Centennial offers new e-commerce program

Just the announcement in January of Centennial College’s newest certificate program generated 150 e-mail responses.

Since then, the Toronto-based school has been flooded by inquiries from would-be students from around the world for its new course – a post diploma certificate in e-commerce.

“We have inquiries from all over the world, from India, from Australia, from everywhere,” said School of Business dean Uwe Krebs. “So many people are wanting to do business digitally and they need people who can work with them.”

When Centennial decided to offer the e-commerce certificate, the original plan was to make technology the central focus of the program. But Centennial’s business advisory committee, made up of leaders in the IT field, warned against that. The CEOs and presidents on the committee were looking for graduates that would put business strategies first and use technology only as a tool.

“When you think of e-commerce, the first thing you think of is that the technology is driving the process. And what we found by speaking with industry executives is that e-commerce is not just technology. In fact, it’s the business that drives the process and if you lose sight of that, you will not meet the business’ strategic objective,” said Robin Hemmingsen, a professor at Centennial college who’ll be teaching at the new e-commerce institute.

“We have developed a program that ensures technology is not an end in itself, but a means to come up with better business solutions,” Hemmingsen said.

Still, technology will underlay the year-long program, which begins Aug. 30.

Students will be required to lease laptop computers as part of the $1,950 per-semester course fee, and the IBM ThinkPads will change the way in which the classes are taught and the students communicate with each other, Hemmingen said.

“The lecturer will become a facilitator,” she said. If students are discussing a Web site design, they will be looking at it on the computer. Students will use threaded discussion groups to share ideas, and when working together in groups to find a solution to a business problem they will communicate with each other through e-mail.

“In the classroom it may not make all that much sense to do it that way, but it does make them familiar with groupware software, like Lotus Notes. It’s the way things are going in business,” said Hemmingsen, who stressed that the school also recognized the importance of face-to-face interaction.

The certificate program will offer a range of courses, including e-commerce concepts, business and consumer marketing, technology and e-commerce project management and data warehousing and mining.

Centennial has formed business partnerships with IT vendors such as IBM, SAP and Cisco Systems to make the e-commerce institute possible.

Centennial’s business partners will help supply the institute with free or discounted technology so that instructors can demonstrate enterprise planning, Web design and accounting software.

But this can sometimes be a dangerous practice, said professor Anthony Wensley at University of Toronto’s Joseph L. Rotman School of Management.

“The danger is you will provide your students with a narrow focus on one set of solutions to a particular problem and you may miss a whole range of other opportunities,” Wensley said.

Students will learn one type of technology and they may become more familiar and comfortable with it. When they get out to the workforce, they might be more willing to turn to that technology when looking for a solution for their company, he said.

But schools have to balance that danger with their needs, Wensley added. “It’s extremely difficult, given the kinds of budgets universities have, to afford up-to-date technology. Generally speaking, the only way you’re going to get that kind of equipment is by teaming up with suppliers.”

The way to counter this is for professors to stress that the applications they’re using in class are only an example, Wensley said.

Krebs saw no potential conflict of interest.

Interested students can contact Centennial College at (416) 289-5000 Ext. 2089 or at www.sob.cencol.on.ca/ecomm.