Dean Freeman Introduces the Digital Matrix

Dean of Questrom School of Business Ken Freeman, joins BizTech for a riveting discussion on N. Venkat’s new book, The Digital Matrix.
​By: Michelle Foun


Ken Freeman joined the Questrom School of Business in 2010 and transformed the way we think about business and academia. Before joining BU, he served as CEO of Quest Diagnostics and was responsible for it’s dramatic financial success. His work as CEO earned him a spot in the Business Week 50 in 2004. Shortly thereafter he was named in the best 100 performing CEOs in the world by Harvard Business Review.

Although his CV is impressive, getting to talk to him was even more rewarding. On November 14, BizTech members got to sit and talk with Dean Freeman about the future of technology in many aspects of business. He introduced us to the ideas behind the book, The Digital Matrix written by Questrom School of Business Professor, N. Venkat Venkatraman.

Venkat is a lecturer and researcher in the Information Systems Department and Strategy and Innovation Department. His research has been cited over 40,000 times and counting placing him in the top 1% of cited work.

To start the conversation, did you know that just 10 years ago, only 1 of the top 10 companies in the world was an actual technology company? It’s true, Bill Gate’s Microsoft held that coveted spot. Today, 6 out of the 10 are technology companies and you probably know what they are, Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Alibaba and Amazon. With many of the other big names not far behind. What does this tell us? That the second digital age is here, and for incumbent firms, this could mean a lot of trouble.
The Digital Age identifies three players, Digital Giants, Industry Incumbents and Tech Entrepreneurs. The other side of the matrix are three phases companies can be in, Experimentation, Collision and Reinvention. These aspects make up what Venkat describes as the Digital Matrix. The matrix is set up so there are 3 key moves companies can make to deliver new business value from digital capabilities.

Freeman used the example of the supermarket industry. We know the industry incumbents are big companies like Walmart and Kroger. However recently, one Digital Giant made a very big move from their traditional business, into the supermarket industry. Amazon.

Amazon acquired Whole Foods this summer which caused a collision in the supermarket industry and now players like Walmart need to figure out how to deal with this Digital Giant and their online capabilities like Amazon Fresh. When moves are made across the matrix, it’s usually the industry incumbents who are most at risk. This makes sense because for well established firms, the idea of trying to experiment in a new market or industry can be risky and potentially detrimental to their core business. However in order to survive in this digital age, they have to start acting.

The ideas presented by Dean Freeman on the Digital Matrix sparked a conversation with all the members on what the impact will be across various industries such as automotive, higher education and pharmaceuticals. What areas do you think will be affected? Do you think any industry incumbents can survive, and if so what’s their strategy? If you are interested in learning more, check out the website and buy the book here.


We want to thank Dean Freeman again for his commitment to the students of Questrom School of Business and specifically the members of BizTech club.

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