The MSIM Curriculum Part One: Preparing Students for the Line-of-Business Ladder

May 07, 2012

Students in the Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM) program come from a variety of backgrounds, including, but not limited to, information technology, finance, utility, and health care, among others. What they have in common is a desire to learn how to harness IT to create competitive advantages for their companies. The curriculum of the W. P. Carey MSIM program focuses on just that: managing with technology to drive the objectives of the business, rather than managing the technology alone.

“Specialty masters programs like the MSIM are becoming more important for career advancers pursuing depth,” according to Department of Information Systems chairman, Michael Goul. “Many of our students are on the way up the ladder in corporate IT, but many others are following a line-of-business ladder. He cited a recent Wall Street Journal article describing philosophical changes at General Electric Co. as an example of that career path.

“GE used to promote the development of ‘jack-of-all-trades executive talent.’ Now they strive to nurture deep industry expertise,” Goul said. “Part of the reason is the increasing complexity of what one needs to know in order to manage a line of business, and another part is the need for talent to demonstrate they can perform through complete competitive business cycles.”

Goul asserts that information products and services are increasingly at the heart of business innovations and efficiency gains, so managers seeking depth in their line-of-business need to be armed with what the MSIM degree has to offer.

Students earn the degree in 12 months if they attend the on-site program at the W. P. Carey School. The next cohort starts in mid June. The Online MSIM is 16 months long, and cohorts begin in August and January. The programs are virtually identical except for the delivery method.

Students find that they apply what they are learning on the job while still in the program. Promotions are not unusual – some are awarded even before students have finished the degree. For example, in recent exit interviews with the on-site graduating class, over three-fourths of students indicated they had successfully put what they had learned into practice at the companies they work for – and that had gained them important exposure to their managers.

Business/IT alignment

But what do students actually learn in this program? KnowIT recently talked with Professors Ben Shao and Raghu Santanam, who teach the first two classes: The Strategic Value of Information Technology and Business Process Management.

“The first two courses delve into the issue of business/IT alignment,” Santanam said. “Right at the start we want these students to understand that IT and business go together, so all the decisions you make with technology really have to be driven by business needs.”

MSIM students arrive with an average of eight to 10 years of experience, so they have a grasp of the fundaments, Shao commented. “What they don’t know is how to extract the management core,” he said.

MSIM classes develop skills and impart knowledge in a sequence designed to build the mastery needed to advance to the next course. The group applied project requires students to use their new skills as they acquire them, analyzing a real business and coming up with a transformation plan that they present at the end of the program.

But that's getting ahead of our story. The MSIM experience begins with Shao’s and Santanam’s courses.

Course 1: Strategic Value of Information Technology

Alumni have told Shao that this class – the very first in the Online MSIM and one of the two in the first term of the evening program – is the set up for the entire program. According to Shao, the class explores four topics: the strategic alignment of IT and business, IT valuation, IT governance, and a special topic bridging off a current trend.

For students from liberal arts, engineering or science backgrounds, this class provides the foundational business framework, beginning with why companies exist. “Companies exist to create value – to make money,” Shao explained. “The next question is how IT can help the company create value.”

Coursework is a combination of case studies, textbook readings and outside materials, including individual assignments and a group project. This is where students acquire – or polish – the skills they’ll need in every subsequent class.

For example, during the IT valuation segment, these students -- on the verge of advancing higher in their companies -- learn how to present the evidence supporting IT initiatives and master the tools they need to make the case, such as ROI, portfolio management and real options.

The mix of business experience in the class makes for a lot of discussion: “There’s a lot of interaction,” Shao said, “and that is to the benefits of both the students and the professor alike.”

Course 2: Business Process Management


This course builds the foundations for process analysis by focusing on key aspects of business processes, including information, documents, people, roles and business rules. Here’s what the course description says: “The main objective is to provide an introduction to various techniques and tools of process analysis, including an understanding of organizational issues in rolling out change initiatives.”


“In my course we take on the internal aspects of the business – business process,” Santanam said. “We look at the structure of the business, going inside the business processes, then we ask, ‘how can technology help me?’”


Students in these early classes are beginning to build an enterprise view of business, Santanam said. “The students who come to these classes are familiar with what they do in the firm – they are part of a process somewhere – but many times what they don’t have is the perspective of what the larger business is about and why they do some things the way they do.”


The project in Santanam’s class pulls everything together for many students: “At the end of it they understand what the stakeholder needs are, who their customers are, why they do certain things for these customers, and what they need to do better.”


They also learn how to quantify business objectives. “How do you justify investment? How do you justify a change initiative? What’s the return on investment? What’s the business impact?” Santanam said. “That’s essential for the rest of the courses.”

Ready for the next chapter

Students are also learning how to be successful in the program. “Many have been out of an education environment for a number of years,” Santanam said. In the first few weeks, they learn how to juggle assignments and readings with work and family responsibilities. In addition, they learn what's expected of a master’s degree student in a major business school.

Along the way, the faculty is close by, ready to answer questions and discuss the new theories and frameworks that are being explored in class. In the on-site program, these interactions are part of what makes classes fluid, and side conversations enable students to drill deeper into the issues that interest them. In the Online MSIM, students experience the same thing -- via threaded discussions, email and Skype meetings with the professors.

By the time they've completed these two courses they are warmed up for the next chapter. Part 2 of this series will explore the next two classes.

The MSIM Curriculum Part Two: Data and Project Management

The MSIM Curriculum Part Three: Business Intelligence and Security

The MSIM Curriculum Part Four: Managing the Edge

The MSIM Curriculum Part Five: A Plan for Transformation