“The thesis is a fantastic opportunity” New findings relating to digitalisation challenges in recent Executive MBA thesis

5 September 2022

Why is it so difficult for product-oriented companies to succeed with digital transformation? That’s the question Christian Grante and Nicholas Feeney, who in June graduated from the Executive MBA programme at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg, wanted to answer. When it was time for the thesis in the programme’s fourth and final term, they took the opportunity to look further into this question. They describe the thesis work as educational, intensive and fun. “If you invest and put the effort in, the thesis work gives you so much back,” they say in unison.

Both Christian Grante and Nicholas Feeney had repeatedly noted, each in his own way, how well-established and product-oriented companies, despite significant resources, high levels of competence and the right timing, failed to implement digital transformation.

”My curiosity was aroused by the fact that companies seemed to do most things right, and yet they still failed. In cases where initiatives were implemented, they did not manage to charge for them, and so they gave away their solutions,” says Christian Grante, Senior Specialist Autonomous Vehicle Systems at Combitech.


From how to why

Initially, they thought that the thesis would focus on how product-oriented companies should tackle digitalisation. However, a review of the research literature showed that this knowledge already existed. So, then the question of why companies fail at digitalisation became even more interesting. To find out, they studied digitalisation projects at two product-oriented companies in depth – and found several answers.

”Our goal was to be able to contribute to the research and when we started to analyse our data, we realised that we actually had something new to describe. In short, you can say that we found three main mechanisms behind the recurring problems; mechanisms that revolve around management and controls,” says Nicholas Feeney, Director Marketing Communications at Cochlear.

The new findings show that controls applied at different decision points affect digitalisation initiatives and shifts them away from exploring opportunities to harness digital platforms and open innovation. Instead, initiatives get drawn into the companies’ established product value flow.


Challenging conclusion

So, what can companies do to avoid failed digitalisation projects? Against the backdrop of the knowledge they acquired during the work on their thesis, Christian and Nicholas believe there is a relevant, yet somewhat provocative, counter-question: should product-oriented companies even try?

”Some would argue that it might be better for some companies not to get involved in digitalisation and instead let others manage it for them. As, for example, Samsung has done in its collaboration with Google,” they say.


New knowledge in relevant topics

The Executive MBA programme at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg is taught half-time over a period 21 months. It is divided into four terms each with different main themes; From strategy to action; Managing Functions; Navigating in a changing world and Renewing business & Thesis work. The final thesis gives 15 higher education credits.

”Participants review existing research on the topic they have chosen for their thesis. They then complement that with their own investigations and analyses. Christian and Nicholas’ thesis is a very good example of theses that contribute exciting new knowledge in relevant areas of leadership and business/organisational development,” says Håkan Ericson, CEO of GU Executive Education.

Christian and Nicholas have been encouraged to take their work further. There could be a research article based on the thesis in the future – but they aren’t making any promises about this.


World-class supervisor

A master’s thesis is a substantial piece of work. For Christian and Nicholas, it was initially a challenge to find the direction and the form. They were surprised by the fact that there was already so much research on this topic, as well as by how much fun the work was and how much they themselves got out of it. At the same time, they can’t speak highly enough of their supervisor, Professor Johan Magnusson, who is also responsible for the Digital leadership module of the Executive MBA programme.

”With access to world-class tutors in their respective subject areas, the thesis is a fantastic opportunity. I have gained insights that I use every day and I learned so much more than I expected. Now I understand why some companies, despite their significant resources, cannot manage digital transformation and why they make the decisions they do,” says Christian.

Nicholas agrees, ”Writing a master’s thesis is not easy and it shouldn’t be. However, we felt that the process itself both guides and supports in a fascinating way. If you put in the effort and the necessary time, it is both fun and absolutely worth the effort.”


Nicholas Feeney and Christian Grante


For more information on GU Executive Education’s leadership programmes, contact:

Peter Salomonsson, Sales & Business Development Manager

peter.salomonsson@handels.gu.se, +46 708 62 48 60

Håkan Ericson, CEO

hakan.ericson@handels.gu.se, +46 709 50 63 35