The need for business managers with strong information technology (IT) skills in general, and data communication and networking skills in particular, is now high and will be even greater in the years to come. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2007), occupations in the area of network systems and data communications analysis are projected to increase 55% by 2014. Given the trend in business to leverage information technology to decrease costs and increase efficiency in all functional areas, this demand is understandable. What is more difficult to understand is the lack of response to this demand by university IT departments as reflected in their curriculums (Hawk, 2005.) In this article we describe how one information and technology management department has attempted to meet the challenge of integrating networking skills in a coordinated fashion over a wide variety of courses to, at least in part, better prepare their students for the demands they are certain to face when they graduate.
During the 1990s, dot.com companies, spawned by the meteoric rise of the Internet, spearheaded a period of frantic growth in IT throughout the economy. No functional area of business was unaffected. E-commerce was predicted to replace traditional methods of merchandizing, entire companies underwent radical business process reengineering, and functional areas such as accounting, sales, and human relations were all affected by new technology-driven processes. As a consequence, the enrollment of students across computing disciplines grew rapidly with computer science departments reaching an all-time high of over 22,000 undergraduates nationwide in 2001, compared to only 10,000 in 1995 (Zweben, 2007). The growth in information systems programs paralleled that of computer science (Shah, Martain & Mehta, 2006).
The dot.com bubble burst in 2000, which combined with the impact of a recession, led to a drop in demand for IT professionals nationwide. Many companies turned to outsourcing in an effort to meet IT demands while reducing costs. Outsourcing, and in particular, offshore outsourcing, has its greatest impact in the areas of technology support, application development and IT related financial, marketing, and e-HR business processes. It has relatively little impact on basic IT infrastructure services, such as network management, server maintenance, and PC support (Gartner Group, 2003).
The decline in demand for IT professionals nationwide, coupled with the effects of off-shoring, are reflected in a drop in enrollment of IT undergraduates of over 40% over the last 5 years (Zweben, 2007), with enrollments in some information systems programs declining as much as 70% (Shah et al., 2006). As the economy began to pull itself out of the recession, the number of IT jobs started increasing, especially in the areas of networking and e-commerce (Minch & Tabor, 2003). During this same period, the nature of IT within corporations and organizations has undergone rapid and profound changes to the point that “today it is hard to distinguish between business and technology at all, given that nearly all business transactions are enabled by technology” (Andriole, 2006, p. 3).