Professor Brian Armstrong has joined Wits Business School, heading up the WBS/Telkom Chair in Digital Business.
The chair was established in 2016 and the first of its kind in Africa.
“It is an honour to have someone of Brian’s standing in the telecoms industry to lead this important portfolio. With his knowledge of the industry, his passion for the subject of digitilisation and its transformativee capacity in all aspects of business and society, I cannot think of a better person for the job,” says Kalu Ojah, professor of finance and deputy head of school of WBS.
Armstrong is well known in the telecoms industry in South Africa and Africa. After 15 years at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), where he was involved in ICT research and development (R&D), he joined British Telecoms (BT) Global Services as vice-president: Middle East and Africa. He joined Telkom in 2010 and was there until March 2017, when he resigned as chief commercial officer.
Armstrong, who describes himself, interchangeably, as a “business scientist” and a “scientific businessman”, has a passion for the science behind digitalisation, and how it applies to the business context from a business model/strategy point of view.
“In the past five years or so, there has been much hype around ‘digitalisation’,” he says. “But, while it is a very real part of our world, and applies to every aspect of business, it is a concept that is over-traded but under-researched. Most of the information we have about digitalisation is anecdotal — there is no body of knowledge available which is underpinned by rigorous academic research.”
It is for this reason that WBS established the Chair in Digital Business last year through a five-year funding commitment from Telkom. The chair will ensure that WBS is at the forefront of developing important research as well as teaching programmes that are essential for doing business in today’s digital world. The “flagship” programme of the Chair will be a masters’ degree in Digital Business, but there will be other offerings, including a postgraduate diploma, and online and executive education courses.
“New and rigorously conducted research will underpin curriculum development, and there will be exciting opportunities for people to participate and share in this research,” says Armstrong.
His vision for the Chair is threefold: to be a centre of excellence in digital business in South Africa and Africa, to become fully sustainable, and to have an impact on society.
“Our outputs must be seen and felt in our society; the Chair must have an impact on the South African and African business communities.”
Armstrong attained a BSc (Eng) and MSc (Eng) from Wits Universtiy in 1982 and 1984 respectively), and obtained his PhD from University College London in 1992.
He is a seasoned public speaker, mentor and thought leader on all aspects of digitalisation.
“There have been significant changes in digital business, and this role affords me the opportunity to explore the industry through research while bringing to the table my practical, business experience. Wits was my first choice because it’s a top research institution, and likewise WBS, which is at the forefront of emerging market research and shares my vision for the Chair.”