McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

                          Associate Professor Judy McKay
                Faculty of Information & Communication Technologies
                        Swinburne University of Technology

                               Professor Peter Marshall
                             School of Information Systems
                                University of Tasmania


In this paper, the authors focus on the degree review process for Information
Systems (IS) degrees, arguing that a more demand-centric approach is needed
that explicitly incorporates direct input from business stakeholders. Such an
approach is developed together with a framework for conceptualising the
discipline of IS. A framework depicts the way in which IS delivers value to
business, thus enabling the evaluation of course components in the sense of how
they contribute to an understanding of such value creation. The development of
the demand-centric approach and the framework is exemplified by its application
to a degree review process at one of the author's universities.             The paper
concludes with the discussion of the issues and challenges involved in
implementing the approach.

Keywords: publication style, IAIM Conference, formats, references

                                 I. INTRODUCTION

       This paper stems from the shared university experiences of the authors,
and seeks to encourage the Information Systems (IS) fraternity to think about the

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

processes by which we review and renew our degree offerings, just as much as
we consider the content requirements.

       In Australia (and we suspect in many other contexts), we find on the one
hand, many IS departments espousing a position of being closely engaged with
industry and of producing ‘industry-relevant’ graduates, while at the same time,
there periodically appear published articles and keynote addresses in which
industry representatives voice concerns about the knowledge and skills of IS
graduates [Latham, 2000 and Beer, 2007].             We have noted amongst some
colleagues (and have exhibited ourselves!) some interesting reactions to such
publicity: they (industry people) must be talking about graduates from some other
university, not ours; they must have employed a Computer Science/Software
Engineering (CSSE) graduate, not an IS one; they do not understand the role of
a university is not to train people, but to educate them; and if they think our
students do not have the rights skills on graduating, then they should have seen
the standard we inherited from high school.

       Why this disconnect? Why is it that university departments who purport to
be in touch with industry do not necessarily produce graduates with knowledge
and skills that match the demands of industry? Can more attention to process
issues help redress the concerns of industry? Should universities be driven by
industry anyway, or do we have different objectives? In this paper, we do not
offer a perfect solution, but intend to talk about some experiences which we
believe may have helped close the divide a little.         The paper will essentially
discuss the process adopted in a major IS degree review, but prior to doing that,
a brief discussion on the context of such degree reviews is considered

                             II. CONTEXT OF A REVIEW

       For several years now, IS schools have tended to be under pressure from
a number of somewhat related sources. A decline in interest amongst school
leavers in IT degrees in general has meant in many cases, IS staff are exhorted

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

to maintain at the very least, and preferably increase, student numbers. This
tends to encourage thinking along the lines of what might attract a school leaver
to taking an IS degree, and so we have at times witnessed degree reviews
motivated by trying to be ‘popular’ with young people, rather than meeting the
articulated requirements of industry. At the same time, decreasing numbers has
in many cases resulted in substantial redundancies, threats of further
redundancies, forced amalgamations with other schools, and folding of IS
schools in with other schools such as management, computer science and the
like. This tends to create a highly charged political situations where factions
start to vie for the ‘survival’ of their interest in IS degrees and IS majors in other
degrees, and decisions start being motivated by protection of one’s turf as much
as anything else.

       Another factor, we would assert, stems from the aging profile of
academics in Australia. It is not uncommon amongst IS departments in Australia
to find long serving career academics, comparatively few opportunities for influx
of new ideas through recruitment of possibly younger academics, and hence a
danger that unless there are very close ties maintained with industry, the
knowledge of the academic may not always embrace the latest thinking and
practices in industry. Indeed, degree reviews can be about teaching what we
know and like, rather than what industry says it requires. Academics in general
have reported steep increases in perceived work load, stress levels and the like.
Meanwhile the Australian Government is in the process of introducing ways of
measuring research output, and thus many academics are under pressure to
research in ways that will score well with the new metrics. Time thus spent on
curriculum development, teaching, degree reviews, and engaging with industry is
thus time not spent on performing well in measures of research output

       Thus, we would assert that the context in which most degree reviews are
conducted are often highly politicized, often demoralized, and driven towards the
popularity stakes, which tends to support a supply-driven process, focusing on
inputs. The review is often not the rational process that we might like to portray.

