stakeholder engagement. So the classical approach is to enlarge the component of more traditional MBAs, master’s programs that deal with sustainability and impact. So that’s the most common approach that I see. I see discussion in conferences organized by AACSB or others about whether we should design new programs entirely focused on sustainability, or whether we should add modules, majors, electives to existing programs, so this is kind of the debate. I’ve seen very few attempts — and this is what maybe we are trying to use as a lever to distinguish our school — I’ve seen less attempts in challenging the core assumptions of the MBA and master’s programs that business schools teach.
And the core assumption in my view means exactly what I was saying before: Sustainability comes by necessity through a stronger attention to the human side of management and leadership. To really create sustainable, impactful organizations, we need to start from building a more conscious and meaningful style of leading organizations. We need to switch from the idea that businesses are such a technical system designed to maximize some measurable objectives, to a view of organizations as expressive systems where their inner meaning is to supply sense to the work of people. And through these sense-making activities, we create energy, engagement, commitment, positive emotions. That is what can unleash the achievement of higher purposes, more expansive purposes. As many professors talk about, such as Ranjay Gulati from Harvard Business School, or Rebecca Henderson from Harvard, George Serafeim. But then it’s not reflected in programs.
So our attempt, especially with the New Generation MBA that is starting this fall, is really to change from scratch the approach and start from the self component of an executive MBA. So workshops, coaching sessions, bringing into the program other disciplines — spirituality, psychology, sociology, philosophy — to build better people more than better leaders. Then on this, you can build the hard technical skills that any MBA candidates need to have. So that’s one distinctive aspect, which is more reflected in our New Generation MBA as a pilot project. And then next year, if it’s successful, we want to extend this approach to other programs.
The second thing is that business schools are businesses themselves. There are business schools with $200 million revenues and hundreds and hundreds of staff, but I’ve seen very few business schools behaving authentically — working hard to become, themselves, really conscious, really impactful, really sustainable organizations. So all the standards that are being discussed in accreditation bodies or ranking institutions are much more on mapping sustainable development goals in courses, how much you teach sustainability — not enough, in my view, in terms of how you are behaving as a real authentic sustainable organization.
P&Q: Following on that, you just received the B Corp Certification, and that supports what you’re talking about, doesn’t it?
Federico Frattini: The decision to go through this process, which has positioned us as the first, and I think today still the only, business school in Europe with that certification, is really to test ourselves as a sustainable organization. And we are just publishing the first sustainability plan of the school, done exactly as real sustainable businesses do. It’s a plan where we state our goals, where we plan actions, that was built by listening to stakeholders. So we are trying to establish a serious commitment in being authentically a sustainable organization as a way to be, I would say, authentic in also teaching sustainability or teaching impact. I think these two aspects are what we are trying to use as levers to position our school in a different way, in the debate about sustainability.
P&Q: Sustainability takes on a more urgent character when you look at what’s happening in Italy and Europe right now with climate change, with massive droughts and weather changes and the strife that results from that. Is there an urgency to this, to your school’s rebranding, and to graduate business education embracing sustainability?
Federico Frattini: “We are committed to a more active role in creating a new generation of leaders who are deeply aware of their inner values, their inner motivations, the meaning they supply to their work — and through this process of building awareness, they are also able to become positive agents of change in their organizations.”
Federico Frattini: It’s a priority for one reason, because there are 13,000 business schools in the globe, millions of people studying in these business schools every year and millions of alumni who are in touch with their business school. I really don’t see another place from which to source change, from which a trigger for positive change can come. It will not come from institutions. It will not come from regulation. It will not come from financial markets. It will come from a new generation of leaders trained mostly in business school who become more aware of the role that they can play, of the paradox that they can solve between maximizing profits and shareholder values and impacting positively on society. As I said before, there’s growing evidence in research that this can be done — that there’s a way to combine the happiness of shareholders and the suite of higher purposes. But it’s still not, I would say, in the core of business schools’ actions.
And so it’s really, I would say, a social responsibility that we feel for ourselves. We have a belief that education is the most powerful weapon that you can have to change the word, using the words of Nelson Mandela. This is the time when, in business schools, we need to act. There are special issues in top management journals discussing repurposing business schools — forums, books — but action is still lagging behind. So this is our little attempt in our small business school.
P&Q: It’s been an interesting two years since you became dean in 2020, amid a pandemic in addition to all the urgent issues related to climate change and a hundred other issues. Talk about your two years in charge at POLIMI.
