University of Texas MBA program: Speaking the language of IT

Techies learn more when they team up with non-techies—that's the theory behind the University of Texas MBA program.

Like a genie in a bottle that is unleashed only when certain words are spoken, advocates of IT business solutions need to know how to communicate with their peers in order to implement IT solutions.

“Our graduates know how to deliver IT results to the bottom line of a company’s business. And [they] understand that, to do so effectively, they must communicate the business logic to non-technical managers,” said Tim Ruefli, director of the information management specialization of the MBA program at the University of Texas at Austin.

In 1991, the UT program shifted its objectives from producing information systems managers to producing managers who are knowledgeable about information technology.

The program made several changes in order to make this shift. For example, the selection committee admitted more students with non-technical backgrounds into the program.

Opening the door
Jessica Brindle, a 1998 graduate of UT, was a media supervisor for an advertising agency in San Francisco. She was looking for a technology-based MBA program when she came across a brochure for the UT program. 

“I didn't have a lot of 'hard' business skills. My field was more creative. I returned to school to get those skills and to get more exposure to the world of technology. Today, I manage the Customer Advocacy and Marketing team for Intel's B2B e-Commerce initiatives for our direct customers,” said Brindle. She was one of many non-tech students in the classroom with techies at UT.

“We admit equal portions of science and engineering, liberal arts, and business graduates. This is one of our strengths; our non-technical and technical students learn from each other,” said Ruefli.

UT’s class of 2000 includes a developer of computer games, an aerospace engineer, a television producer, and a Peace Corps volunteer.

The students work in five-person study groups made up of people with diverse backgrounds and technical orientations. The groups are encouraged to share information, insight, and expertise.

“By the end of the program, the non-technical students have learned technology, and the technical students have learned to communicate effectively,” said Ruefli.

Customer consciousness
A class entitled “Technology in the Corporation” helped Brindle learn about the IT world.

“The class introduced even the most extreme technophobe to the ways companies are leaping ahead by using technology to capture better information about their customers, reduce barriers to entry, speed time to market, and so on. You couldn't have walked away from that class without understanding that information is key, and technology enables better information,” said Brindle.
Students take four core courses designed to help them understand business from an IT perspective.
  1. Managing Information
  2. Managing Systems
  3. Digital Economy and Commerce
  4. Data Communications,Networks, or a class from a list of high-tech selections

What employers are saying
David Baker, a partner in Diamond Technology Partners Inc, said UT grads he has hired have “sharp business acumen and a solid understanding of the role that technology plays in business today.”

Brindle said the classes allowed her to concentrate her degree around an age-old business principle, “The customer is king.”

“Between IT classes and marketing classes, I explored how information can help you better understand, service, and deliver [goods] to your customers,” said Brindle.

She observed, “It's easy to teach the textbook principles about targeting, segmentation, positioning, the 4 P's, but it's not easy to shift a student's way of thinking about a company's relationship to a customer and all the ways that can be enhanced via new technology tools.”

Baker said this set of skills is part of what makes high tech MBA students worth the money it takes to recruit and retain them.

“They embody Diamond’s service model for consulting—synthesizing technology and business to develop an implementable strategy,” said Baker.

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