Netcentricity Lab Lines Up Big E-Business Partners

Netcentricity Lab Lines Up Big E-Business Partners

"There's nothing else like it in the country."

By Trish Williams, Editor

Some of the nation's leading systems integrators and software companies are teaming with the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business to create a netcentricity laboratory to develop integrated business practices for the networked economy.

Electronic Data Systems Corp., Oracle Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc. are chipping in cash or in-kind support for the laboratory, which will cost more than $2 million and is slated to become operational this spring.

Other prominent information technology players that will participate in the laboratory but whose roles are still under discussion include Cisco Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif., and Lucent Technologies Inc., Murray Hill, N.J., university officials said. IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., Science Applications International Corp., San Diego, and Tibco Software Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., have also signed on as participants, university officials said.

The netcentricity laboratory will be the first of its kind to study how to simulate an integrated markets environment using cutting-edge electronic commerce and supply chain management technologies, Howard Frank, dean of the Smith School, told Washington Technology.

The school's industry partners will be able to bring their customers to the laboratory and show them the impact of various technologies on their sample problems, said Frank. In addition, the lab will train students how to deal in an integrated business environment and "they'll have [access] to our students," he added.

"There's nothing else like it in the country," said Frank, who in a little more than two years on the job has boosted the College Park university's standing in business education while pursuing a strategic plan that differentiates his school. That strategy is keyed to initiatives and activities that focus on the creation, management and deployment of knowledge and information.

Frank said the school's main technology partners, EDS, Sun and Oracle, will bring to the table a wide array of expertise for the netcentricity laboratory. Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle will supply enterprise research planning-based software and Sun Microsystems will ship an advanced, electronic commerce supply chain lab it has in California to the school this spring, Frank said.

Plano, Texas-based EDS, which will supply technical and specialized support in configuring the laboratory, is also a partner with the school in contracts where the university is applying laboratory technology to the state of Maryland, Frank said.

A combination of "begging, borrowing and stealing" ? tricks Frank said he learned during stints in academia, industry and the government ? contributed to the bursary for the netcentricity laboratory, along with increases by the university in the business school's tuition.

Robert Templin, senior fellow at the Morino Institute, Reston, Va., said he knew that the university wanted to reposition its business school but was not familiar with the details of Frank's plan. A number of other business schools are trying to position themselves to be players in the new economy, he added.

The region is clearly on the map now as a place to be, whether "you're in the technology space, an academic doing research or trying to prepare students for the field, said Templin, whose nonprofit organization seeks to empower people and communities to achieve positive social and economic change through use of the Internet. And with the growth of e-business occurring here comparable with Seattle and Silicon Valley, he said, "it's clear that business schools need to rethink their curriculums, research agendas and the type of faculty they have."

Because there is not "a lot of history to go on" in the e-world and many of the principles of e-commerce are based on people now building these very companies, "we are looking toward interesting business relationships between business schools and e-businesses," he said.

Because of the fast pace of technological change, entrepreneurs do not have much time to do writing about their work. "As a result, there's a need to feed back to the community what are these new business principles. So, there's a real opportunity for business schools, particularly those in this region, to develop strategic relationships with e-businesses," Templin noted.

With Frank at the helm, the Smith school implemented a new, crosscutting program that saw it introduce cross-functional business education concentrations in these
areas: electronic commerce, telecommunications, financial engineering, global knowledge management and supply chain management.

"We went in Internet time. Literally, within months, we implemented the new, crosscutting program within the MBA program," he said.

Frank has also pushed to recruit top talent, ushering 16 new senior scholars and teachers to the school in the 1999-2000 academic year. That is no easy feat at a time when salaries are escalating by 25 percent annually across the nation and at the top business schools.

Before joining the school as dean in the fall of 1997, Frank served as director of information technology at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an arm of the Department of Defense that performs research and development on exotic technologies for the U.S. military. Frank also founded and served as CEO of three information technology companies and served as an associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

As part of his school's outreach efforts, the university is entering partnerships with public sector organizations including DARPA, the National Science Foundation as well as financial institutions that include the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Frank said university officials are in discussions with exchange officials about playing a role in the netcentricity laboratory because financial trading is part of the integrated business environment.

Along with its netcentricity laboratory initiative, the Smith school has established a long-range research program to explore how business applications must adapt in this integrated environment, Frank said.

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