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August 31, 2017

New MS degree helps students master IT systems

Program developed with area business leaders in response to industry demand

Technology and information management have become integral and critical components of businesses today. With that in mind, faculty in the Lutgert College of Business invited business leaders to join them in brainstorming industry’s most pressing needs. What are the trends? Where is the demand? What skills are needed? What are the career opportunities?

The answer: Industry needs professionals conversant in IT systems and data analytics. The result: FGCU’s compelling new Master of Science in Information Systems and Analytics. Students choose one of two concentrations – information technology management or analytics. This two-year, 30-hour master’s degree program offers challenging academics balanced with practical real-world experiences.

“Basically, our goal is to give our students more in-depth knowledge in the field to better support them in the job market,” said Dr. Rob Totterdale, assistant professor of information systems and operation management. Totterdale comes to FGCU with 28 years of industry experience as partner in a global consulting and technology firm.

The program works like this: Students in both concentrations share five core classes, each designed to give them a solid foundation upon which to build even stronger competencies as they move forward. These courses range from learning how to think through the process of using data and managing projects to developing information technology strategies – looking at what kind of data is needed, how to capture that data and how to secure and protect data integrity. From there, students’ interests diverge.

Information Technology Management

Students choosing this concentration are concerned with information technology and resource management, said Totterdale – things like how to acquire and manage resources including software, network, Cloud and computing services; ensuring architectures support web and mobile computing; safeguarding data; defining company policies and implementing IT strategies.

“Professionals in IT management need to have a broad perspective,” said Totterdale. Technology management varies dramatically by industry. Major software used for manufacturing differs from software used in healthcare, financial services, hospitality or higher education, for example.”

Then there are all the issues surrounding Cloud computing. “Skilled professionals must manage, monitor, control and secure data that is housed in the Cloud,” he said.

Analytics

In the analytics concentration, students learn how to access data sources and, once retrieved, learn how to apply statistics to make sense of that data. They look at trends with the goal of improving outcomes, whether those outcomes relate to increasing the bottom line, developing healthier treatment alternatives, identifying predictive behaviors – all based on thoughtful analysis of data. Students learn to use available tools and technologies to help manage this data and to present it visually via graphs or charts.

Take Hertz, a company with a vested interest in customer behavior and driving patterns. “IT used to focus on reporting the statistics of what has happened,” said Tom Pagano, manager of IT Sourcing at Hertz. “Today, these reports need to be current and predictive. We need to use data to determine the best action to deliver true customer service.”

Pagano said FGCU’s master’s program will teach students “the overarching understanding of technology and of how architecture fits together.” That, he said, combined with hands-on experience, will give them a leg up when they graduate.

Revi Chandran, global director of applications with Arthrex, seconds the importance of real-world experience. Arthrex is a global medical-device company in new product development and medical education in orthopedics and, like many companies, looks for strong IT professionals with experience outside of the classroom. “First of all, it’s no secret that as far as supply and demand goes for experienced IT professionals, it’s tough. The number of graduates from our universities nationally, don’t meet the demand.

“I applaud FGCU for trying to have majors that have more immediate relevance. It has to be remembered that FGCU is not a technology university. However, for certain skills, I’ve hired several students from FGCU, one is a former intern who now works in data analytics.”

Career Opportunities

Many graduate students are already working in the field and want to move up the ladder. Others, perhaps, want to gain a broader knowledge of an area or even change industries altogether. Some are interested in gaining the knowledge and skills to go into consulting. The bottom line is that the FGCU’s master’s program prepares graduates to succeed in a number of diverse careers, with impressive earnings potential.

Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing company, tracks the demand for IT professionals. In 2014, the report listed the following median salaries nationally: computer systems analyst ($82,710); information security analyst ($88,890) computer support specialists ($47,610) and IT project managers ($127,640), to name a few. In 2016, the report found that 60 percent of chief information officers found it “somewhat or very challenging to find skilled IT professionals.” According to a 2017 report by PayScale Human Capital, a data analyst earns an average of $57,261 annually; a systems analyst, $64,000. Glassdoor, an online recruiting site, lists an analytics manager salary in Southwest Florida as $89,230.

“Companies are starting to pay more attention to the explosion of data,” said Totterdale, “and they need people with the skills to work with that data. FGCU’s master of science in information systems and analytics graduates skilled professionals to serve that need.”