Management: IT Education and The Modern-Day MBA

The MBA Technology Gap

Congratulations! Your new budget has just been approved and you can finally hire that newly minted MBA you’ve been clamoring for. So what, exactly, can your company expect in the way of technology management skills from this expensively pedigreed tyro? Good question.

Employers—whether they are looking to place fresh talent on the IT management track, or find business-line executives with technology savvy—need to understand that not all MBAs are created equal. Business schools vary widely when it comes to teaching about technology and technology management in their master’s degree programs, though all must provide a minimum level of exposure to technology-related subjects in order to receive accreditation. But while you can assume that any MBA graduate will possess a basic understanding of accounting, organizational behavior and business operations, there is no fixed standard on what graduates will know about IT when they enter the job market.

“Over the last decade, business schools have differentiated themselves,” says Bill DeLone, senior associate dean at American University’s Kogod School of Business, in Washington, D.C. “So it is hard to say how business schools, in a general sense, are preparing people to manage technology.”

That means employers have to know what they’re looking for—beyond the degree itself—and they are not always happy with what they find. “If someone comes out of school but doesn’t know how to apply fundamental business disciplines to things like managing IT spend, or dealing with the organizational and cultural changes in IT, then the school has not met your needs,” says Mark Lutchen, a longtime partner (and former CIO) at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Most schools don’t provide a deep understanding of technology and how to use it.”

But there is evidence that some of the leading MBA programs are starting to better understand the needs of the business world. These schools, rather than offering separate technology courses, or so-called “techno-MBA” programs, are embedding -sophisticated technology education directly into their traditional business courses. Marketing, accounting, operations—each course has its technology corollary integrated into the syllabus. Though few in number, these programs are mirroring the attempts of businesses to align IT with their strategic goals. In fact, they’re trying to eliminate any distinction between business and IT right off the bat.

“Some universities are starting to understand the importance of making IT a part of the MBA agenda,” says Dana Deasy, until recently the CIO of Tyco International Ltd., and before that, the CIO of Siemens Corp.’s Americas operations. However, only a few are at a substantive and meaningful level. A relatively “small number” of schools, he says, are offering meaningful “real-world programs.” Deasy is now working with Columbia University’s Executive Master of Science in Technology Management program in its effort to leverage business technology leaders as an integral part of the school’s curriculum.

The need to catch up to the business world has business schools scrambling to adapt their programs. And during the transition, it will be up to employers to keep in check any assumptions they might make regarding the IT skills of potential MBA hires. Companies will have to perform due diligence if they are to find people capable of stepping directly into technology and tech-heavy business management roles.

Next page: What They Don’t Teach in School These Days

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