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

While mindful of the importance of the supply-side factors, are there ways in
which the process can also become a little more demand-focused? This is the
question we will discuss in this paper.


       The specific degree review which was the focus of this paper was of an
Information Systems degree, where IS was positioned within an IT Faculty, also
offering courses in Computer Science, Software Engineering, Networks and
Telecommunications, and the like. A range of undergraduate and postgraduate
coursework degree programmes are offered, alongside a strong programme of
Research Masters and doctoral degrees. This paper will describe and analyse
the process of reviewing the Bachelor of Information Systems (BIS).

       The BIS had served the Faculty well.             It was a classic Business
Computing degree of the sort prevalent in the 1990s, consisting of approximately
one third business subjects, with the remaining subjects made up of a strong
core of programming and database subjects, and a reasonably wide choice of
electives both of a technical nature from within the faculty or free choice electives
from a range of other disciplines across the University. While minor changes had
been made regularly, the entire degree had not undergone a major review for
some years.

       There is a key premise which is central to much of the discussion that will
be presented in this paper: that in the past, too often universities have tended to
focus on inputs (school leavers, university entrants) and then heavily on the
transformation required (what knowledge and skills should they be taught) when
undertaking reviews of their undergraduate degree programmes.               Rather, we
would argue that a greater focus on outcomes in terms of the attributes, skills
and knowledge required, driven by industry demand, provides a focus which is
likely to result in a shaping of curricula that is more likely to produce graduates
more closely aligned to the needs of industry. Thus, degree reviews need to find
a way of balancing the need to be responsive to the interests of our potential

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                                   Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

intake into a degree, but should remain vigilant to ensure that graduates are
meeting the needs of industry (see Figure 1).

                              Traditional emphasis

                             Inputs             Transformation   Outputs/Outcomes

                                                        Required emphasis

               Figure 1. Changing the Emphasis of Degree Reviews

       Our argument will be built on our experiences with an IS Industry Advisory
Committee (ISIAC) who played a major role in shaping the degree review. The
pervasive message from this committee was clear: they urged that we need to
somewhat de-emphasise content (IS skills and knowledge), and place increasing
emphasis on the skills and attributes required of new IS graduates if they are to
be “industry-ready” in the sense of understanding how organizations work, have
some knowledge of industry, and have a range of technical, business and
interpersonal skills, and hence are able to function effectively in modern work
contexts. This does not suggest that content is unimportant, but rather, that in
delivering content, IS academics have a responsibility to embed a range of
personal, interpersonal and professional knowledge, skills and attributes, and an
understanding of the complexity, multiple and conflicting objectives and
perspectives, and ambiguity and that are inherent in most contemporary
organisational IS contexts.             In particular, as part of this transformation, IS
academics need to prepare students to deal with tremendous complexity in the
workforce. They need to understand technology trends, business trends, and the
interplay between these. In addition they need to understand the industry in
which they operate, and its influence on IT decision making. They need to be
able to appreciate the difference between pervasive trends, as opposed to fads

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

and fashions. Thus, they need skills at dealing with complexity, and in making
decisions in conditions of pressure and uncertainty.          These are at least as
important as the content base from which we have previously operated. In other
words, we need to shift our attention in part at least away from supply-driven
concerns much more strongly and deliberately towards demand-driven concerns.

       The paper will present and critically review a degree review process
premised on these views of the IS Industry Advisory Committee, and will then
reflect on and analyse the outcomes of this undertaking.            Emphasis will be
placed on the role and contribution of the IS Industry Advisory Committee. The
paper will reflect on and evaluate the various stages of the process. By way of
introduction, the paper will first consider the environment of the IS industry in
Australia, and hence the drivers of change which informed the IS Industry
Advisory Committee and shaped the degree review. It is hoped that in making
explicit and sharing our experiences, others in the IS community could benefit,
and that we too may benefit from valuable feedback from peers and colleagues.

       A key part in recognising the need to shift from a supply-driven
perspective to embrace a demand-driven focus came from the conversations that
were conducted with senior representatives from industry in establishing the IS
Industry Advisory Committee. In addition, the research that was undertaken in
preparing for the review, in understanding the drivers of the degree review and
hence being clear on our objectives, and particularly in trying to define what
Information Systems as a discipline is in a contemporary context made it very
apparent that IS curricula needed to better reflect the changing demands of
industry. This research lead to the articulation of an “IS Framework” which was
used as the basis for our understandings and discussion of what constituted the
domain of IS in modern organisations (see figure 3 below – the framework will be
explained subsequently in the paper).

