News Archive

Thursday, June 02, 2011 - MIS program offers unique hands-on experience in complex field

Businesses are often challenged at how to meet today's unprecedented cyber security obstacles. In a field that is experiencing a shortage of experts, a recent IBM-sponsored survey indicates businesses are looking for college graduates to have both the technical expertise and the business skills.


And, that's exactly what the Decision and Information Sciences program at OU's School of Business Administration delivers. A strong program taught by recognized experts in the field, the SBA is enriching the student experience with the new Security Network Instructional Lab that opened in March.


The lab expands classroom learning and business savvy with actual hands-on experience in the complex field of network security by offering students dynamic, real-life opportunities to explore the constant threat of viruses, worms, spy-ware, zero-day attacks and much more, while also developing critical business management skills. Information Systems Security class instructors can create a sand box for students, isolated from the Internet and Oakland University’s internal systems. This enables students to experiment with malware and simulated attacks in a realistic environment that is safe.


Savvy business graduates use technology as a tool


"You simply cannot put a dollar value on the hands-on experience this lab provides SBA students," says Richard Schneider, SBA '10 (MSITM), service sales manager, Sourcefire.


"All too often graduates know the theory, but not the real-life practice of IT implementation and security," agrees Aaron Kazmierczak, senior systems engineer, Blackhawk Systems. "The new SBA lab fills the gap by looking at industry needs and changing issues and bringing that knowledge right into the curriculum."


Integrating experiential learning into the program right on campus answers the call of employers in the IBM-sponsored survey which indicates companies are seeking well-rounded, business-savvy employees with problem-solving and technical skills. In the survey, one-third of the companies said they are seeking professionals and managers who can bridge the divide between IT and business, and eight out of 10 companies indicated they seek problem-solving and technical skills when hiring college graduates.


"Recent surveys show that universities as a whole are not preparing students well for IT jobs. The SBA is changing that for OU students with this lab," says Tom Lauer, professor, MIS, and DIS chair. "With the escalation of cyber security’s importance, there will be a critical need for professionals with a solid technological grounding."


Within OU's SBA, students of the MIS program graduate with the ability to apply information technology to business problems -- to find solutions using information technology as a tool. With a curriculum steeped in business -- accounting, management, marketing and more -- the MIS program focuses on how to harness the power of information technology in business.


Prepared for success in a growing field


The new lab then gives students the opportunity to gain experience firsthand, positioning them to excel in this growing, changing field.


The IBM survey reports that security positions are the second most difficult to fill in the IT industry. The United States Department of Labor predicts that careers for network systems and data communications analysts, and computer/network security will be among the fastest-growing occupations thanks to the increasing sophistication of cyber attacks. A November 2010 360 Environmental Scan presentation by Public Sector Consultants indicates occupations in the information technology, and defense and security industries will be among the fastest growing in Michigan between now and 2020.  


That only addresses what is known about the industry today. A complex, changing field, MIS students also gain knowledge from expert faculty members who are on the leading edge of issues in the industry.


In fact, Lauer is a founding member of SurPriSe, an OU faculty learning community leading the exploration of the emerging issues in the areas of surveillance, privacy and security.

Business leaders who learn about OU's interdisciplinary approach in this area agree; this type of collaboration is laying the groundwork for projects that could have an immediate impact on today's business world.

"The approach is brilliant," says Ken Janke, SBA MBA '85, senior vice president, Aflac. "Before now, I had not spent any time thinking just how closely the three topics are interrelated and, more likely, in potential conflict. This integrated approach is not only timely and necessary, but reflects very advanced thinking and will be critical in the future."


Research opportunities


In addition to giving business students the hands-on experience to augment their business education, the lab will be used to explore other emerging trends, including simulation of networked economies.


"The virtualization features of the lab, which allow the creation and operation of multiple servers on one physical device, will allow us to create economies of servers which interact with each other much the way that servers are configured in complex business settings involving multiple organizations," says Rob Nehmer, associate professor of accounting. "This can be useful in building simulations of new uses of technologies in multiple server environments. One study is being developed which will test how software agents can be used to improve systems of internal controls in e-commerce environments."


In addition to the academic benefits, SBA faculty members will use this new resource to conduct research and explore issues relating to desktop virtualization, surveillance, and information systems security.


These projects will have a significant impact both within the classroom, and for business and the environment. For example, the desktop virtualization project offers the opportunity to reduce power consumption and greenhouse emissions by 80 percent.


This is significant because, "each computer in a computer lab can produce greenhouse emissions equivalent to a pick-up truck during its life-cycle. An entire lab with 20 – 30 computers would produce many times more," says Lauer. "By the use of virtual machines, not only are we going green, but we also save on maintenance and upgrades of existing equipment freeing capital for other productive uses.”


Cross-campus benefits


The lab will also support education across disciplines within SBA and OU. In addition to MIS security courses, the SBA will hold courses such as Audit and Control, Business Application Architecture, Business Object Development, Advanced Auditing, and Enterprise Risk Management and Control. Across campus, the new lab can support programs in medicine, engineering, nursing and the liberal arts.


The opening of the lab was made possible thanks to a generous donation of high-performance networking and security solutions from Juniper Networks, including Juniper Networks EX4200 Ethernet Switches, J2320 Services Routers, and SRX210 Services Gateways (secure routing and firewall with Unified Threat Management consisting of Intrusion Prevention System, antispam, antivirus, and Web filtering solutions). Students will also learn to leverage the Junos® operating system, a single OS operating across Juniper’s routing, switching and security solutions, to maximize network performance and security.


"We are grateful for the continuing support from Juniper Networks," says Robin Michel, development director, SBA. "The new lab will further enhance the reputation of SBA's MSITM program and the education students in the program receive, particularly for those in the IS Networking and Security concentration."


Juniper Networks and Junos are registered trademarks of Juniper Networks, Inc. in the United States and other countries.




Flori Meeks contributed to this article