Gemma White: Driving Digital Transformation Through QUT Digital MBA Learnings

digital mba

Australia’s resources industry is undergoing a digital transformation driven by access to data which can unlock cost savings and productivity gains as the industry utilises this data to inform decision making.

Queensland University of Technology Digital MBA student, Gemma White, is using her skills and learnings to be a part of this digital transformation in her role at BHP where she is responsible for building the technology and digital transformation portfolio of BHP’s Queensland coal business and leading a team of project managers who deliver these projects.

Gemma has understood that the success or failure of large digital transformation projects lies not only in the technology itself, but also in the interactions and impacts on people and the organisation.

“It’s getting those three areas to align where you can deliver real, meaningful transformation, and that fascinated me,” Gemma said.

“We need leaders to be able to bring those three parts together. Personally, I was looking for a career leap – I do not have a background in technology and I was looking to bridge that gap. I completed my undergraduate degrees at QUT and noticed the digital MBA course. It was just so aligned to my situation and where I was wanting to take my career.

“We need leaders for the digital age. We need leaders that can navigate the digital landscape and the Digital MBA is crafted around that challenge.”

So, what type of data is the resources industry now looking closely at?

Gemma said, “The data relates to many different facets of the industry, ranging from equipment, productivity and maintenance data; statistics relating to individual operators of the equipment; the movement of vehicles; even weather data, which can help with long range scenario planning.

“Having people who know how to access the data, know how they can use it, and then present it in a meaningful way, unlocks the true value of the data.”

QUT Digital MBA: Aiding Organisational Decision Making

QUT’s Digital MBA is a three-year, part-time undertaking, providing a unique online leadership degree preparing students to lead future-focused organisations in an era defined by rapid technological change and digital innovation.

Nine thematic units and three practical high-impact projects provide all the elements of a traditional MBA but delivered in a flexible online environment.

digital mba
QUT Digital MBA student Gemma White

Gemma stepped into her first people-leading position in April 2020, when Brisbane was going into lockdown due to Covid-19. She found herself in a managerial role of a suddenly virtual team of largely project managers who were unable to work physically with their stakeholders, but had to pivot to this remote online way of delivering.

“At the same time we were going through significant organisational change,” Gemma said. “I had to lead this change – it was quite a challenge, but studying the Digital MBA, which is a course structured around remotely located and geographically dispersed teams, and leveraging technology to do so, meant I was ready for the challenge.”

Gemma was able to implement some key learnings from QUT’s Digital MBA into her own team, showing that they could completely change the way they work.

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Culture and Trust

Building the culture that was needed for a cohesive remote team was vital. In building the culture in her team whilst operating in an uncertain environment, Gemma knew that trust is very important, but that you often don’t have time to build trust in traditional ways.

“You have to build swift trust,” Gemma said. “You don’t have time to invest in traditional trust building.”

Importance of Social Capital

In each unit of the Digital MBA, students have an intensive two day workshop where they get together, network and build important social capital with each other. This is able to be drawn upon as you work remotely.

“Realising when your team is at a point where social capital is depleted, you can implement measures to rebuild that quickly,” Gemma said. “In my team, I try to draw on positive psychology principles. There is always an element of their work that draws back to their purpose, interests, and value. This builds resilience and helps engage and motivate the team towards shared outcomes. As the team shares their knowledge and expertise with each other, it builds a culture of care.”

Entrepreneurship Link

An MBA highlight for Gemma is the link through to entrepreneurship, including QUT’s partnership with MIT in Boston.

“The Establishing New Ventures unit was incredibly valuable,” Gemma said. “Through the unit, I applied MIT’s disciplined entrepreneurship framework to a startup business that I am a director of. The structure, discipline and principles of this approach enabled us to clearly understand the value and use of the product and consequently, identify the customer segments we should be targeting.”

Completing a high impact project for her employer also allowed Gemma to get exposure to the sort of work she wanted to move into. It allowed her to forge internal connections in the company and show she had the ability, the propensity for learning and ability to implement these new skills.

Gemma has really benefited from the vigorous discussions that have taken place amongst her cohort in the subject units and projects, and found the connections made with her peers extremely valuable.

“One of the misconceptions about the Digital MBA is that you will be working in isolation,” she said. “That has not been the case at all. Each subject includes group work with teams working together remotely to deliver projects. This closely connects you with your cohort and teaching staff, ensuring you remain engaged and supported throughout your studies.”

Brenton Gibbs
Brenton is a contributing writer to MBA News Australia. He is a director and co-founder of communications, content & creative agency RGC Media & Mktng and editorial manager of Fixed Income News Australia.