The MSIM Curriculum Part Five: A Plan for Transformation

October 05, 2012

Throughout the Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM) program, the focus is on developing management acumen to be able to leverage technology to improve business performance and to innovate. This month we profile the two courses that are especially tuned to this objective.

In Daniel Jewell’s enterprise systems class, students learn to manage the powerful tools that have become indispensible to efficient operations, and to know the signs if something is about to go wrong. In the capstone applied project course, student teams present plans for using IT to transform business processes to panels of industry leaders. Faculty Director Robert St Louis says the applied project pulls from everything students learn throughout the program.

Essentially, the applied project displays the transformation of the students themselves.

Managing Enterprise Systems

Daniel Jewell cites a dramatic statistic about enterprise systems: 50 to 70 percent fail. Often the failures are catastrophically expensive: one large retailer suffered a failure that cost $100 million; another company went 90 days without being able to process a single order.

The reason these systems fail so often, Jewell says, is because companies do not manage them well. Companies will start down the path to implementing one without adequately assessing the associated risks, then once operational, the systems are poorly managed. Managing Enterprise Systems, Jewell’s course, exposes MSIM students to the issues surrounding enterprise systems so that they are prepared to manage them on the job.

Sometimes companies run into trouble when they do not take care to assure that the systems will marry the technology already in place.

“A big focus of the class is how we can use enterprise systems, like ERP and CRM, to harmonize and align business processes across various business units to create value,” Jewell said recently. “In some cases, the framework of the system can actually be used to directly enable new opportunities to create value that would not have otherwise been possible.”

Sometimes the problems stem from a lack of leadership – specifically obtaining buy in from across the organization. “Managers like to save money,” Jewell said. But sometime they don’t get down to the nitty gritty to determine whether a system really will save money, and what its impact will be on the day-to-day.”

“We’re going to be looking very specifically at how change management, knowledge management, and organizational culture can play huge roles – both positive and negative – in the success of an enterprise system implementation,” he added. “Sometimes these critical aspects are overlooked and not well understood by IT or management.”

Students will get hands on experience with a cloud based ERP system. Although this course is not about implementation, using this system will expose students to the variables that lead to common failures which often occur during implementation. “They will be able to go in and see what a failure might look like,” Jewell explained, so that they will be prepared should those characteristics appear during their careers.

Applied Project

The focus of the Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM) is on learning how to leverage information technology to create value for organizations. The applied project is an opportunity for students to do just that for a real organization.

Students are organized into teams at the very beginning of the program, according to Professor Robert St Louis, faculty director, so that as they complete their courses they have the opportunity to apply what they have learned.

The project is organized into four phases: industry analysis, company analysis, transformation plan and technology plan.

During phase one students conduct a PEST (political, economic, social and technology) analysis for the industry they have chosen. The PEST analysis helps them uncover factors that are likely to affect the future profitability of the industry sector.

Students then conduct a Porter's five forces analysis to determine the state of competition within that industry segment. Porter’s analysis looks at two forces from 'horizontal' competition: threat of substitute products and the threat of new entrants. Then it examines the company’s position in terms of two forces from 'vertical' competition: the bargaining power of suppliers and the bargaining power of customers. Finally, it looks at rivalry among established firms.

This analysis uncovers insights about the future of the industry and the company’s potential for growth, competitive success, and profitably.

In phase 2, students focus on the company itself, conducting a SWOT analysis.

“Without understanding the environment and the company itself, you can’t expect to come up with a plan for transformation,” St Louis said.

In phase three, students use what they’ve learned about business processes and work flow design to determine what the company needs to do to improve its position, and how IT can help accomplish that transformation.

Last, students develop an implementation plan, identifying what databases and/or servers are needed, what the financial implications will be, and the steps required for implementation.

“The applied project gives students hands-on experience at using information technology to transform one or more processes within a functioning organization. This experience is priceless, and a key component of our program,” St Louis said. In essence, the applied project is a test drive of students’ new knowledge and skills. And in some cases, he added, these projects have been adopted by companies, and the students involved have been promoted to manage the implementation.

Editor’s note

This concludes our series on the MSIM curriculum. Our intention has been to deliver insights that are useful to all business practitioners, whether they are considering a master’s degree program or not. For prospective students, we hope these articles help you decide whether the MSIM is the right step at this point in your career. If you would like to discuss the program, we invite you to contact Angela Walline, who manages admissions to the MSIM Evening Program, our in-person, one-year offering, or Amanda Alfano, who manages the Online MSIM process.

Previous stories in this series:

Part One: The Line-of-Business Ladder

Part Two: Data and Project Management

Part Three: Business Intelligence and Security

Part Four: Managing the Edge