If society takes one lesson from COVID-19, Oliver Buechse hopes that it’s the need to prepare for disruption because it will continue to arise, whether in the form of another, possibly worse pandemic or a massive technological shift.
“The coronavirus, hopefully, will pass, but technological change is here to stay. In fact, this crisis has illustrated to all of us individuals and companies that they need to rely on technology even more so tomorrow,” says Buechse, the CEO of Advancing Digital, founder of MyStrategySource and newly named executive in residence – digital transformation at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
As many people contemplate what they could have done differently had they had more time to prepare for COVID-19, Buechse says they should take that insight and apply it to future scenarios. In the realm of technology, that could mean if a situation like a pandemic strikes again, companies and organizations could better prepare with more seamless options to work or learn from home or with a higher degree of automation so that not everything needs to shut down so thoroughly.
Buechse says COVID-19 could play a part in accelerating technological advancement. While technological change won’t impact people’s health, it could affect their livelihoods, put jobs and businesses at risk, and alter the way people do work, what they know and how they apply that knowledge, he says.
“My plea to everyone is, we didn’t have a chance to prepare for this one. We have to just live with the consequences and make the best of it. But we do have a chance to prepare for the broader one, the one that is taking a little bit more time but will be just as sweeping as this crisis, and that is digital transformation,” Buechse says.
Since co-founding the grassroots group Advancing AI Wisconsin in 2017 with counterparts Kurt Hahlbeck of Hugo Enterprises, Mike Semmann of the Wisconsin Bankers Association and entrepreneur Chizom Ekpunobi, Buechse has been sounding the alarm about the need to prepare for digital transformation.
AAIW became a nonprofit in 2019 but finding that structure wasn’t the proper fit for the organization, Buechse decided to take the venture private. This past February, he launched Advancing Digital as an LLC operating under the umbrella of his other business, MyStrategySource.
Buechse says Advancing Digital expands beyond the scope of AAIW, but its mission and goal will remain the same: raising awareness about digital disruption technology, its nature and its impacts.
Advancing Digital offers a broader range of learning modalities, including facilitated learning such as seminars and keynote speeches, individual learning through a knowledge portal and experiential learning through events like a digital transformation expo that’s slated for Dec. 4 and 5 at the KI Center in Green Bay.
In 2019, St. Norbert College and its Schneider School partnered with Buechse to offer a six-part Digital Transformation Series. UW-Green Bay took that idea a step further this past February, naming Buechse executive in residence for the Austin E. Cofrin School of Business.
Matt Dornbush, dean of the Cofrin School of Business at UW-Green Bay, says the executive in residence role is common in business schools, providing students and faculty a direct connection to an experienced business practitioner. The digital transformation focus of Buechse’s role sets the university apart, however.
The Cofrin School is working to align more closely with the regional economy, Dornbush says. That includes helping businesses prepare for digital transformation on the application side.
“The application of these new, emergent technologies into business to better serve companies, to change the way businesses can function from an efficiency standpoint, it’s really disrupting almost every aspect of how business can be done,” Dornbush says.
Northeast Wisconsin is not Silicon Valley, but it does have manufacturing expertise, and that’s where its strength lies, Dornbush says. The aim with this emphasis is not to teach students to build artificial intelligence algorithms but rather to ensure business leaders understand enough about AI to know how it can be applied, what questions to ask and who they need to hire, he adds.
Companies must familiarize themselves with concepts such as AI, augmented reality, 3-D printing, genetic code and blockchain and the effects these technologies could have on their organizations, as well as the potential solutions they could offer. The best business schools in the country are addressing this already, Dornbush says.
“In the Midwest, it seems to me we rarely want to be first, and we certainly never want to be last. If change is occurring in a linear or steady pace, that’s a pretty good strategy. But if the technology is changing business at an exponential rate, where the impact is doubling every two years, then the price you will pay for not adopting early enough is much, much greater,” he says.
With TitletownTech, many well-established businesses and a strong reputation as a supply chain and logistics hub, Dornbush says the greater Green Bay area is positioned well to take the lead on this work. In addition to Buechse, Aaron Kennedy, founder of Noodles & Co., serves as the TitletownTech entrepreneur in residence at UW-Green Bay.
These assets, along with rich internship experiences area companies can provide, will help the university prepare students for “where business is going, not where business has been,” Dornbush says.
Buechse is optimistic about the impact he can bring to UW-Green Bay and the region, even in the face of uncertain times.
“In the springtime, my office is doing double duty as a nursery. I took a picture of when the seeds first broke ground, and I said, ‘This is a wonderful and timely reminder that life goes on, that we must sow the seeds now for what is to come next.’ Preparedness is a gift. Most of us were not given that gift in the current crisis, but we still have an opportunity to prepare ourselves for the next wave of change,” he says.
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