Top-rated European school gets Howe professor’s perspective on process innovation


When a company examines its own business processes, there’s a difference between making improvements and harnessing innovation.

That’s the point Dr. Michael zur Muehlen made during an interview with Vlerick Business School, which has four campuses scattered across Europe.

“Process improvement tends to be reactive,” said zur Muehlen, associate dean for graduate education at the Howe School. “It tends to focus …  on the problem that I’m facing.”

“When I’m thinking about process innovation, I’m thinking about opportunity-driven activities ... I’m thinking about new ways of doing business rather than improving the old ways.”

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That kind of innovation, zur Muehlen said, tends to come about when a company sees an opportunity to enter a new market, or create something new that provides a competitive advantage. That might mean appraising a new technology that isn’t commercially viable, or assessing new intellectual capital brought on board through a merger.

At Stevens, process innovation as it relates to business is a major component of thinking and instruction in the Howe School, at both the graduate and undergraduate level. Undergraduate students in the information systems major study process innovation, as do graduate students pursuing degrees in information systems. Of particular note on the graduate side is the business process management concentration available in the MSIS degree program.

Stevens’ programs benefit from access to industry insight into process innovation, an advantage exploited by its location minutes from New York City.

Process innovation can be both an art and a science, zur Muehlen said, explaining how and why certain steps are taken and identifying the pitfalls that trip up some organizations.

“It’s an artful process in its content, but it’s a scientific process in its execution,” he said.

Vlerick is one of the more prestigious universities in Europe, and has been recognized as such by The Economist and the Financial Times.