McGill post-grad program targets Internet business

McGill University has upgraded its graduate-level IT diploma credit programs with changes to existing courses and the addition of the Advanced Studies in Internet Business program scheduled to begin in the Fall 2009 semester.

“In our mind, this is the area that will be the future and also very highly in demand at the moment,” said Dr. Hang Lau, director of Academic Development at McGill’s Centre for Continuing Education in Montreal, QC.

With courses on Web analytics, business intelligence (BI), social media, project management, Internet business analysis and design, the program teaches skills applicable to any business that makes use of the Internet, he pointed out. Soft skills courses are recommended as electives.

Lau spoke with IT consulting firms and public media to determine which skills were most sought after by business and used the feedback to help develop the program. Companies are looking for these kinds of skills, but universities aren’t providing training in these areas, he said.

McGill’s program is unique in the university environment, according to Lau. “They don’t really exist academically,” he said.

Finding experts to teach the courses was a challenge, he pointed out. “There are very few people in the market who are able to teach this subject with their own practical experience and expertise,” said Lau. The founder of is one instructor slated to teach this fall.

McGill is “right on” by introducing this type of program, according to John Reid, president of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA). “Customer relations and business development is critical given the state of the industry now,” he said.

Professionals with this type of skills set would be highly employable, according to Reid. Understanding customer relationship management, the metrics of the Internet and how to use new tools and resources to better understand your customers are crucial skills, he said.

“If you are part of the high-tech workforce, I think it’s pretty critical to have some skill in understanding the Googlenomics,” said Reid.

Robert Half Technology has seen a lot of demand for business intelligence skills over the past couple years, according to Igor Abramovitch, division director of the IT recruiting firm.

The economy is more uncertain than it used to be and companies are using this time to become more intelligent about what works and what doesn’t and where they go for business. That’s where BI comes in, he said.

A lot of BI tools are coming out, but there is a shortage of talent in using them, Abramovitch pointed out. “This role would typically combine business acumen with technical skills … This person doesn’t just have to have the acumen with the tools to extract data from the databases. They also have to analyze it,” he said.

The emergence of SaaS is also increasing the need for Internet business skills, Abramovitch pointed out. “A lot of IT folks do have the tools and the technical skills to potentially develop those programs or that software, but not a lot of them have the business acumen to potentially know how that fits in with the overall goal of the organization and how that will drive the bottom line,” he said.

IT managers are often criticized for not having enough business knowledge, said Jennifer Perrier-Knox, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Inc. “In terms of in-demand skills amongst IT professionals, business knowledge is a big one,” she said.

Info-Tech is seeing active hiring in areas that require more business understanding. “Even in the economy, the way it is where people are being laid off, those with a business understanding of skills are the ones that are going to be kept,” she said.

The alignment between business and technology hasn’t been strong, Perrier-Knox pointed out. “What often happens is business wants one thing and then IT tries to deliver on it without understanding what the business really needs and wants and how it operates, so often there is a disconnect that happens,” she explained.

The ability to understand business processes, customer orientation and the product the company is selling, as well as being able to analyze data and draw conclusions and make decisions based on those conclusions that are in the best interest of the company, is incredibly important, said Perrier-Knox.

The new program will include three options: a 10-course diploma in Internet business technology, a 10-course diploma in management with a concentration in Internet business and a 5-course graduate certificate in Internet business.

Individuals who don’t have a background in IT and want to gain more technical knowledge would opt for the diploma in Internet business technology, which includes courses in computer programming and database access, Lau noted. Those seeking less technical training and more business-oriented skills would benefit from the diploma in management. The graduate certificate targets individuals with a Bachelor of Commerce who don’t need management training and computer science majors who didn’t have business courses in their curriculum.

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