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Ninth Real-Life Case Study Award Showcases How Knowledge Works in the Merrick School of Business

2017 Winners of the Real-Life Case Study with EMS

(Photo: Back row, from left: Prof. Eusebio Scornavacca, Donna Stevenson, Cecil Robinson, Merrick School of Business Dean Murray Dalziel. Front row, from left: Sean Gutterman, Carlos Ramires, Sara Ali, Zeshan Qumars. Not in photo: Joshua Dinkins)

The Real-Life Case Study Award is a celebration of a semester's worth of research and preparation by students enrolled in Prof. Eusebio Scornavacca's Management Information Systems course. His students, working in teams of five, set out to solve a specific problem presented to the class by a local company. In addition to earning a grade in his class, his students' analyses are evaluated by the partner company in order to subsequently select the winning team. Students are challenged to apply the knowledge gained in class to develop solutions for the company’s real-life problem. They have about a month to put together their business report.

As in previous years, this year's business case involves the intersection of IT and business processes.

"The purpose of the exercise is to challenge our students with real business issues from local companies—developing marketable skills," Prof. Scornavacca says. "As all companies use IT, it is not hard to find a case that fits this purpose."

This year's award recipients were chosen by Donna Stevenson, president and CEO of Early Morning Software (EMS). PRISM, the compliance management suite offered by EMS, compiles information that their clients—including the cities of Baltimore, Atlanta, and San Diego—might require multiple programs and mountains of paper in order to organize otherwise. The case brought to Scornavacca's class by Stevenson required a similar approach.

"We were looking for a customer relations management solution," explains Stevenson.

EMS needed to increase its word-of-mouth, but they also needed a better way of tracking the sale of its product—from the time that potential customers learn about it to when it is purchased.

"Each tool we used was missing critical components,” Stevenson says. “Before, we had to use multiple tools, but the tool that [the winning team] implemented has multiple dimensions."

Stevenson is quick to point out that the winning team was composed of students completing different majors; their multidisciplinary approach provided valuable recommendations to address the challenge.

"I share that aspect of the story to encourage people—who might not traditionally be in the IT field—not to be intimidated by [the work], and not to feel like you have to be some kind of fantastic coder," she says. "You have to be a problem solver first."

In the end, Stevenson chose the team of Sara Ali, Zeshan Qumar, Sean Gutterman, Carlos Ramires, and Joshua Dinkins.

Some of the students involved didn't realize that their assignments would be anything but hypothetical when they signed up for the class.

"I was definitely surprised," Ramirez says. "Especially since this is my first year here at UB."

The broad, unstructured nature of the assignment was daunting for a few of the students, but team member Ali says she saw the benefit of being given such an open-ended task.

"The case study experience was invaluable," Ali says. "It challenged us to think outside the box and bring different perspectives to the table as a team."

Fellow team member Qumar agreed.

"There was no right or wrong answer," he says.

Qumar describes their process as compiling a list of possible tools and scrutinizing each one thoroughly before presenting their findings to EMS.

"The assignment is designed in a way that requires my students to first understand the problem, then, identify critical elements of the challenge before looking for potential solutions and making a well-informed recommendation,” Prof. Scornavacca explains.

During the recent announcement of the winning team, some award winners were excited and quick to jump in on the conversation about their experience with the project. Others sat back and listened, happy to just observe—a difference in personality that Stevenson attributes to the team's success.

"Our field is one that I think invites a lot of different people to it,” she says. “We need people who are customer-service oriented, and sometimes that's not my top engineer. I need my top engineer doing the coding, doing the designing, that's their sweet spot. We need all sorts across the spectrum, and I think that came out in the complement of people who were on the team. It wasn't just about being a top technologist. It was a group that could actually solve a business problem, and they did that."

This wasn't Stevenson's first time working with a team of students. While developing what would become PRISM, EMS worked with a team of graduate students at Loyola University Maryland.

"They did some market research for us, they came back and said do not develop that product, it will absolutely not launch based on the research," Stevenson recalls.

Although this may have seemed like a roadblock, it was the opposite.

"What they did not realize was that they gave us all the information that we needed, that if we were going to bring it to market we would have to engineer around or create a business model around," Stevenson explains. "That's exactly what we did. We knew there was a need, what we didn't know was what obstacles we would run into."

Now, the University of Baltimore has given Stevenson another story about students helping her company overcome obstacles.

"We begin implementation of what they came up with in March," Stevenson says.