Be prepared - the future is unwritten

Sarah Lethbridge (Director of Executive Education, Cardiff Business School), considers the importance of innovation and collaboration in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing digital economy.

These are uncertain, challenging times. Brexit, now triggered but still undefined, looms large over the business and political environments. We are all still largely in the dark about what it will ultimately mean and questions, lots of questions, fill the information vacuum.

It is true that many of the companies we work with at Cardiff Business School are currently experiencing a surge in the demand for their products and services. However, while the weakening of the pound has made UK exports more desirable, how long can it last and what will the future bring for Wales? Imports are now dearer and prices are increasing. Does this cancel out the benefits from any sales boosts? Will we pursue a free trade policy? Does Wales, and the rest of the UK, have the access to enough people and skills to survive?

If in doubt, innovate

Universities are affected by these unknowns just as much as the business community and yet I’m not scared.  I have confidence in Cardiff University to not only survive, but thrive, thanks to the knowledge we possess, the research that we conduct and our ability to be at the cutting edge of innovation.

I agree with the consensus of many commentators who have remarked – for a number of years – that it will be the knowledge economy, technological skills and digital innovation that will safeguard the future of our economy. I was particularly pleased to see leading business facing organisations such as Business in the Community take the lead on some of this work, with the publication of the Brave New World report last November; clearly setting out both the challenges and opportunities for businesses which engage with the coming revolution.

So what can businesses do? Well, if in doubt, innovate and consider your business – and its role in society.

What challenges do you face on a day to day basis? What are the disruptive technologies that are going to turn your business model upside down? Have you innovated your way out of disaster? Or have you yet to face the challenge and you’re concerned about what’s ahead?  Companies across the board are busy, winning customers, fulfilling orders, working on problems, managing people, responding to the latest demand that crops up that day – but how much time do you get to step away from your work, contemplate, investigate, research and think?

Work with universities - they can do the thinking

Universities think. It’s what we like doing best. We enjoy thinking and we enjoy sharing this knowledge, working together with students, colleagues and our communities, local, social and business. There are numerous ways that we can collaborate to innovate and we are keen to work with you to develop bespoke programmes and opportunities that meet your needs.

Panalpina, a global supply chain solutions company, contacted us in 2012 looking to collaborate. From a small acorn of collaboration, a sponsored prize for a student essay (entitled What is the future of logistics?) a plethora of ideas were gleaned from our bright, capable students. They recruited the winning student on the spot! Our partnership grew, leading to Knowledge Transfer Partnerships in 3D printing and advanced inventory forecast modelling. The advantage we mutually gain from our partnership has created the Panalpina Research Centre, led by Professor Aris Syntetos.

Cardiff Business School has almost 150 academic members of staff who could potentially assist your business. We also enjoy taking an interdisciplinary approach, working with colleagues across the University to innovate and solve business problems, large and small.  Programmes such as Astute 2020 have been created to be ‘easy to access’ opportunities across University colleges and schools. This interdisciplinary initiative provides SMEs with funded access to Computational Engineering Modelling, Advanced Materials Technology and Manufacturing Systems Engineering expertise and innovation.

So ask yourself, what are you doing to think creatively and be more innovative? Have you properly considered the challenges that are ahead in the digital economy? Are you dedicating enough time and space to this most critical of tasks, to make sure that your organisation is delivering the maximum amount of value and is resilient to change? Cardiff Business School, a Public Value Business School, has the expertise and the desire to assist. 

An earlier version of this blog was first published on