The shift to digital is a major strategic priority for most business leaders today. Recent research by Enterprise Strategy Group found that 84 percent of organizations agree that data represents the best opportunity to develop a competitive advantage over the next few years.

Emerging technologies – such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and robotics – are generating growing amounts of data, which is the critical driving force behind the evolution of our societies and economies.

To help organizations, business leaders, and students better understand these technologies and their impact on business and society, Columbia Business School recently launched four new research labs as part of its Digital Future Initiative, which builds on Dean Costis Maglaras’ vision to transform business research and education for the challenges of tomorrow.

Tackling everything from the digital workplace to the study of data-driven algorithmic decision-making, the labs will be led by School faculty and supported by a team of research scientists, industry advisors, interdisciplinary partners, and student researchers.  

The idea is to create an environment where participants can start to understand some of the challenges brought about by the shift to digital. The labs will draw on expert insights from leading faculty and practitioners to help organizations, governments, and communities optimize and accelerate these technological advances. The labs will also highlight the School’s cutting-edge research on various emerging technologies.

“Maybe one dimension of it is finance. Maybe another is, how does this affect people who are working in the digital economy?” explains Ciamac Moallemi, the William von Mueffling Professor of Business. He adds that the initiative seeks to understand and incorporate these important topics into the School’s curriculum so that programs and courses will be “appropriate to the way the world is going to be working in the next 10 or 20 years, not the way it worked in the last 20 years.”

The labs will also leverage the School’s longstanding interdisciplinary partnerships across Columbia University, drawing on insights and ideas from 11 global business leaders from across industries, including Bob Bakish ’89, president and CEO of Paramount Global, and Tim Campos ’11, vice president and CIO of Apple. These industry leaders will form the Digital Future Initiative Advisory Board, bringing integral private sector insight to ensure that students and other business leaders are prepared for an evolving technological landscape.

The various facets of algorithmic decision-making will be the focus of the Algorithmic Economy Lab, which will be headed by Omar Besbes, the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business. From personal finance and credit scores to supply chains and employment screening, advanced analytics are driving important decisions and outcomes in both private and public domains. The lab will explore the real-world impact they can drive and the all-important questions of transparency, privacy, ­­and fairness that algorithmic processes invite.

“The digital ecosystem is changing at a very fast pace,” says Besbes. “The types of business opportunities that emerge, or the types of skills that students need to be effective in such an environment, are also changing.  As a result, we want to make sure that we are always preparing our students to operate in this space but also to continue to have a lifelong learning journey in that space as well.”

The Briger Family Digital Finance Lab, led by Professor Moallemi, will explore the world of decentralized finance, which is changing the core functions of financial markets with novel mechanisms such as automated market makers and collateralized lending pools. The work of the lab will focus on the fundamental economics of blockchains, decentralized market microstructure, and mechanisms for decentralized organization and governance.

The Humans in the Digital Economy Lab, headed by Stephan Meier, the James P. Gorman Professor of Business, will bring together experts from across fields and disciplines to explore how technology and digitization affect and interact with humans in organizations. Projects for the lab will center on aspects of work such as automation across industries, composition of the workforce, and the reimagined workplace.

The Media and Technology Program will be centered on the fundamental overlap between the evolution of media and entertainment and the technological breakthroughs that continue to shape it. Led by Miklos Sarvary, the Carson Family Professor of Business, and Jonathan Knee, the Michael Fries Professor of Managerial Practice, it will focus on funding and disseminating advanced research on how technology has transformed the media sector.

The program will also study how new challenges associated with this transformation can be addressed, putting a major emphasis on developing courses and teaching material for the educational programs at CBS.

Sarvary says he and Knee will aim to teach students “to be efficient and proficient at identifying businesses in the space that will make sense for the long run, and not just necessarily for a very short period of time when the hype is on and then disappear.”