Manager, Heal Thyself

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 05-12-2006

Mark Lutchen has an idea for improving the technology component of business-school education, and it begins far from any MBA program. Curricula would be stronger if businesses did a better job of managing their own technology in the first place, says Lutchen, a longtime partner (and former CIO) of PricewaterhouseCoopers and author of Managing IT as a Business: A Survival Guide for CEOs (John Wiley & Sons, 2003).

It's easy to say that MBA programs need to better reflect the real world of business. And Lutchen does not disagree with that prescription. "One thing missing from a lot of business education is an understanding of what the real needs are," he says. "Schools need to project forward, to say, 'What kind of training will people really need in business?' IT is no longer an adjunct to anything in business; in many cases it is the business. So you can't have users on the business side who don't understand IT, or future CIOs who don't understand the business."

But it's hard to teach MBA students lessons that many companies have yet to learn, Lutchen says. "There is a huge void among CIOs and businesspeople in terms of understanding what the CIO role should be," he says. "The job should look more like a balanced CEO role, with an understanding of budget, culture, business, communications, marketing and so on."

In too many companies, business disciplines such as activity-based costing are only now becoming common practice within IT departments, Lutchen adds. "The problems in businesses occur at the handoff of technology issues, like spending, to the businesspeople. I'm not sure I see schools teaching that aspect of it, because people in business don't understand the handoff themselves. I'm not sure someone who has taught general IT, or finance, can magically come up with an IT-spending course without working in today's world."

As long as alignment of business and technology goals and disciplines remains a problem within businesses, it will likely remain a shortcoming in business schools, too. "The base of information schools can use is inadequate," Lutchen says. "Who advises the business schools on what they should teach? Schools are lacking because business practice is lacking."