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Friday, September 30, 2011 - Conference Calling: Conference shines spotlight on SBA, southeast Michigan

When SBA Dean Mohan Tanniru agreed to co-chair the Association for Information Systems’ (AIS) international conference held in Detroit in August, he did more than organize research discussions, panels and guest speakers.


He put Oakland University in an international spotlight.


More than 700 participants from 47 countries came together at the Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS) to talk about the future of information technology and experience Detroit, the surrounding area and all that Michigan has to offer, including Oakland University.


It marked the first time the AMCIS conference was held in Michigan in its 17-year history. “It gave us a much greater stature by being there and being a regional sponsor. Those who attended now know exactly who Oakland University is," explains Tanniru, who also played a critical role in bringing the conference to Detroit through a persuasive presentation to AIS four years ago.  


Tanniru wasn’t the only SBA faculty involved on the conference committee. Balaji Rajagopalan, associate dean, served as a program chair; Vijay Sugumaran professor, MIS, as tutorial and workshop chair; Amy Rutledge, visiting instructor, MIS, as student volunteer coordinator; and Xiadong Deng, associate professor, MIS, as review coordinator. Active SBA undergrads Mike Fike and Brianna Isaac served as website chairs. This involvement made OU the most represented of all 18 universities across the country participating.


Proving the value of integrative thinking


The SBA’s commitment sends a message to both the business community and its students, says Peter Trkman, assistant professor at University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Economics, in Slovenia. He presented his research “Social Media/Knowledge Flow Management, Getting Business Value from Wikis” at the conference. 


“This shows that OU's SBA is actively engaged in solving the problems that really matter for the business world,” he says. “This is not only beneficial for the relevance of the school’s research but also for the quality of education  ̶  if the faculty members are able to identify and solve practical challenges of leading U.S. and international companies they are definitely able to teach relevant things to the students as well.”


That’s exactly what Tanniru and the SBA representatives had in mind when planning the conference, using the SBA’s philosophy of Excellence through Integration as inspiration. They helped make the conference stimulating, engaging and useful by integrating more opportunities to gain the industry and academic perspectives on current and future IS research from professionals in their respective fields using various forums.


The attendees noticed the attention to details, says Pete Tinsley, executive director of AIS.


“The efforts of the local planning committee were appreciated by all,” he says. “As one of the attendees stated following the event, ‘I just wanted to express my thanks and let the organizers know that 2011 AMCIS was by far one of the best organized and intellectually stimulating conferences I have ever attended.’ With feedback like that from our members, we could not ask for more from all those involved in making AMCIS Detroit a success.”


A formal survey supports this feedback with 91 percent of attendees reporting they were satisfied with the conference.


Strengthening ties between business, academia


To achieve that level of involvement and success, Tanniru reached out to members of the community, including businesses, chambers of commerce and government officials to get their involvement. 


“It’s important to forge strong relationships between business and academia,” Tanniru says. “We need to place our students, so the more people we meet in the business community, the better chance that our students will be looked upon favorably from the perspective of employment and internships. We also know that companies want their problems solved, so they look to us, our researchers and our students, as a potential source.” 


One opportunity the conference planners introduced was the inaugural Business Academic Exchange – International. (See related story.) It offered multiple events for industry professionals and researchers to come together to address complex business challenges, perhaps identifying future research opportunities, and walk away with potential solutions.


“The concept was to create a conversation between business and academia before the conference (through questions posted online), during the conference and then offer a forum to maintain the connection and conversation after the conference,” Tanniru says.


A new perspective


Introducing Ignite IT to AMCIS attendees encouraged out-of-the-box thinking in an efficient, and sometimes entertaining, format. Speakers had exactly five minutes to tell their information systems story, enlighten attendees, or simply inspire — backed by 20 slides automatically advancing every 15 seconds. Attendees were exposed to innovative ideas emerging within the industry, while networking with others passionate about information technology and systems.


“For those accustomed to sitting through 30- and 60-minutes presentations, the rapid pace of the Ignite format was very refreshing,” says event sponsor Tor Hough, president of Rochester-based Edict Incorporated, which provides web-based solutions for companies. “I was pleasantly surprised that several of the talks focused on human issues like work/life balance. There was a thoughtfulness to the presentations that was engaging and encouraged me to look at old problems in new ways.”


Connecting the world to OU


By helping host such an innovative conference, Tanniru believes that more companies and government decision makers have a better understanding of the depth and breadth of the IT talent in Southeast Michigan, particularly at OU. 


“I also made some new connections at the conference and we began talks about having an IT career fair which will benefit the SBA and OU,” says Tanniru. 


The SBA planning committee also strengthened the conferences' link to students by organizing several opportunities for them to connect with possible future employers, including volunteering at the conference and participating in a networking event at Compuware, sponsored by Compuware.


A day before the conference, OU also hosted a Doctoral Consortium, which brought 40 IS students from institutions in Hong Kong, Korea, Hawaii, California, Maryland, New Jersey and other locations, to explore the campus and community. The doctoral students also gained feedback on their research, received mentoring from senior IS faculty from all over US, interacted with business executives and enjoyed a dinner at Meadow Brook Hall.   


“We gave them a peek into world-class education, faculty and facilities of the SBA -- and Oakland University,” Tanniru says.   

By Rene Wisely