Every business needs to store and control its information - whether that means the payroll, product databases or customer details. And as information systems have become increasingly sophisticated, there is a growing need for well-trained graduates who can understand and manage such systems. Which is why the University of Warwick's prestigious business school launches a new MSc in information systems and management this September.
Course director Wendy Currie says there is a general need for the programme, considering the pervasiveness of new technology. After all, this is an era when just about anything can be done online - from ordering food, paying taxes or following a planning application. The idea of the Warwick course is to combine information systems skills with management skills. Rather than focus on, say, programming, students look at how companies use information technology (IT) in business processes. How, for example, does a large supermarket use technology to gain a competitive edge?
While information systems courses are well established in the UK, the more traditional programmes have tended to emphasise the technical side of things. The merging of technical know-how with management skills is a fairly unexploited market. On the Warwick course, students study the theory and practical use of information systems, as well as learning the methods, tools and techniques for managing technology in contemporary business and not-for-profit organisations.
The programme is aimed at those who are working in, or planning to work in, large IT departments, the IT industry (including e-business start-ups, outsourcing firms and technology providers) and management consultancies. Applicants need a good 2.1 honours degree or the overseas equivalent. It doesn't matter too much what your first degree is in and you don't necessarily need a computing background, because the emphasis is more on how technology is used. The major benefit about the Warwick MSc, says Currie, is that its students will end up well rounded. As well as information systems skills, they will have studied courses in accounting and human resources, which means a wider range of careers are available. Graduates may then choose to go into commerce, retailing, manufacturing or public sector work.
Elsewhere, Lancaster University's management school offers an MSc in IT, management and organisational change. The course was launched in 2001 with the aim of producing a generation of "change consultants" able to tackle the problems organisations have with IT-induced change. One such problem is that the techies might not be able to see the bigger organisational picture, while the managers don't always understand what the techies are saying.
The London School of Economics (LSE) has an MSc in analysis, design and management of information systems, which attracts about 120 students a year. The aim of the course is to view information systems as social systems operating within an organisation, rather than seeing them as simply technical systems. LSE graduates may follow either a technical or managerial career path, depending on their interests and previous background. Recent graduates have landed jobs at British Airways, IBM, Ladbrokes, major banks and the World Health Organisation. The full-time, 12-month course costs £15,426, and as well as having a good undergraduate degree, basic familiarity with IT is essential.
Southampton University's school of management also has an MSc in information systems, which costs £3,250 full time for UK students. "Our course has always been less technical and more on the management side," says course director Jonathan Klein. "There are a number of courses out there with a strong management content, but they are few and far between. About 75 per cent of our students are from overseas, especially the Far East, and they tend to go into IT and management jobs back home."
Warwick is also aiming for a large overseas market. Fees for home and overseas students are £10,900 for the one-year course and about 50 students are expected in the first year. While the fees may sound high, Currie says it is a question of investment. As one of only three five* business management schools in the country, and with an internationally renowned information systems faculty, Currie says "an MSc from Warwick makes a difference in the job market".