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Digital Futures conference looks at the new urgency for companies to embrace a digital-first world

The effects of COVID-19 have been significant across all industries, forcing individuals to discover a “new normal” to their routined lifestyles.

Just as the global pandemic has disrupted personal lives, so has it accelerated the preexisting priority for the digital transformation of organizations. This new urgency presents unique challenges for legacy companies that have struggled in the past on their digital transformation journeys to retool their “products” and refine their digital approaches.

Case Western Reserve University, in partnership with Innovation Research Interchange, will host the second annual Digital Futures conference to help industrial companies to embrace digital transformation. The virtual event will be held from Oct. 12 to 15.

“One thing this pandemic has shown is that we cannot delay digital transformation any more. It is now even more important to work with companies—large and small—to help their digital transformation,” said Youngjin Yoo, the Elizabeth M. and William C. Treuhaft Professor of Entrepreneurship, founder of  xLab at Case Western Reserve and Digital Futures conference speaker. 

The theme of this year’s conference, “Strategy, Culture, and Technology at Work,” will focus on how legacy companies are implementing digital strategies, navigating challenges around talent and culture and making productive partnerships. The conference will feature keynotes, panels and case studies by the leaders of these companies.

In addition to Yoo, several cross-discipline Case Western Reserve University faculty members will present at the conference including Weatherhead School’s Jagdip Singh and Ronald Fry and Case School of Engineering’s Dustin Tyler. 

As a co-creator of the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) theory and method, Fry will use the strengths-based, positive approach to help companies develop practical steps on their digital transformation journey. 

“I see digital transformation as more than one strategic priority or a special C-Suite project,” Fry said. “Successful digital transformation requires fundamental changes not just in employee behavior, but in the surrounding workplace climate and culture. Leading such system-wide transformations has not been particularly successful over the past few decades. My presentation will introduce a relatively new approach to leading positive change at the whole-system level, called Appreciative Inquiry.”

Singh will discuss his research and insights on how the “frontline” work in organizations is changing as the organizational frontier is being reshaped with digitalization, and the emergence of analytics and big data creates a new business intersection. 

Tyler will reveal the latest technology in human fusions as a future use case scenario, showcasing the rapid speed of technological innovations.

Conference attendees will learn directly from leaders in legacy companies, including Weatherhead School alumni. Speakers include:

  • Greg Gumbs, president and CEO of Bosch Rexroth, North America;
  • Karie Willyerd, chief learning officer at Visa;
  • Andrew Quigg, chief strategy officer at The Progressive Corporation; and
  • Janeen Uzzell, chief operating officer of the Leadership Team at Wikimedia Foundation.

One executive presenting during the conference is Varun Nagaraj, chief operating officer at Bidgley. 

“Digital transformation is unfolding in different industry verticals at different rates and following different trajectories,” Nagaraj said. “However, the fundamentals of transformation are the same across verticals—companies are leveraging data and new digital technologies to reimagine customer journeys, redefine products and services, reinvent internal operations, and, where possible, transform the business model.” 

Special rates are available for members of the CWRU community. The students rate is $50 and the rate for faculty and staff is $195. To access these rates, email Amal Alsahli at or Shirley Reynolds at to receive a promo code.

Registration for the 2020 Digital Futures conference is open.