Industry Leaders Urge Focus on Business Acumen

Mobile and cloud computing are touted as the next wave of technology that will change the world, but many IT graduates lack the business acumen to tackle tomorrow’s challenges.

Local industry leaders stressed this gap recently at the Management Information Systems conference held for faculty and directors at the UT Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management. The Jindal School hosted the conference to examine how industry and university leaders can better prepare students in an ever-evolving technology landscape.

Co-sponsored by the University of Arizona, Indiana University, the University of Maryland and the University of Minnesota, the conference brought together more than 70 faculty and program directors from 51 schools.

MIS Conference 2011

The conference brought 70 faculty and program directors from 51 schools to discuss the needs of a fast-moving technology industry.

Brian Bonner, chief information officer of Texas Instruments, delivered the keynote address before a lively panel discussion ensued among CIOs and tech experts about future trends.

Panelists said they are concerned that their newest hires understand concepts and strategy, but have little knowledge about business processes and how to “get (things) done.”

“We are preparing students on the strategy side and on the planning side as far as how to write a business plan and how to strategically do project management. … But what’s happening is students are coming out of school with fresh degrees under their belts, but have no clue about what it takes to get (things) done. Execution is completely missing,” said Venkat Kolluri, CEO of Chitika Inc.

He said future leaders are taught to manage programs and to delegate, but that they also need to have direct know-how.

Jeff Word, vice president of product strategy at SAP, said knowing business processes is crucial. “That’s how things get done in every company on the planet,” he said.

One audience member said universities are challenged by rising enrollments and frozen budgets, and the cost of running engineering and MIS programs is high.

“This group here has some of the highest costs in order to meet your needs because your needs are changing. Not every 100 years like math. Your needs are changing every six months,” the audience member told the group.

Word said most business schools teach academic programs such as accounting, marketing and finance in separate silos, but graduates must now be able to work across disciplines.

He said schools that teach project management or business process management teach students to see beyond their specific area and to problem solve.

“They are the ones who really rise to the top quickly because they’re bilingual. They can speak on the business side, but they also understand how the technology makes that happen because it happens across boundaries in the university,” Word said.

Several panelists suggested closer relationships between MIS program directors and IT professionals. Other possible solutions included more internships, co-ops and boosting curriculum with more business skills.

“I don’t think any one of our companies is looking for any specific university to put out a vanilla-flavored program and meet every single one of every corporation’s needs,” said Brad Jenson, principal academic relationship manager at Microsoft. “The fundamental issue is teaching foundational skills that put out high-quality students.”

Management Information Systems faculty and directors met with local industry leaders about best ways to prepare graduates.

Attendees of the Management Information Systems conference participated in a lively panel discussion.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].