Business schools get down to business

Monday May 1st 2000 by Zachary Rodgers
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Responding to the demand for more business-savvy IT departments, many business schools have created a new hybrid degree--the IT MBA.

There's long been an acknowledged need for greater unification of the business and IT visions within organizations. Although the question of how to accomplish this is far from resolved, many are looking to IT management to facilitate the needed marriage. And more and more of those in IT management are hoping that continuing education will give them the tools to achieve what's expected of them. Perhaps it comes as no surprise then that in response to the demand for business-knowledgeable IT pros, many business schools have created a new hybrid, the technology-management master's, or the IT MBA.

The IT-focused MBA programs, many established during the last few years, combine business and technology fundamentals into one curriculum, often within a single course. As a general rule, the IT MBA is designed for those who are already engaged in the management of technologies and who want to advance into a role with more responsibility. Undergraduates need not apply.

Mastering the methods of getting your degree

Each of these programs offers a curriculum of business fundamentals tailored to the IT professional, but each has a very different approach...

Just as an IT manager's role can vary radically from one business environment or company to the next, IT MBA programs also differ in areas such as design, scope, curriculum, and organization. Since each company demands a different degree of business intelligence and every IT professional has a different skill set, no single course of study is going to suit every prospective student. In some cases, a two-year program will far surpass a company's requirements. In others, especially in high-tech companies or non-tech companies with a strong Web component, it will be just the thing.

Ask a successful IT executive what it takes to score a high-level position, and you're bound to hear something about the importance of understanding business strategy. It is now considered crucial for up-and-coming IT pros to not only help deploy and maintain new business systems, but also to conceptualize, develop, market, and sell these cutting-edge systems to their business counterparts. Perhaps this is why a growing number of IT professionals in mid-career have opted to supplement their already aggressive diet of continuous technical learning with a little business education pie. //

Additional reporting by Andrea Williams, a writer and personal coach located in northern New England.

UPENN

University of Pennsylvania
Executive Master's in Technology Management

The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia has one of the highest profile, most selective IT MBA programs available. Established in 1988 and called the Executive Master's in Technology Management, the program requires enrolling students to bring with them an undergraduate degree in engineering, math, science, or IT, and a minimum of five years' experience in a related profession. Program participants choose to attend either full time or half time, according to the demands of their careers.

UPenn aims to give enrolling students wide exposure to business theory and practice. Available classes run the gamut of departmental operations, ranging from fairly standard business subjects with course titles like Finance, Marketing Strategies, and Organizational Behavior and Design, to more technology-based classes like Management of Technology and Engineering Economics. Electives are divided into technology and "other" categories, the latter of which contains some eclectic items along with the usual fare; you'll find Corporate Ethics and Strategic Management of Innovation on the list, alongside courses with more mundane titles like Logistics and Negotiations.

UPenn boasts a strong attention to real-world applications and extensive student interaction. Courses teach technology management by example, drawing from situations that students' encounter in their work every day. This strategy, according to the program's advocates, yields immediate results within a strong peer network that allows students to troubleshoot real-business scenarios using both their course material and the collective know-how of their fellow IT pros.


UPENNNTU

National Technological University
Management of Technology Master's
Some IT MBA programs have fewer courses but offer more flexibility in the way of scheduling and individualized study. One example is the Management of Technology Master's at National Technological University, in Fort Collins, Colo., which requires a student's employer to sponsor his or her enrollment. Established in 1989, NTU's program enrolls 25 to 30 students each term and all follow the same course of study, which includes such course titles as Taking Technology to Market and Technology, Corporate Strategy, and Global Competition. The touted benefit to the uniform curriculum is an increase in the level of peer support and the opportunity for closer partnerships between students working in like industries or with similar IT issues.

With the help of distance-learning opportunities, NTU goes to the head of the class for flexibility. Twenty-seven of the 36 credits required for graduation are delivered via satellite, and students can access an interactive telephone bridge to correspond with each other or with faculty. The remaining nine credits are earned through a series of six mandatory residencies, up to one week in length, and one field research project, which may involve a problem related to students' current work responsibilities.


UPENNNTUBABSON

Babson College School of Executive Education
Entrepreneurial Leadership Consortium for Information Technology Professionals
Some of the programs partnering IT and business education are managed more directly by companies eager to build and grow talent internally to offset the high costs and demands of recruitment. In one such case, a small consortium of Massachusetts-based technology companies--among them Houghton-Mifflin Co., Lucent Technologies Inc., and Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.--in conjunction with The Babson College School of Executive Education, in Wellesley, Mass., launched a program in March 2000 designed strictly for company-selected rising IT stars.

Called the Babson Entrepreneurial Leadership Consortium for Information Technology Professionals, the program consists of two five-day "modules," or compressed courses, spaced 12 weeks apart. In the interim between courses, students develop projects that apply what they've learned directly to issues they face at work. The program's five major areas of development are leadership, marketing, strategy, finance/accounting, and entrepreneurship. It's a crash course more than anything else, designed to increase the senior-level IT professional's functional awareness of business process without the time drain usually imposed by graduate-level study.

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