       This paper is structured as follows: It will start by outlining some of the key
issues that emerged through the research that was undertaken as the starting
point for the review, and the insights gained from industry in putting together an

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

IS Industry Advisory Committee. The review process will then be discussed and
analysed. The paper will conclude with a consideration of implementation issues
and some remaining challenges.


       Initially, research was also undertaken into both the academic and trade
literature about the current state of IS, changes that were occurring and the like.
This lead to the distillation of a number of key issues or drivers that we felt
needed to be considered during the review process.                These will now be
presented and analysed, and the importance of the industry perspective in
helping to shape and moderate those cannot be underestimated. Specific drivers
that will be considered include:

Marked decline of interest amongst school leavers in pursuing courses in
IT (including IS)
       There is evidence to suggest that the numbers of men and women
enrolling in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) courses at
universities in Australia is mirroring the pattern emerging in the USA and other
western industrialized countries, and is collapsing [Vegso, 2005, Webster, 2005,
UCAS 2005].

       From 2000 to 2005, the popularity of the ICT discipline has plummeted in
Australia. Fewer women and men are entering the IT field at university: there has
been a decline of 29 per cent in males, and an alarming 51 per cent decline for
women. The proportion of females enrolling as new undergraduate IT students
has also declined from 26 per cent in 2001 to 20 per cent in 2005 [DEST, 2006].
Statistics from the Australian state of Victoria, suggest a worrying picture in terms
of student selection of ICT courses at university level, with a decline of 46% since
2001 in the number of students selecting ICT courses as their first preference for
higher education. When this figure is analyzed by gender, there is an overall
decline in ICT course selection of 65% amongst females compared to 40%
amongst males [VTAC, 2004]. Clearly, revisions to the IS degree needed to be

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

mindful of the interests and needs of students, but also needed to be sure to
clearly demonstrate the employability of graduates at the completion of their

Strong Message from Industry
       Periodically, there are concerns voiced by industry that universities in
general are not producing IS graduates with the suite of skills and knowledge that
are required and desired by business and government [Bushell, 2005]. Inevitably
this is accompanied by concerns expressed that universities fail to listen to the
views of industry and continue to teach outmoded courses that do not meet the
demands of industry. This issue is compounded by an admission that the needs
and desires a perceived and expressed of many senior executive teams in
organisations do not necessarily align well with those expressed by more
operational levels in IS departments [Hirschheim and Klein, 2003], and neither of
these may be well served by the activities of HR departments or consultants in
their recruitment activities for organisations [Bushell, 2005].       This disconnect
between the views of business (business is what matters and technology is an
important means to a business end) and those of many technologists (technology
matters, and the business bottom line is a limitation) also serves to cause
conflicting messages to be communicated to universities so that universities
receive overwhelming demands for business savvy graduates who also are
knowledgeable and competent in just about all facets of technology.

       The repeated demands from industry include the need for IS graduates to
have better business knowledge and real-world exposure combined with sound
technical skills, to have better ‘soft’ skills, including better communication and
interpersonal skills, teamwork skills, improved critical thinking, problem solving
and analytical skills, project management skills, skills in business and systems
analysis, and to have a strongly client-centric focus [Hollands, 2004].           Many
members of the IS Industry Advisory Committee expressed a desire for
graduates to show curiosity, eagerness, and a willingness to go on learning and
acquire new skills and understandings over time.

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                             Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

Structural changes in the IS industry
         In addition to the demands from industry for more business knowledge in
IS graduates, the local IS industry is facing some uncertainty and pressure from
the increase in interest in offshore outsourcing and offshoring 1 . Whereas the
outsourcing boom in the 1990s may have shifted a significant amount of IS work
from within organisations to local outsourcing partners and service providers, and
hence, did not substantially represent a threat to the overall employment of IS
graduates, the trend towards seeking IS services from remote offshore locations
indicates that some IS jobs have been lost, and will continue to be lost to
offshore outsourcing service providers. Musson (2005) quantifies this drift of jobs
overseas in writing that “According to the Whitehorse Study of ICT Outsourcing
and Offshoring in Australia published in April 2004, an estimated 7000 Australian
IT jobs have moved offshore to date and this figure is expected to rise to 11, 000
by 2008 (Whitehorse 2004). Despite this, in the period between January 2003
and January 2005, the department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous
Affairs issued visas to 6,685 foreign IT workers to enter Australia [Maslog-Levis,
2005].    Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that Australian parents and young
people do not see the IT industry as offering a viable career [Information Age,

