IT Team Packs a One-Two Punch in Competitions
Trio is in Top Form for Web Development and Business Case Contests
Dec. 10, 2009
A team of UT Dallas students recently catapulted from a winning performance in a Web development contest to a second-place finish in another competition showcasing the tactical advantage of using information technology management.
School of Management MBA students Chris Clark and Kevin Patel and Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science senior Daniel Moore initially joined forces in late October to win the graduate-level application development contest at a student conference the Association of Information Technology Professionals held this year at UT Dallas. The team’s top performance in creating a database and Web application in less than a day led to them being selected to represent the School of Management in a subsequent meet.
So less than a month later, the three teamed up again on Nov. 13 to tackle a reality-based IT challenge in the Southwest Regional Case Competition on the Strategic Value of IT Management. CA Inc., a New York-based IT management software and services provider, sponsored the event, and the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona hosted it. In a weeklong run-up to the one-day competition in Tucson, rival teams had to prepare a solution for a hypothetical company’s foundering IT operations and propose corrective intervention. Each team delivered a 30-minute presentation, then fielded questions in a subsequent 15-minute session before a panel of judges.
The UT Dallas team outperformed opponents from the University of Arizona and the University of Oklahoma, to earn $500 and place second behind Texas A&M University’s contenders. The first-place team earned $1,000 and a spot at an international case competition to be held in Las Vegas next May.
The UT Dallas team’s strong showing impressed Dr. Mark Thouin, the School of Management’s director of Management Information Systems programs in part because, he said, “in the information systems area, [the University of ] Arizona is cited often as one of the top programs,” and “Oklahoma has a strong program as well.”
“The team’s combination of business knowledge and technical skill enabled them to effectively analyze the problem at hand,” Thouin said. “Their performance demonstrates the success with which our students are able to take material learned in class and apply it effectively to real-world business problems.”
Team members Clark, Patel and Moore took pride in their results for another reason: The contest’s preparatory period coincided with their midterm exams week.
“We had to scramble,” Patel said. Ultimately, the feverish pace proved beneficial, he said, because “that’s how the real world is. ... How quickly can your team put something together—work together” and produce results?
Their case involved a banking company, “suffering, from a moribund outsourced IT project,” Clark said.
“We were charged with making recommendations to the CEO, director of IT and the [vice president] of retail banking on how to fix their immediate problems and prevent such problems from recurring.”
The panel of judges role-played the company executives, Moore said, which made the competition both more realistic and more difficult. Although some of the execs clearly contributed to creating the problem, their presence as the team recommended solutions brought “into play the whole element of tact,” Moore explained. Finger-pointing was definitely out, he said.
The trio relied on previous professional experiences to guide them. Both Moore and Clark work as IT consultants, developing boxed and custom software for the healthcare industry. Patel is also a consultant, having worked in IT at Nortel before returning to UT Dallas for his advanced degree.
“Our approach,” Moore said, “was: If I were in this position, what would I do?”
Their tactics included thinking of themselves as consultants hired by the CEO and presenting him a strategy he could present to his board, “all without throwing any senior executive under the bus, despite their culpability,” Clark said.
The team also framed recommendations from the managers’ perspective, a move that anticipated many of the executives’ questions and concerns.
Finally, Clark said, “we drew a clear and concise picture of our recommendations, ensuring our clients left the meeting knowing what the next step was.”
The judges mentioned that “we had really good content,” Moore said. “It was very logically written; and we had good recommendations.”
Graduating this month with a BS in Computer Science, Moore described each competition as “a big bullet point” definitely worth adding to his résumé.
“We learned quite a bit from our experience with the [Southwest Regional Case] competition, and are confident that UT Dallas' future teams can make an even stronger showing at CA case competitions,” Clark said.
“The contest provides students with valuable experience highly sought after by employers,” Thouin added, “so we plan to compete in future contests and build on our initial success.”