A meaningful discussion on digital transformation requires a good understanding of both business and IT

“All my life I’ve been working at the interface of business and IT, sometimes on the business side, sometimes on the IT side. My new role will allow me to share the expertise I’ve gained, and to put it to good use”, says Arne Buchwald, who was recently appointed associate professor of digital transformation and information systems. He joined us from EBS Business School where he was assistant professor of digital transformation, responsible for setting up and developing EBS Business School’s Centre for Digital Transformation. What are his areas of expertise and what makes him tick?

Arne Buchwald

Early start

Arne started developing software when he was only nine years old. “I liked football, as you do when you’re a boy that age”, he smiles. “So, using Delphi, a now-obsolete programming language, I developed a football management system. You could add football clubs and all sorts of meta data, such as their dates of foundation, the history of their players and so on. When I was 16, I set up an IT company. But, later on, I decided to study business administration with a focus on business information systems. I also worked for a German management consultancy firm in the field of CIO and project advisory. It’s a useful foundation for my current role at Vlerick.”

He pauses, then adds thoughtfully: “Most people have a good command of either business administration or information technology. But ¬– and this is something I feel very strongly about – I’m fully convinced that you can’t have a meaningful discussion about digital transformation without an understanding of both. You need both to be able to assess the opportunities and limitations of digital technologies and their use in a business environment.”

Vast area

Arne’s area of focus is digital transformation and information systems: “I focus on how companies can leverage different types of technology to create value. Now that’s a vast area, covering a range of topics from digital strategy to operational technologies, such as Internet of Things and cloud computing.

Most of the research work he’s currently involved in can be grouped in three projects:

  1. digitisation of the individual
  2. digitisation of the organisation
  3. IT governance

Self-tracking devices

When it comes to digitisation of the individual, self-tracking devices, the Fitbits and Jawbones of this world, are increasingly popular. They collect, store and analyse all sorts of activity, body and health data, as well as other data on every day behaviour. “What factors promote or inhibit the use of such devices? Why do individuals adopt them, why do they continue to use them or, better still, why do they stop using them? These are questions I address in my research”, he explains. “And then there are the privacy issues surrounding these devices. People share all kinds of personal data on social media or when they are shopping online, but you can imagine the risks of sharing health data are different. So, what drives someone’s willingness to disclose personal data gathered with these self-tracking devices with a service provider, such as the physician or the health insurance?”

Blockchain and the emergence of the CDO

“As part of the project on the digitisation of the organisation, I’m focusing on blockchain technology. How can this fast-developing technology impact existing business models? In order to answer this question, we’ve formulated several propositions that are currently being tested together with experts.”

A study into the phenomenon of the recent emergence of the role of the Chief Digital Officer, or CDO, fits in the third and final research project related to IT governance. “For the past decade I, and many others with me, have argued that the CIO should be more business-oriented, that he should take on the role of a business enabler rather than focusing on IT infrastructure issues. Interestingly, what we see is that, despite our efforts, in the past couple of years almost every big organisation has created this new CDO position. What does that mean for the role of the CIO, and what is the relation between the two? In any case, we want to analyse why this CDO role emerged in the first place.”

Research and education with an impact

Asked why he wanted to join Vlerick, Arne doesn’t hesitate: “Because it’s one of the most reputable in Europe. When I received an e-mail from an academic head hunter I was flattered. Until then I didn’t even know academic head hunters existed. I was thrilled when I got invited for an interview and I was even more eager to start when I got to meet my then future colleagues. Meanwhile I’ve got to know some of them a little better and I’ve only come to appreciate them more.”

He also likes that the School wants to have an impact on companies and organisations: “Our education and research, while academically sound, is practice-oriented. There is no research for research’s sake. At Vlerick, we want to make a difference. Not only in our research, also in the classroom with our students, by using real-life case studies instead of fictitious ones. The digital strategy class I taught a couple of weeks ago was a case in point. During the Digital Sprint, our students got to work on challenges for two real organisations, Paradise City Festival, an electronic music festival near Brussels, and BeeOdiversity, an organisation offering services to develop nature-based solutions that aim to restore biodiversity.”

Basic skills

Arne is determined to leverage his experience to the benefit of the students and the School: “In two weeks, I’ll be teaching at the Code camp, one of the elective Boot camps, introducing business professionals to the notion of software development. Not with the aim of turning them into coders or software engineers, but to empower them. Say, a marketing professional wants to combine data from different sources, but these data are in incompatible formats. Sometimes it’s just a matter of changing a decimal point into a comma. I want to teach them how to do such straightforward things, so they no longer have to rely on IT support. These simple data transformations should be basic skills.” And he also has longer-term goals: “Together with colleagues I’m exploring various options to develop a research centre on digital technologies.”

Latin and ballroom dancer

Still, it’s not all work and no play for Arne. About twenty years ago he picked up a passion for latin and ballroom dancing. “Mind you, I’ve never participated in dance competitions, which has been a conscious decision. If I compete, I want to win. And that’s not what I want from dance. When I’m dancing, I’m alone with the music, the rhythm and my dance partner. Everything else disappears. It’s like diving into a different world.” His eyes twinkle as he says: “Dancing is what makes me tick. You need regular breaks away from the hustle, breaks during which different parts of your brain are activated.”

Profile

  • Assistant professor of digital transformation, EBS Business School, Wiesbaden, DE (2016-2019) 
  • Research assistant at the Professorship of Information Systems, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, DE (2013-2014) 
  • PhD in Management Information Systems, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, DE (2013-2016) 
  • Consultant at Horváth & Partners Management Consultants, Frankfurt, DE (2011-2014) 
  • Research assistant at the Institute of Research on Information Systems, EBS Business School, Wiesbaden, DE (2011-2013) 
  • Master of Science in International Business, Maastricht University, Maastricht, NL (2010-2011) 
  • Bachelor of Science in General Management, EBS Business School, Oestrich-Winkel, DE (2006-2009) 
  • Owner of Arne Buchwald Software, Engeln, DE (2001-2017)

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