         A report commissioned by the Australian Information Industry Association
(AIIA) [Hollands, 2004] on the situation in Australia with respect to offshoring and
published late in 2004 supports that view, and some of the key concerns and
issues raised in that report are cited below.

         “The availability of the offshore outsourcing option permitted their
         organisation      to    seek     higher-value       business       and     project
         management skills, and rely on offshore partners to “do the hack
         work”…All respondents expressed a desire to see more business

 The distinction is made between outsourcing to an offshore destination (offshore outsourcing)
and establishing a branch or business unit of one’s own company overseas, and that business
unit then provides lower cost IT services technically still internally to the company (offshoring).

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                           Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

       skills in their department and less focus on technology…The bottom
       line for Australian ICT professionals is that CIOs are seeking staff
       with    skills    in     business      and   communication,     as   well   as
       technology…There was large-scale agreement with the proposition
       that code writers and testers had a limited lifespan in the Australian
       industry because offshore outsourcing companies were effectively
       commoditizing those skills.”. [Hollands, 2004:37]

       The skills in demand for IS people according to CIOs interviewed for this
AIIA study were business analysis, integration skills, vendor relationship
management, business intelligence and data mining skills, network engineering
and architecture, web and systems architecture, web services, and Linux
experience and skills.           Outsourcing vendor organisations in Australia also
reported that:

       “their offshore relationships at least in part curtail the need to
       employ more local programmers, either permanent or on contract,
       in the future…their hiring activities will focus on those with a mix of
       technical and business or vertical industry knowledge. Software
       vendors     are        looking   for   those who can gather business
       requirements, provide and communicate business analysis, as well
       as designers and implementation experts who can work with
       clients.” [Hollands, 2004:43]

       “local application development companies faced significant threats
       from offshore and would have to change their business models to
       survive…They unanimously agreed offshoring could cost thousands
       of jobs in the medium to long-term, and that affected ICT
       professionals needed to retrain to provide higher-value skills than
       programming.” [Hollands, 2004:46]

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

       These views were clearly of concern to us in our thinking about retooling
the BIS degree. It seemed to us that offshore outsourcing had the potential, in a
fairly short period of time, to fundamentally shift the skill and knowledge set
required of local IS graduates.

       In addition to this study of local experiences in terms of offshoring, in
2004, Professor Lynne Markus published a short discussion paper, providing a
US perspective on what the skill requirements for IS graduates would be. Some
relevant quotes from that document are detailed below:

       • “They will need to write better specifications [McLaughlin, 2003]
       • They may do interfaces, because interfaces have a cultural component
           [McLaughlin, 2003]
       • They will do small, quick jobs and ones that require working closely
           with users (“[the programmers who hate talking to customers] are
           probably the first ones to get replaced”) [McLaughlin, 2003]
       • They will need to be better project managers [McLaughlin, 2003]
       • They will need to understand business processes better [“previously
           you had people who were 70 percent focused on the technology and
           maybe 30 percent focused on business… . The swing is probably to 70
           percent business and 30 percent technology”, Wasserman, 2003]

     “The challenge … is to take the displaced developers and turn them into
         business analysts and architects and vendor relations managers—
         which some may not want to do” [Wasserman, 2003].” [Markus, 2004
         – Discussion paper]

       Media coverage on this issue was also creating strong negative and
somewhat unrealistic perceptions amongst prospective students and parents that
all the IS/IT jobs are going overseas. In addition to meeting the demand for
changing IS skill and knowledge sets, we also recognised a need to paint a
picture of there still being many IS jobs available locally, albeit emphasizing
different types of work, and demonstrating clearly that the new degree would

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

provide the skills for our graduates to take up those more analytical and
integrative roles.