Federico Frattini: On one side, the breakout of the pandemic, of course, was a big mess to deal with, as with any other business school, because we have half of our students coming from abroad, from 55 countries every year. And so traveling was not possible. And so we had almost no students in 2020, and also beginning 2021 to travel to Italy for many, many months. So it was on one side a negative, a barrier to a big change like the one we want to do. But on the other side, designing our strategic plans, setting out our priorities, choosing who we want to be in five years’ time during the pandemic, because basically we did so starting from February 2020, was a rich opportunity to really ask yourself, “What can we do in a context that is changing in these directions?” And if you think about the pandemic, this problem is human, but not in terms of polluting or things like this, in terms of their systemic nature, in terms of their lack of collaboration, lack of trust, lack of common purposes, lack of empathy, all these big grand challenges at the very core, have a human component, have a lack of, I would say, humanization of relationships, of exchanges, of supplies.
I see business schools doing wonderful jobs in combining management with the distant disciplines like the ones I spoke about before. This is what we are doing. I really think that we need to broaden the perspective. We just did an attempt in 2021, just to tell you a story, and we launched a short program on spirituality and management. You can’t believe it. It was a huge success. A lot of people enrolling, a lot of companies asking for corporate programs on the topic. It’s a clear sign that people understand the importance of going deeper into the human nature of their being leaders. And so this was very reassuring in moving even further. So on one side it was a delay, the pandemic and all what was a consequence; on the other side, it was a trigger in thinking boldly about what we can do.
P&Q: Let me ask you for your views on traditional MBAs and what those need to do. What challenges does the MBA face in today’s world in 2022? And how is your school addressing some of those challenges?
Federico Frattini: I think the MBA for younger people who just graduated, two or three years of experience, is not suffering in terms of applications like executive MBAs. So I think it’s a format that still has a meaning. I see more attention of students toward shorter MBA programs. So in the U.S., they are almost all two years.
I’ve heard and read about the fact that two years is a little bit too much for stopping a career. Our program was until two, three years ago, one year and a half. One important move that we did is to shorten it to one year. So very concentrated, very full-time experience. What we are doing is two things. One is improving the component of internship and hands-on experience in companies, because we believe that this gives a different value proposition to the program — less theoretical, more practical. And because the longer you stay in a company, the higher will be the chances that then you get a permanent job. So it’s a way also to Excellerate our placement.
And the second thing is the one I mentioned before: We are really starting from the person at the center. So the MBA starting in September, it’s called “New Generation MBA” because it aims to be in itself an MBA of a new generation and to prepare a new generation of leaders. So it really has a strong weight to the personal, human, inner development of these people through a series of really unconventional experiences like real coaching sessions with professional coaches, workshops where we work on the psychological dimensions of living in a company and working in a company, on cross-fertilization from other disciplines.
And then the more hard-skill start is a real redesign of the importance of the different components. I think that in our MBA until this year, the leadership component was very much technical — leading teams, managing negotiations or conflicts, public speaking, time management, attending a job interview. In my view, this is something that has already become a commodity. The new leadership component is the human development of people, as I said before. So that’s the other stage we are taking.
And to be honest, all the people who are enrolling in this MBA starting in the fall 2022 are acknowledging the importance of these aspects. So I received many messages saying, “I chose your MBA full-time because I see that it gives weight to what I consider important and to what other companies are increasingly searching for, in the talent that they hire.” So not only technically skilled people, but also more grounded, 360 humans, I would say.
P&Q: And perhaps related to this, but I see in The Financial Times ranking where your MBA ranked 91st, that you have 49% women in that program. What is your advice to other European MBA schools who are struggling to get anywhere near that? Some of the top business schools are stuck in the 30s for women in their MBA program. So you are doing something right there.
Federico Frattini: Oh, it’s a very positive number because we are perceived as belonging to a technical school. And this typically creates a little bit of a barrier toward women taking part in our programs. I think that what paid off in this direction is, it seems to be a marginal thing, but we worked very much on inclusion, in the touchpoints that we create with our students. So the tone of voice, the brand we want to convey. It’s not the typical, I would say, masculine environment — power, success, career — but really something that positively waits and gives importance to values that go outside this.
I would say that also comparing ourselves with other Italian business schools that are more on the traditional, I would say, leadership and management archetype — this is a distinguishing aspect. Then we do many things that other business schools do, waivers and scholarships for women to encourage their participation.
DON’T MISS CELEBRATING INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: MEET THE B-SCHOOL FEMALE FOUNDERS and ITALY’S ‘NEW GENERATION’ MBA
The post Grand Plans In Milan: P&Q’s Exclusive Interview With Federico Frattini, Dean Of POLIMI Graduate School Of Management appeared first on Poets&Quants.
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