Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence


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Are Universities Providing the Right Education for the Knowledge Economy?

I’m just back from the BBC2012 conference in Ft. Lauderdale (close to 1,000 attendees – in spite of Hurricane Sandy!).  One of the side topics of discussion was whether university students are getting the right kind of education to innovate and lead in a knowledge economy. I don’t know the answer – probably not. I’m posting this as an open question … in hope of spurring meaningful discussion. All thoughts welcome! As a starter, what do I think students need to learn about? Among other areas I’d say business architecture / business engineering. Our focus is on developing what makes business operations ‘smart’ – business rules and decision management – operational business IP. For that you need deep skills in concept analysis, plus precision in communication.

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Ronald G. Ross

Ronald G. Ross

Ron Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994.

Comments (8)

  • Terry Halpin


    Hi Ron
    I agree that the areas and skills you listed (business architecture/engineering, business rules, concept analysis, precsion in communication) should be addressed in a university curriculum that is designed to prepare students for a career in business information technology. While some universities already do this, it is my exprienbce that most do not. One disturbing trend I’ve noticed recently is that less attention seems to be given to conceptual data modeling (including business rules), which I regard as absolute fundamental to information system engineering. There has been increasing interest paid to business process modeling and workflow modeling, but serious attention to business-oriented data modeling seems to be on the decline. On the otehr hand, a recent keynote I attended focused on data-driven process modeling, so perhaps the pendulum is starting to swing back to recognize the key role of data modeling. I certainly hope so.

  • Jan Vanthienen


    Good question, Ron. With an easy answer: universities will say yes, business will say no?
    Let me try to give two nuances:
    1. business is not the same as 15 years ago. Neither are universities. Many of us might think of a university education as the time they were enjoying (or not) classes some 15 years ago. Probably some things have changed. How long since one really checked?

    2. there is no such thing as universal universities. There are different degrees, programs, departments, faculties. I will not deny that some university students do not get the right education for today’s knowledge economy. But there are some really good programs out there. Ours is one of course :-). I did not include a URL because I don’t want to plug, but you may be surprised how the topics you mention are present in our KU Leuven and other degrees in business informatics: smart business, business rules and decisions, business processes, concept analysis, business architecture and engineering, data and vocabulary, business analytics, communication. In fact the program is called: business engineering. I personally teach courses in business analysis and smart business (rules & decisions).
    The combination of business & IT & engineering knowledge has been our focus for decades. I am sure there are many other programs dealing with the conceptual skills, not platforms or fast moving tools. So, yes I agree that not everyone is getting/offering the right kind of educaton, but there are some great opportunities out there.

  • Ron Kersten


    Ronald, I can only speak for the situation here in the Netherlands and the environments I’ve been working in. Apart from the obvious “technical” skills that should be there when they enter the real world there is one main obstacle I see again and again: most students do not have the ability to work as a team, as they lack even basic communicative skills.

    Whatever IT job you’re in, you must be able to interact with all kinds of people who are mostly non-technical and in my case even multicultural aspects play an important role as well.
    The main challenge we have is not the theoretical knowledge as this is part of their education, it’s more the fact they can’t bridge the gap between ITBusiness or can’t even write flawlessly in their native language. You should see how many reports I’ve had to correct for poor Dutch grammar and other mistakes that should not even be made by elementary school students !
    I won’t even start mentioning what happens when they’re supposed to write in English…

    As they generally lack these elementary skills, they won’t be able to pick up subtle differences in definition nor won’t they be able to present their solutions effectively.
    At present I’d prefer working with hands-on architects coming up the ladder as opposed to highly educated newbies straight from University.

    So I’d say : Next to technical skills, a main portion of their education should be developing soft skills for better interacting with the business and people of all sorts. Communication is – and will remain – a key factor in our job.

  • Doug McDavid


    A precious few universities teach systems thinking and general systems theory

  • Stephen F. Heffner


    Ronald — “Platforms will come and go, but those will always be needed.” Amen! And the same is true of computer languages. IMHO, as a professor for over a decade, the first order of business is to teach the conceptual skills of logical analysis, functional decomposition, data structure and relationships, and primitives identification. Everything else gets built on top of that. With those basics, a competent knowledge worker can pick up the specifics of individual platforms, languages, etc. pretty quickly, and will then outperform a colleague who never got the basics but has experience with specific environments.

    Good communication skills should go without saying, but unfortunately they are not taught very well coming up. My IT and CS students used to get mad at me for criticizing their English grammar and composition skills. And this was in an Ivy League B-School!

  • Jean-Michel Coeur


    To add to Stephen’s comment: it’s difficult to know what platform, language, new opportunities for solving more complex business problems will exist in 10 – 20 years from now. At the end of the day, what we learn at university is good for the next 5 (more?) years.
    One of the key skills I see for today’s students / new gradates in order to survive in a knowledge economy, is to “learn how to learn”. Many of “us” (in IT) are performing a job that didn’t exist 10 – 15 years ago because of no real powerful mobile devices (laptops, smartphone etc…), no ubiquitous connectivity, etc… We had to learn (on the job, through professional training courses, personal development etc…) new technologies, new techniques for solving problems, presenting solutions in ordre to bridge the gap we started to face to and stay relevant.
    Regardless of the technology, one constant stays: being able to express our thoughts in simple terms that everyone can relate to / understand clearly, so we get the buy-in of people to address business & technical issues together.
    My .02c.

  • cheryl petty


    I recently saw this item http://dailyorange.com/2013/01/living-the-charmed-life-mit-offers-students-non-academic-classes-to-better-interpersonal-skills/
    about a program MIT has been running for 20 years to provide soft skills to their tech graduates. The idea is that the ability to network in person, communicate in person, present yourself in a business or social context in person is valuable for success in life: business life and private life. They want to see their investment in these young people to pay off for them. Why? because it will reflect back on MIT. These successful young people will go on to write papers, do collaborative research, perhaps gain prestigious awards which will reflect back to MIT in very tangible ways.

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