Emphasis of the Discipline is Changing
       Mathiassen (1998) notes that the focus of IS seems to be changing.
During Era (60s and 70s), the emphasis was technical, with development
focused a lot on the programming activity. During Era II (70s – late 80s), the
focus moved more towards analysis and design. During Era III (90s onwards),
we see a move towards the integration of IS applications with business
strategies, formation of alliances, collaboration across organisational and national
boundaries, etc. Mathiassen (1998) thus argues that Era III skills need to be
oriented more towards business, architectures, business networks, adaptation &
integration of applications, and the like.

                     IV. REVIEW PROCESS FOLLOWED

       Figure 1 below contains the broad process followed for the degree. It is
not proposed here to describe all the steps in minute detail, but it needs to be
emphasised that while this might be portrayed as a linear process, the reality was
far from that.    The diagram this needs to be interpreted as allowing, indeed
encouraging iterations and backwards and forwards through various stages. In
essence it involved some broad research to establish our view of IS as a
discipline, to develop a framework that defined the core activities of the domain
of IS, and to use that framework as a basis for conducting a gap analysis of the
existing degree programme and a needs analysis for the new degree
programme. It also involved establishing clear objectives for the degree review.
Major stakeholders groups identified included industry, staff current students, and
graduates.     Once consultation had taken place, a series of workshops and
meetings were held to shape and structure the course. At all times, members of
the IS Industry Advisory Committee were briefed on progress, were often
involved in decision making, and were consulted regularly on matters of
uncertainty or conflict. The degree as it emerged through these workshops was

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                                                         Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

then documented according to University requirements, and as part of that
University process, was formally (and enthusiastically) approved and endorsed
by the IS Industry Advisory Committee. The new degree was rolled out from the
start of the academic year in February, 2006.

                                              Establish IS Framework        Establish objectives for degree reviews
                                                  (see Figure 2)               (BIS, BIT, MIS, Grad Cert/Dip)

                                                                                               Understand IS/IT courses offered
                               Who are our “customers”?                                        by competitiors
                               What do they want/need?           Market Analysis                  * Opportunities?
                               Can we deliver that?                                               * Threats?

                                                                                                                      Graduate consultation
              Industry consultation                                        Student consultation

Changing demand & trends
for IS/IT skills, knowledge,
                                              Staff consultation              Perceptions of strengths, weaknesses
                                                                              of current offerings
graduate attributes
                                                                                  * How can we improve?

                                                                                              Consideration of existing degree + concerns
                                                                                              Joint discussion of individual concerns
                                                                Workshop(s)                   Discussion on certain principles, requirements
                                                            Form SI working parties           Seek creative solutions to “problems”
                                                                                              Majors / themes / streams?
                                                                                              Opportunities for double degrees, IS minors in other degrees?
                                                                                              Articulation from TAFE, International students

Check against IS Framework
                                                                 Course design

                                                                                               New & reengineered subjects
                                                                                               Required resources
                         Implement minor changes in 2005                                         * staff skills, knowledge, development
                         (where appropriate)
                                                                Recommendations                  * software, hardware, tech support
                                                                                                 * library resources
                                                                                                 * facilities

      Implementation Plan                      Formal University Course Accreditation Process

                                          Figure 1. The degree review process


            As a discipline, IS periodically struggles with its identity from time to time,
and there emerges another bout of papers trying to articulate the core of IS, or to
define the essence of IS as a discipline [Alter, 2000, DeSanctis 2003, Galliers,
2003, Hirschheim and Klein, 2003, Lyytinen and King, 2004, Scott, 2007]. At the
start of the review process, it soon become clear that there was little agreement
or genuine shared understanding amongst members of the academic group as to
what constitutes IS as a discipline. Initial conversations revealed significant gaps
in our understanding of what IS embraced, and more importantly what should be

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                         Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

embraced by an IS undergraduate degree. In Figure 2 below, when IS staff were
discussing the relative balance between technical and analytical/managerial
content with members of the IS Industry Advisory Committee, an interesting
polarization emerged between a cohort of staff where the emphasis was clearly
seen to be technical, and another group whose views coincided with members of
the IS Industry Advisory Committee who felt the emphasis should be placed on
the business-related, analytical side of IS. The previous BIS degree had clearly
had a more technical focus, and it thus become evident that the prevailing view
amongst IS staff was that this emphasis would continue to be appropriate.

