Teaching Creativity, Strategy to Tomorrow's Information Systems Leaders
Digital Innovation Course Recreates Real-World Setting for Future Drivers of the Business
Not so long ago, information systems professionals were technology gatekeepers who kept the network running, defended against attacks and connected you to the printer.
That’s all changed thanks to technology and data. Now, these analysts are proactive designers, creators and strategists who introduce custom solutions that help companies solve problems and nurture innovation.
“Information systems professionals have moved toward the core of the business — innovating around data and digital products or services,” said Dr. Aron Lindberg, an assistant professor of Information Systems at the School of Business at Stevens. “Many companies today create products that use information as their essential resource. And those that don’t will soon have to.”
The master’s program in Information Systems has long recognized this shift, but in few places is it quite as apparent as Dr. Lindberg’s Digital Innovation course, a centerpiece of the master’s curriculum.
“Digital products and processes are central to what businesses do today,” Dr. Lindberg said. “And information systems professionals need to participate in the process of creating those products and services, and continuously pushing the envelope in search of innovation.”
Notably, Dr. Lindberg runs the course as a design studio, which encourages hands-on work with notable case studies and fosters greater collaboration between students as they cleanse and analyze vast data sets in search of meaningful business insights.
“This course essentially puts students right in the role of business analysts, and challenges them to generate meaningful insights that executives will use — and can understand,” he said.
Valuable skills for career success
That’s important because many students graduating from this program accept roles in business analysis and consulting. And it’s clear the skills they get translate into career success — for the Class of 2017, 96 percent of Information Systems graduates were employed within three months of commencement.
Niyati Shah, a master’s student who expects to complete the Information Systems program in December, said the course was especially helpful as she thinks about how to apply what she’s learned to a career in analytical consulting.
“The design studio component helped me understand client needs, and challenged me to be dynamic in presenting ideas,” Shah said.
Dr. Paul Rohmeyer, director of the Information Systems master’s program, said the course’s “big ideas” are what make it a centerpiece for the degree.
“Dr. Lindberg has created a course that blends technical, management, strategy and entrepreneurship components, and presents them in an environment much like where they’ll work once they graduate,” Dr. Rohmeyer said.
The critical thinking component is also an important piece, according to Shah.
“No matter what new data-related innovations are introduced down the road, the basis of how you gather requirements, how you frame them and how you think through a solution will not change,” she said.
'The same challenges these students will face at work'
One reason students seem to respond to the coursework is that the data come from a world many of the students are familiar with — online gaming. Dr. Lindberg’s data set is from Eve Online, a World of Warcraft-style multiplayer game; he has eight years of player data that students cleanse and analyze in search of useful business insights.
“It’s the same challenge these students will face at work — they get questions from executives; they have large, messy data sets; and they have to work with those data sets to answer questions and present those answers to executives,” he said. “But here, we can do it with something fun, like game data, which is more relatable.”
Data analysis takes many forms as the students look for ways to create impact. For instance, a text analysis might help determine player sentiment at a particular time, which could be matched against updates or other changes to the platform. And, as Dr. Lindberg points out, it might be more fun than examining a traditional data set, but the business case is just as strong, with the video game industry valued at nearly $100 billion by some estimates.
Dr. Lindberg also is an accomplished researcher whose work has appeared in Information Systems Research; he also won a Best Paper Award from the Academy of Management for his work in open-source software development. He is currently developing an undergraduate version of his Digital Innovation course, to ensure younger students also are able to think critically about data.
“With all the data available today, you need the scientific method to ensure you’re doing your analysis in ways that are reliable and valid,” he said. “Otherwise, you are not going to make good business decisions.”