IT skills make better managers

by Grace Chan

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

Master's programme provides company leaders with business-boosting technology insights

With most organisations these days relying heavily on information technology, there is a growing demand for executives that are also IT-literate.

"While managers don't have to understand all the ins and outs of the technology used in the company, they should have the necessary management skills to harness IT solutions for driving business growth," says 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).

Likewise, IT professionals should be able to fulfil more than just a technical role. They should also possess the management abilities to prompt organisational development through the effective use of technology, Professor Clark says.

In view of this, the HKUST offers a master's degree in information systems management (MScISM), leveraging the university's academic strength in both management and technology.

"We're the leading business school in Hong Kong and both our MBA and EMBA programmes have earned global recognition. We also have a strong foundation in technology programmes," Professor Clark notes.

Solid grounding

The MScISM programme, which is offered on a part-time basis, can be completed in 16 months. Classes are held mainly on Saturdays at the HKUST campus.

Students are expected to spend an average of 16 to 20 classroom hours per week, in addition to assignments, reading and studying.

"The programme is not about learning about technology. Instead, it is the management of modern technology, with a focus on when and how to justify the effective use of IT solutions in a business context," Professor Clark emphasises.

While it is common for organisations to outsource their IT projects, managers should learn to "speak the IT language" to facilitate better communication and effective management. He adds, "What is today regarded as the latest technology will be obsolete in three to five years' time. This programme aims to equip students with the fundamental IT management skills they'll need in their careers in the long term."

The curriculum includes three compulsory courses, tailored for students with limited IT skills, covering fundamental IT knowledge on database management, applied network management and information systems development methodologies.

Students that already have relevant technology qualifications may be exempted from three required courses and instead opt for up to two MBA subjects offered by the university's business school.

The programme also includes core courses on information strategy and management and project management, and elective courses such as strategic information infrastructure, knowledge management and information systems auditing.

Industry relevance

Since its launch in 1997, the MScISM programme has been regularly reviewed and modified.

"Since a third of the curriculum consists of elective courses, we have a high degree of flexibility to customise the programme and introduce new industry related subjects," he says, noting that the department recently added two elective courses on outsourcing management and vendor management reflect global trends.

Teaching staff of the programme includes leading academics from top US and UK universities. Students also attend seminars and luncheon meetings addressed by industry practitioners on the latest IT trends and developments.

About 50 per cent of recent graduates were from non-technical backgrounds, mainly mid-level and senior managers with an average of nine years' work experience from sectors such as accounting, finance, marketing and human resources.

"Students benefit greatly from interacting with their peers. Sometimes, they come across IT problems that are solved by their classmates. They also work together on real business projects," says Professor Clark.

Admission criteria are strict and the department accepts a maximum of 60 students per intake. On average, 35 to 45 students are admitted every year. Assessments are based on assignments, final exams or term papers, depending on the course.

Applicants should have a first degree from a reputable university. They are interviewed on their current job responsibilities and asked to explain how the knowledge and skills they expect to gain from the master's programme will benefit their companies.

Prospective students without the necessary academic qualifications or relevant technical skills, but who have good GMAT scores, will also be considered, Professor Clark says, adding that the programme's graduates tend to be high achievers.

"Unlike MBA students who usually plan to change jobs on graduation, most of our students continue working for their employers once they have completed the programme. They emerge as better managers, applying their new skills in their companies," he remarks.

Technology and beyond

  • Increasing demand for IT-literate managers
  • Master's degree combines management and technology
  • Flexible curriculum constantly reviewed and modified
  • Strict admission criteria ensures quality candidates

Taken from Career Times 15 January 2010, A16

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