  Technical                                                    Analytical/Business
                         A                                        X
                         X                               X
                       A X
                   A                             X
                         X               A
                     A X
                  A                                    X

 0      10     20       30      40      50       60      70       80      90    100
           X = IS Academic staff member, A = IS Advisory Committee Member
             Proportion to left of X/A indicates amount of technical content,
                 to the right of X/A indicates analytical/business content)

          Figure 2. Staff beliefs about the balance between technical and
           analytical/managerial content in an IS Undergraduate Degree

       Partly as a result of this gap, an attempt was made to define IS, so that
subsequent crafting of the IS undergraduate degree could, indeed should, reflect
and embrace the discipline as we understood it, but also, as conceptualized by
industry. Figure 3 below is the outcome of these deliberations. We saw the
delivery of business value from IS/IT investments as of prime importance to our
understanding. Hence the central portion of the model was drawn from Marshall
et al. (2004) and Soh and Markus (1995). We saw the process and activities

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                                                                          Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

involved in transitioning from the strategic imperative to ultimately positively
impacting on organisational performance as central to the IS discipline. To this
we mapped the more traditional conceptualisation of IS as heavily involving the
systems development life cycle, but sought to emphasise the modern imperative
to buy and implement packages and/or outsource and offshore development
activities. Part of the delivery of business value through a positive impact on
organisational performance is deliberately seen as lying outside the control of the
organisation itself. This framework also notes important aspects of the business
of concern to IS/IT, and on which IS/IT necessarily may have an impact. These
include business strategy, business process, decision making, organisational
structure, culture and politics, and the existing IS/IT infrastructure and

                                                                    External business environment


                                                                    IS/IT Governance & Management
                                                                      * risk
                                                                      * security
                                                                      * evaluation & benefits realisation
                       • Strategy

                                                           IT Alignment                 IT Conversion                  IT Use                     Competitive
                                                              Process                      Process                     Process                      Process
        Suppliers/     • Bus processes
                                                STRATEGIC                         IT                           IT                        IT              ORGANISATIONAL
                                               IMPERATIVE                     EXPENDITURE                    ASSETS                   IMPACTS             PERFORMANCE
                       • Decision making

                       • Structure                                                                                    * Appropriate /             * Competitive position
                                                  •Strategic context appreciation /    * IT management /
                                                                                                                         inappropriate use        * Competitive dynamics
                                                   needs & opportunities identified       conversion activities

                       • Culture, politics

                                                                                      Build/Buy/                  Implement, use                Maintain, enhance
                       • Existing IS/IT
                         infrastructure &

McKay 2004, acknowledging contributions from
  Soh & Markus 1995,
  Silver, Markus & Beath 1995,
  Marshall, McKay & Prananto 2004)

      Figure 3: The IS Framework: Defining the Domain of Information Systems

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

         The IS group and members of IS Industry Advisory Committee found few
difficulties in accepting the framework at a conceptual level, but some felt some
disquiet when this translated into required changes to the former degree (this
theme will be revisited later in this paper).


         The IS group, in conjunction with the Faculty leadership and members of
the IS Industry Advisory Committee, defined the following objectives for the
degree review: to craft a Bachelor of Business Information Systems (BBIS) that

     •      Meets requirements of industry for IS skills and knowledge

     •      Equips graduates with required professional knowledge, skills,
            attributes and behaviours

     •      Attracts increased numbers of applicants from a variety of targeted

     •      Positions the University at forefront of IS education

     •      Aligns with the University’s objectives of providing innovative education
            to benefit students & industry

     •      Addresses the major concerns of the Higher Education Curriculum
            Framework Project by increasing the focus on real world and
            experiential learning, and by offering students a range of elective
            options (both in IS and in other disciplines)


         A market analysis was conducted by internal marketing experts. Some of
the analysis and recommendations are confidential, but overall the position
adopted was one of differentiation from other local Universities.

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees


       There was consultation with the groups represented in Figure 1, most
extensively with the IS Industry Advisory Committee, and other representatives
form the IT industry.        In gaining the views of staff, we were keen to avoid
politicizing the debate about what particular members wanted/liked to teach. We
found student views very helpful especially those who had already completed
some time doing IBL (Industry Based Learning) where they had worked in
industry with supervision from the university for periods of between 6 and 12
months. The views of the various stakeholder groups were put before members
of the IS Industry Advisory Committee for comment.


