Friday, January 04, 2002 

Class of 2002: Networked, but still in the real world

Nivedita Mookerji in New Delhi & Jaidev Majumdar in Kolkata

Picture this. 1:1 student-PC ratio, 24-hour access to Internet in hostel rooms, video-conferencing with students and faculty across the world, state-of-the-art teaching tools in the campus....No, we’re not talking about Wharton, Stanford or Harvard. Some of the leading business schools in India claim to have all this and more. In short, they’re networked.

A recent presentation made by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, on its information technology initiatives says that besides mounting new courses relating to IT in the post-graduation and management development programmes, IIM-A has done several domestic and international consulting assignments in the area. The creation of Centre for Electronic Governance (CEG) is one of the recent IT initiatives at IIM-A, with the backing of biggies such as Oracle, Compaq, Caldera and CMC. Through the CEG, the institute has developed a dairy portal and dairy information services kiosk to help farmers.

But, at a more basic level, premier B-schools are offering the best technology to its students, equipping them with a ticket to the world. Says Xavier’s Labour Research Institute (XLRI) director Prof P D Thomas: ‘‘We have taken a lead in numerous ways in ensuring that modern technology is leveraged to the fullest extent in providing its students with a deep insight into management principles and practical applications.’’

Apart from offering a specalisation in the area of Systems Management, XLRI uses technology as an enabler in ensuring that students are not only familiar with, but adept at applying technology in solving business-related problems, Prof Thomas adds.

At IIM Lucknow, which has a budget allocation of Rs 1 crore for IT infrastructure, the most used technology is the web. The instructors put up their course notes and lecture presentations on the Web for students to access outside the classroom, says IIM-L IT professor V Sridhar.

Another leading B-school, Mumbai-based S P Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), offers high computer to student ratio and 24-hour Internet connectivity in hostels. Says SPJIMR director A K Sengupta: ‘‘We also have a virtual library called Kpool.’’ At IIM-L also, the library has journals in the electronic media. ‘‘We get the journals in the electronic media a full month before the journals in the print form are released,’’ says Prof. Sridhar.

XLRI, besides providing all students with personal computers with a 24-hour Internet connection in their hostel rooms, conducts annual conferences specifically dedicated to IT and systems. ‘‘We have now taken another bold step by conducting our entrance test, the XAT, online in association with a US enterprise, Blueshift Technologies,’’ says Prof. Thomas.

IIM-A, which also boasts of a PC per student, has undergone several evolutionary steps in the past 10 years. In 1999, it decided to take a comprehensive review of its IT infrastructure. A budget of more than Rs 2.5 crore was approved by the board in early 2000. By the end of 2000, the IIM-A campus had a large fibre optics based network providing connectivity to every room in the dormitories. Network in faculty wings was rebuilt using structured cabling technology and high-end switches; and providing more than 100 MBPS of switched bandwidth to the desktops.

Another tech innovation at IIM-A: While cabling for LAN, each student room here was cabled for voice also. Now every room in the dorm has a telephone with a unique external number associated with it. Because of this, it is now possible to make a direct voice call to student’s room from anywhere in the world.

But when it comes to replacing conventional classroom teaching, e-learning is yet to take off in a big way. XLRI, for example, is in the process of launching a programme to set up 20 e-classrooms all over the country which would enable executives to attend lectures by XLRI faculty without having to travel out of their cities.

At IIM-A, although all classrooms are equipped with ceiling mounted projection system connected to a PC and a VCR, a lot is left to be done. Use of technology to convert educational material to digital form and deliver the same to students in an interactive manner, is set to be the next evolutionary step at IIM-A.

SPJIMR too is planning to launch e-learning and video-conferencing programmes soon. At present, the software packages that SPJIMR uses include modelling tools like Precision Tree, Attris and MS project software; simulation sofware like Markops and Markstrat; and enterprise software like ERP, BAAN and CRM packages.

Most top B-schools have ambitious plans to go the e-way soon. But hurdles on the way continue to be poor internet connectivity and high cost of software packages. ‘‘Many of the collaborative technologies require a substantial bandwidth, which is not available in India in all places,’’ says Prof. Sridhar.

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