Bringing business and academia together

James McKeen, our IT Educator of the Year for 2011, is a professor at Queen’s University. He gained recognition for the award through his involvement in the Canadian CIO community, planning CIO events and writing academic works.

In 1990, while doing research for IBM with longtime collaborator Heather Smith, McKeen was approached by a colleague with a very interesting question: Where does IT go for management advice?

“I mean, we all know where to go for technical help, but where do we go for management?” McKeen said. He realized the need there was for this type of information exchange, a place where IT management could trade ideas and best practices.The questions were simple but the answers hard to find in the IT industry. “Are we spending too much? Is our planning process appropriate? What’s wrong with our budgeting cycles, should we be doing them differently?…Am I hiring the wrong people? Do I have the right skills?” he said. “They’re sort of driven by technology but they’re just management issues.”

The colleague, a senior manager at IBM, said the answers to those questions existed but everybody had a little piece of the puzzle. He suggested that McKeen, as an academic, would be the best person to pursue the project without raising concern in the industry about a hidden agenda.

McKeen said he’d only do it for a year. He’s still running the IT Management Forum, 30 years later.

His connections to the industry also afford him unique access as a professor. Instead of having to reference old case studies dredged out of text books, he can cite recent examples and personal anecdotes. Geoff Tyler, an undergrad in commerce at Queen’s University, was impressed by the amount of real world knowledge McKeen brought to the classroom. “We’ll do a case study, that he wrote, and he’ll talk about how it was a real issue at a real company, and (then) whisper to us, ‘I’m not supposed to tell you this, but that was Bell five years ago,’” Tyler said. “It’s so pertinent. It’s so recent.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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