Information systems provide the way forward

by Wendy Shair

Theodore Clark, associate professor
Department of Information Systems
Business Statistics and Operations Management, School of Business and Management
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Photo: Wallace Chan

IT competence lays out a universal platform for professionals across the corporate spectrum

Professionals that are versed in information systems management are becoming increasingly sought after in an economic environment where organisations rely on technology to drive business efficiency and profits. There is therefore a growing need for training and education in this area.

Theodore Clark, associate professor, Department of Information Systems, Business Statistics and Operations Management, School of Business and Management, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), confirms this.

The university rolled out a part-time master of science programme in information systems management (MScISM) in 1997, targeting business executives wanting to harness information technology to increase their companies' competitiveness, as well as IT professionals seeking management training in order to advance their careers.

"We're becoming more and more dependent on technology in business," says Professor Clark. "Many Hong Kong-based corporations are service oriented or information based. To automate and enhance their performances, they need skills in managing information technology."

He adds that even sectors such as construction and logistics now tend to have more information components. "Technology is becoming more powerful and we use it more often. Companies spend a lot of resources on building an IT infrastructure. And, when they spend money on something, they need people to manage it. We teach our students the necessary technical knowledge to manage their IT staff or businesses, so they're also able to successfully manage potential risks. This is a management-focused programme."

Managing technology

Managers should be able to "speak the language" and have an adequate understanding of technical issues related to their organisations' management needs, Professor Clark stresses. "Companies need a senior person with information-systems knowledge. They can choose to outsource a lot of technical details, but if they do it badly, they risk wasting money. Technology gives you a choice, but it doesn't take away control. It simply needs to be managed."

The MScISM programme is also suitable for executives without a technical background, since the curriculum's interdisciplinary design caters for the needs of people in both technical as well as non-technical positions. "We keep the technical modules at an introductory level," notes Professor Clark.

Most of the programme's students are experienced professionals from diversified industries. Course content focuses on different technological principles. "We don't try to teach people everything about technology, but rather make the learning experience more relevant to their management careers. Many of our IT systems today are more than a year, and sometimes even more than a decade old. It's the theories and principles that matter, and how these principles are applied and affect management decisions," he points out.

The programme also encourages industry collaboration between businesses and students who are encouraged to take on consultant roles in technology-transfer projects. "The students form project groups to run virtual businesses and learn through discussions and debates," says Professor Clark. Other activities include lunch meetings addressed by leading industry practitioners sharing their IT-management skills. Such initiatives allow students close contact with the commercial world.

The university targets bright candidates with leadership potential for the master's programme. "Job titles aren't important. What matters is that applicants have done well in some way in their careers. They need to prove that they're intelligent and have leadership skills," he says.

Prospective students must have either a good undergraduate qualification or a good GMAT score and be prepared for personal interviews during the selection process. Professor Clark notes that most candidates are mature with an average of eight to nine years' work experience. "Some applicants look very good on paper, but don't listen and respond well during interviews. We therefore also focus on assessing their non-technical skills. Candidates should be able to sell themselves and communicate effectively."

The MScISM programme will continue to evolve to reflect market changes, he emphasises. This includes focusing on new technological platform such as Facebook and examining how social media influence business strategies.

Market relevance

  • Skills in information systems management sought after
  • Management-focused programme helps students manage potential risks with confidence
  • An understanding of technical issues expected of today's executives
  • Students learn from industry collaboration

Taken from Career Times 14 January 2011, A11

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