Digital business solutions — those tools and frameworks developed to incorporate analytics, cloud, mobile, social and software technologies into everyday enterprise — play an integral role in modern, technology-driven society and business. That reality makes cultivating partnerships with companies that develop those tools and apps critical for the Naveen Jindal School of Management. This semester, several faculty members and students have been busy working their industry contacts to create those connections.
Given the success of the Morris Hite Center-IBM Marketing Customer Insights Competition last May, MS in Marketing Program Director Alexander Edsel has maintained his relationship with IBM, securing an in-kind grant valued at $270,000 to distribute the Watson Analytics cloud-based data discovery platform to UT Dallas students.
“In addition to Watson Analytics, IBM has also provided our program with Silverpop, a marketing automation software,” Edsel said. “Staying on top of these emerging platforms is very important for our program to stay relevant to industry.”
The Marketing Area is incorporating the powerful yet user-friendly Watson Analytics platform into several courses. Undergraduate and graduate market research and social media classes will all be using it.
“The plan is to roll it out to some of the courses where it makes sense, especially since not all marketing students are heavily oriented toward analytics,” Edsel said. “It helps them become more comfortable with data by taking out some of the heavy lifting involved with getting the data into shape for analysis.”
Randy Messina, worldwide public sector manager of Watson Analytics, and Edsel stayed in touch after the May competition. When Messina realized that more and more Jindal School faculty and students were registering for Watson Analytics, an agreement was reached to distribute 9,000 free licenses for UT Dallas students to use.
“We give students free access to our product for up to five years,” Messina said. “We know there’s a skills gap in the market. There are not enough data scientists or even everyday users who are able to make those key, day-to-day, data-driven decisions. If students graduate in four years, we want to give it to them for another year to use in their workplace, with the goal of convincing their employers to purchase it after having proved its value.”
Partnerships such as the one between IBM and JSOM are part of what could be best described as a three-way synergy among faculty, students and industry. The faculty teaches the students, introduces them to their vast industry networks and enhances industry knowledge with management research. Students receive a high-quality education and then replenish industry workforces upon graduation with future leaders. Industry experts work with students and faculty to provide internships and jobs and to introduce innovative business practices and technologies to curriculums.
Dr. Mark Thouin, director of the MS in Information Technology and Management program at JSOM, understands the importance of these types of tech industry partnerships. The program was recently ranked No. 16 by U.S. News & World Report for Information Systems nationwide. Two MS in ITM courses, Data Visualization and Business Data Warehousing, both utilize a desktop data exploration platform from Tableau, a company that offers its software free to full-time students worldwide.
“Our students oftentimes go above and beyond what’s required of them in the classroom to acquire new knowledge,” Thouin said. “They’re always looking to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to other situations and settings.”
One student who exemplifies that initiative is Sahil Ajmera, a graduate student in the MS in ITM program and the president of the MIS Club. He reached out to Tableau and persuaded the company to send three representatives to an MIS Club event. The trainers who participated provided the more than 120 students in attendance with advice and tips on operating the software.
“We are looking to have additional events in the future and possibly bring Tableau in for some classroom presentations and discussions,” Thouin said. “They are seeing our students as the future of the IT workforce. If they can convince our students to adopt a tool and educate them on its capabilities, that will help sell their software down the line.”
Jennifer Johnson, a senior lecturer in accounting, has been working with Intuit to transition her courses to QuickBooks’ cloud-based accounting software QuickBooks Online. Once that happens, students in her classes will be able to take advantage of a free one-year license offer from the company. For now, the school pays for desktop licenses. She anticipates that her students will begin using the online version this fall.
“Intuit doesn’t offer the desktop version of QuickBooks for free, because it is more complicated to install,” Johnson said. “Besides, they’re trying to move everybody to their cloud-based solution. Their thought process is that if students get used to it, they will be more likely to recommend it or encourage their companies to move to it.”
“Employers are demanding a higher level of touch on software tools,” DeCourcy said. “In real estate, we need to do the same thing. We need to have these tools available to them so that when they graduate, not only do they have the understanding and the typical academic rigor, but they’ve also had exposure to some of these real-world tools.”
DeCourcy and Dr. Randall S. Guttery, director of real estate programs, have cultivated relationships with CCIM Institute, an influential real estate professional organization, and Xceligent, a company that develops data and market analytics for the commercial real estate industry. CCIM has a GIS-based mapping and data platform called Site To Do Business (better known as STDB) that Jindal School students can use for free. Xceligent offers the same access with its tools.
“These tools are mature, but they remain cutting-edge because the real estate industry is slow to adopt new technology,” DeCourcy said. “Even so, the industry is changing. Firms are becoming more and more professional, and the bar is going up every year. These tools are becoming more important and we want to make sure our students get hands-on access.”
—Jimmie R. Markham