A Letter From the Editor

It seems trite to start this letter with so obvious a phrase as “it’s hard to believe it’s been a year since we launched the new DI website,” but it’s true! Here I sit, amazed at where the last year has taken us and yet simultaneously certain that it must have been just last week that we sat down with our Superfriendly friends to dream up what the DI site could be. 

A website redesign is a funny thing, and it can be as big or small as you make it; we came to ours in pursuit of a few truths: 

We knew we wanted to tell the story of the incredible work already taking place at the intersection of business and technology in the HBS and Harvard community. As a team we have an intimate view into the breadth of research, depth of questioning, and strength of conversations happening every day by dedicated individuals across Harvard and beyond. 

To tell this story, we looked to our roots within the HBS Initiatives ecosystem. The HBS Initiatives are research-fueled “communities of engagement” where faculty and students connect with practitioners in the field to develop insights that drive impact. They provide powerful platforms to address complex, multi-dimensional topics that demand a new managerial mindset.  

We knew our work at the DI was to cover as wide a range of topics as the Initiatives themselves, addressing the digital transformation issues that businesses must address in an ever-changing global marketplace. We saw, also, a growing demand from our MBA students, who increasingly ask the question, “How can I navigate the tech landscape at HBS? Where in the tech industry can my HBS degree take me?” To this end, we hoped to serve as a bridge between HBS and the larger tech community. We believed (and still do!) that HBS’s position as the premier destination for business education lends us a unique perspective to add to conversations around technology. 

Above all, we were certain of the importance and timeliness of this work. Digital transformation is here to stay, and the questions that are at the heart of our work here at the DI are central to the daily lives of people all over the globe. Don’t many of us occasionally find ourselves wondering how AI might impact our livelihood or whether some seemingly irrevocable aspect of our day-to-day existence will be replaced in 5 years by the continuing Uberfication of society?  

What we have seen emerge over this past year has been in a word: incredible. Far beyond the scope of a simple website redesign, I have watched amazed and humbled as a real sense of community has taken root and flourished around this topic of the digital transformation, both through our engaging on-campus events and curated discussion here online. 

This past year we’ve made new friends and sparked thrilling conversations. We’ve learned about the precarious state of cybersecurity and how to play to win at digital strategy. We’ve explored how technology is impacting retail, finance, athletics, health care to name a few. We asked ourselves, “What skills does the modern worker need to succeed and lead in the digital economy?”  

Of one thing I’m certain: even as technology contributes many great advances to our world, we are just getting started. As we look around us and see examples of technology gone awry — of platforms being used to corrupt public elections, of CEOs struggling to lead technology ventures at scale, of unseen ramifications creeping forth from exciting innovations — it is clear that now, more than ever, we are in need of great leaders who can make a difference in the world. On this score, HBS has always been uniquely and centrally positioned to take up that mantle.  

I hope you enjoy this look back at some of our highlights from this past year, and moreover share in my excitement for the things to come. Here’s to many winding conversations to be had and, perhaps, even a few answers to be found. 

With gratitude and enthusiasm, onward, 


Article highlights from the year

Driving Digital Strategy

In the digital landscape, the rules of strategy are changing. In this flash talk, Professor Sunil Gupta shares how to focus on the possibilities of technology – without missing the big picture.


The Secret is “There are No Secrets”

Thinking that fancy math and big numbers will increase our safety online? SEAS Professor James Mickens urges you to think again. In this talk from our 2017 Future Assembly conference, Mickens helps us understand how precarious the current state of cybersecurity is.

HBR Whiteboard Session: How Does Blockchain Work?

Just getting started learning about blockchain? This primer from DI professor, Karim Lakhani is the place to start. In this HBR Whiteboard Session, Professor Lakhani explains how the blockchain works and why we should care. Finally, Lakhani provides a brief roadmap for leaders looking to implement the promising technology within their own organizations.

Data Skills: They’re Not Just for Data Scientists

Data skills are in higher demand than ever, and the workforce is moving to fill the gap. In this article, Emily Glassberg Sands (Ph.D. ’14 in Economics) shares her observations on data upskilling trends gleaned from over 30 million learners at Coursera — some of them might surprise you!


The Triple-Strength Worker

What skills does the modern worker need to succeed and lead in the digital economy? DI Director David Homa makes the case for developing skills in computing, applied math, and at least one area of domain expertise (hint: it doesn’t have to be a STEM field at all).


The New Normal: Luxury in the Secondary Market

Modern shopping habits are changing. HBS alum Charles Gorra explains how by embracing rather than resisting these shifts in preferences, Rebag was able to build a successful business around secondhand luxury handbags.

Hiding Products From Customers May Ultimately Boost Sales

Assortment rotation – swapping out products that are displayed by a store – is a popular business strategy for brick-and-mortar and online stores alike. But when and how should stores release a few products at a time versus revealing an entire product line? This research from Assistant Professor Kris Johnson Ferreira and Visiting Scholar Joel Goh is helping retailers fine tune that answer.

Can Startup Invisibly Be the New Revenue Stream Publishers Dream Of?

With promises of making big money off of readers without relying on subscriptions and hundreds of alleged partners who’ve signed on as early testers, publishing startup Invisibly might just be the next big thing/one of media’s best kept secrets. But if it’s not subscriptions, and it’s not advertising, what exactly is Invisibly’s play – and how can they be so confident it will translate into billions?

Will Ethereum be the Platform that Successfully Brings Blockchain into the Mainstream?

Blockchain is one of a handful of technologies poised to transform a multitude of industries, and yet its promise remains relatively unrealized. However, HBS alumnus Yezi Peng (MBA 2017) thinks that the blockchain platform Ethereum might just have the power to usher blockchain into widespread usage.

Software-Enabled Clinical Trials

Healthcare companies are lagging behind. Oftentimes, clinical trial research still uses old-school processes like physical protocol binders, paper diaries, and decade old-software. Furthermore, only 5% of the U.S. population participates in clinical research. Andrea Coravos (MBA ’17) argues that the time is ripe for innovative technologies – from virtual trials and digital biomarkers to improved software tools – to transform clinical trial execution and encourage broader participation from the public.

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