       As various themes emerged as vital for the new degree, working parties
were established to tease out the issues, and to start considering how they might
be realized through the new degree structure.


       Based on the work of these working parties, a cohesive set of themes and
subjects within those themes emerged. Mostly these were new subjects, but in
some cases, old subjects were reengineered and retained. Consideration at this
stage was also given to library and laboratory resources required, and the need
for staff development.       As the overall structure and content of the new degree
was finalized, appropriate documentation was then prepared in order to progress
the proposal through the formal university accreditation process.


       The structure and content of the new BBIS degree was substantially
different to that of the old BIS, and this posed some major challenges (see Table
1 below for a comparison of the old and new degrees).

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McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

                   Broad Area                        Old                    New

                     Business                 4 + 4 electives                4

                        MIS                          2                       1

                  Programming                        2                       1

                    Database                         2                      1-2

                Analysis/Systems                     1                      2-3

                         IT                          1                       2

               Professional Issues                   2                       1

                      Project                        1                       1*

              Enterprise Systems/                     -                      2

                 IS Management                        -                      3

                                                19 core + 5             19 core + 5
                                                 electives               electives

             * Many units now are run as projects, or contain project work.

       Firstly, there was a need to invest heavily in staff development and
training. While it had been decided during the review that we were primarily
teaching concepts and not ‘packages’ for example, the IS Industry Advisory
Committee had also suggested that wherever possible, hands-on experience of
real industry standard packages should be provided and included as part of the
curricula. As a result of this review, we became amongst the first universities in
the world to adopt Cognos, and amongst the first in Australia to adopt Navision
and CRM3.0, and needed also to build expertise in SAP, Holocentric, and the
like, and in new approaches such as COBIT and ITIL.

Proceedings of the AIS SIG-ED IAIM 2007 Conference                                    18
McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

       Secondly, allied to the need for staff development, there was a need to
carefully manage change.         Despite their involvement in the process and
recognition at a rational level of the need to change, many staff resisted the
removal of “their” units from the degree, and seemed to resent that their area of
expertise was regarded as somewhat outmoded. This challenge was alleviated
by the need for redundancies at the end of 2005, at which time many of those
finding the changes most daunting elected to take a voluntary redundancy
package rather than face a forced redundancy. Subsequent growth in student
numbers has enabled recruitment of additional staff who fully embrace the new
degree, and over time we are seeing staff slowly embracing the new vision.

       Thirdly, we are still grappling with the issues of how best we embed a
range of communication and interpersonal skills across the curriculum. This is
happening slowly, but staff are concerned about their own lack of expertise in this
regard and external help has been needed to help achieve this is a coherent way
across the curriculum.

       When we announced the new BBIS to our existing cohort of BIS students,
the majority of second years elected to move into the new degree. Our new
intake into the new BBIS has increased each year over the past two years,
against a climate in Australia of continuing declines in student numbers.             In
addition, our attrition rates have decreased. As students from the new degree
undertake periods of industry-based learning, we receive encouraging comments
like “Have you changed your degree? Your students are now really useful!” All
these factors, we believe, indicate that the changes made have been endorsed
by the marketplace, both from a demand and a supply perspective.

                                VI. CONCLUSION

       This paper has presented a case study focused on an IS degree review at
an Australian University. The approach used to this degree review resulted in a
highly successful new programme which contributed significantly, the authors

Proceedings of the AIS SIG-ED IAIM 2007 Conference                                    19
McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

believe, to reversing the downward trend of IS enrollments. The new programme
also led to positive and encouraging feedback from employers.

       The approach to the degree review was driven by an outward-looking
analysis focused on the skills and knowledge required by IS employers. Guiding
the approach was a framework that depicts and analyses the process by which
IS investments lead to improved organizational performance. This framework
assists one to envision the necessary skills and knowledge that contribute to this

       The authors hope that this case study, together with the approach and
framework developed, will be informative and helpful for colleagues for
undertaking reviews of IS programmes.

                              VII. BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Proceedings of the AIS SIG-ED IAIM 2007 Conference                                    20
McKay, J. and Marshall, P.                      Repositioning Information Systems Degrees

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