The next generation of digital professionals will need a far broader set of skills than today’s IT workers. Beyond simply installing and managing systems, they will need to find ways to use technology to support communication, collaboration and innovation.
That is the thinking behind a new Masters’ course at Bath Spa University, dubbed “Creative Technology and Enterprise”.
Most creative technology courses are aimed at students who want to join the creative industries, such as music, graphic design or broadcast, and offer training in digital media.
Bath Spa’s new course, by contrast, is designed specifically to train up employees for conventional businesses. It is a hybrid of computing, creativity and business that reflects the “transdisciplinary” nature of the economy, and aims to inspire students to think beyond the boundaries that divide those fields.
This is what Professor Andrew Hugill, director of Bath Spa University’s Department of Creative Computing, calls “creative technologist” thinking.
“The digital environment is changing, and changing fast. Conventional thinking is insufficiently flexible to cope with the change.
“There is a need for creative thinking at the very top of businesses that works seamlessly with technology,” he says.
To illustrate the point, Hugill and his colleagues have identified around 20 “creative technologist” roles, which they believe will be required by businesses by 2017.
Some of them are fairly straightforward. A “collective intelligence officer”, for example, will manage and secure a company’s valuable intellectual resources. A “virtual environment manager” will project manage tools such as online meeting rooms, communities and social software.
Others invoke popular emerging technology concepts. A “gamification consultant”, who helps organisations use video gaming concepts to motivate staff and engage customers, is already in existence.
But others are more abstract – and frankly rather far-fetched.
An “ideationalist” is a specialist in stimulating new ideas that work across different technologies. “The best ideas are the ones that are ‘divergent’, that are not constrained by practicalities or conventions,” says Hugill.
A “transliteracy developer”, he explains, will be required to help other staff be literate in multiple communcations platforms.
One of the more intringuingly titled roles is that of a “tetherless world engineer”. Based on a concept coined by web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and semantic web pioneer Jim Hendler, this role will be to help organisations manage knowledge assets in a way that is divorced from devices and systems.
“In a business context, we are moving away from a situation where we are tethered to a desktop computer at work,” says Hugill. Tetherless world engineering, he adds, “will be about knowledge integration that is platform independent.”
The claim that businesses will soon be recruiting “tetherless world engineers” and “ideationalists” in just four years’ time stretches credibility a little, but Hugill’s hypothesis – that businesses need creative technology thinkers – is more plausible.
“The digital economy is global and companies need to compete against businesses from around the world who are adapting to a transdiscplinary environment,” he says.
“But, lest you think I am suggesting that this is the kind of competition in which we have 'winners' and 'losers', let me also state that collaboration and cooperation are just as important as competition in this respect.
“The essence of transdisciplinarity is that you have to collaborate with others to tackle a problem from many angles.”