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Inside the McCombs MBA Classroom: The Power of Information Technology

McCombs MBA classroom

One of the best ways to get to know an MBA program is to sit in on a class. While the classroom is just one aspect of the business school experience, a class visit offers a valuable preview of the learning environment, instructor expertise, student interaction and quality of discussion.

Unfortunately, not many MBA candidates have a chance to attend a course before landing on campus. That’s one reason that the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business began offering a detailed write-up describing one of their popular MBA classes.

Strategies for a Networked Economy (MIS 381)

Taught by Prabhudev Konana, Professor of Information, Risk, and Operations Management at McCombs, the Strategies for Networked Economy course delves into the ways information technology is reshaping the world. Each class dives into various industries, from automakers to retailers, to look at how products, services, operations and interactions are all being linked by technology.

For example, Konana had his students look inside the Tesla electric car to see how sensors and computers guide the vehicle instead of moving parts. In a news release he said, “That’s the future of the car industry—and many others—as information technology continues to change how we live.”

The class also examines how IT innovations both create and destroy value—Blockbuster and Kodak were both put out of business by new technology, while Netflix and Apple have thrived in the new IT world. In addition, students learn all about IT and its ecosystem, including its strategic issues as well as how IT can improve the supply chain and customer relationships.

“Most classes focus on the past. You learn from the past, and you apply that for the future,” Konana said. “Very few classes focus on the future.”

Through readings, classroom discussions and a semester-long project, students consider how various innovations such as Bitcoin, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and smart cities affect the world. For example, Samantha Toth, an ’17 MBA, worked with a team of other students to look at near-field communication—a set of communication protocols that enable two electronic devices to communicate by bringing them within 4cm of each other (i.e. Apply Pay)—to see how it could be improved.

What they discovered throughout the course was that many consumers don’t understand the benefits of near-field communication over traditional payment options. So Toth and her team came up with ideas for NFC companies to address this issue.  “NFC requires the coordination of multiple market players to deliver value to the consumer,” Toth said. “These players must strategically position themselves in the value chain in order to be profitable and ensure they aren’t squeezed out of the market as the technology evolves.”

Amira Fawcett Malpass, an ’17 MBA who took the course, called it an “eye-opening experience.” She said that it “helps your thinking about everything that goes on in a business and how to be a better leader. What you think are just edge technologies that may or may not have a chance you realize could actually be really disruptive.” This is particularly true since technology affects every industry, even those that one might not normally think of as tech-focused.

About the Instructor

One of the main reasons for the course’s success is Professor Prabhudev Konana. His MBA students say that he brings the course materials to life.

“Professor Konana is a phenomenal professor,” said Fawcett Malpass. And she’s not alone in this opinion. In both 2011 and 2012, the graduating classes of the MBA-Dallas program voted him “outstanding professor.” And, in 2003, he was inducted into UT’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

What makes his teaching style unique? First, he doesn’t use a textbook. In his opinion, textbooks lag behind current events by about five years. Instead, he uses articles and case studies to teach his course.

He also doesn’t teach in a silo. When teaching MIS 381, Konana integrates his discussions and topics with content from other McCombs MBA courses including strategy, marketing and finance. In his words, “You piggyback on everything they’ve done, and you take them to the next level. If you want to create a unique manager of tomorrow, they can’t live in silos.”

Konana has honed his approach over a long academic career. He’s been a professor at the University of Texas at Austin since 1995, becoming a faculty member directly after graduating with his Ph.D. and MBA from the University of Arizona in 1995 and 1991, respectively.

As for his research, Konana analyzes the value of social networks, global sourcing and the business value of IT. One of his co-authored papers, “Competition Among Virtual Communities and User Valuation”, received the best paper award from the Information Systems Research Journal. Konana is also a recipient of the NSF CAREER Award.

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About the Author

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Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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