05 May University Consortium Enables Transformation and Survival for Wisconsin Businesses
Madison, WI – Today’s business climate is not for the faint of heart. Global competition and offshore manufacturing are striking a blow to Wisconsin’s economy, and this, combined with rising unemployment, the need to retrain workers, and a huge budget deficit is forcing Wisconsin’s business leaders to look for new ways to survive and grow.
“If you’re in business, you’d better start thinking about e-business,” declares Dr. Raj Veeramani, UW Professor of Engineering and Business and Director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Consortium for Global e-Commerce (UW CGEC). And for more than four years, the UW CGEC has been helping companies statewide do just that.
The Consortium, launched in December 1998 in response to a fear that Wisconsin’s traditional industries would be radically challenged by “New Economy” dot com businesses, “is a University–industry partnership around a common cause,” says Veeramani. “Its mission is to help companies gain a competitive advantage based on e-business.”
The consortium is composed of members from different industries that desire a joint UW–industry group to address e-business solutions. “E-business is not purely an IT issue; it needs to be approached in a holistic manner, looking at policies, processes, business strategies, and marketing as well as technology,” adds Veeramaini.
In the Consortium’s first year and a half, the group achieved public recognition—former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson recognized the group in his State of the State address for helping enhancing economic development statewide, while former Governor Scott McCallum identified the Consortium as part of his “Building Business” model.
UW CGEC members soon discovered that e-business is a very broad concept. According to Veeramani, “we needed to narrow the focus, to drill down and determine the core competencies of the UW, where it can be most helpful.”
The Consortium is developing actionable products and tools to help companies make informal decisions and solve problems, tools such as decision support systems and assessment tools. These can help companies affirm they’ve made the right choices or see how to avoid others’ mistakes. A set of Information Security Assessment Tools developed by UW CGEC provides sets of questions in various categories such as technology or policy that help companies assess their level of preparedness.
UW CGEC also facilitates joint University – industry projects. Faculty members require students in some classes—such as Veeramani’s e-commerce class—to work on joint projects with industries. When UW CGEC member Land’s End recognized an opportunity for international e-commerce, Veeramani assigned a team of students to develop a model for launching the effort. Land’s End had identified four possible target countries where they were already doing traditional business; the students’ model prioritized the target countries using “entry to market” criteria. This gave Land’s End an objective way to approach international e-business.
“The projects produce real benefit for companies—they’re of strategic importance—and they provide a rich learning opportunity for students,” says Veeramani. In another project with Land’s End, the company wanted an expansion strategy for the South Korean market. Through UW CGEC, students from a mass communications class approached the project from a marketing communications standpoint, while Veeramani’s students approached the project from an e-commerce aspect.
Companies take the projects very seriously, notes Veeramani. At project completion, the students make presentations to senior management; the executives listen very carefully and ask thoughtful questions—that’s where the students get their satisfaction and recognition.
Now Veeramani wants to broaden this e-business vision, establishing a campus-wide institute to address issues more at a state level and an industry level. “Wisconsin is mostly made up of small businesses,” notes Veeramani. He sees the institute as a way to open up UW CGEC’s benefits to all Wisconsin businesses. The institute, for which Veeramani is currently seeking formal approval, would make the tools and information resources developed by the Consortium available to all businesses.
UW CGEC’s new alliance with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) will help small and mid-sized Wisconsin manufacturers apply e-business technologies to supply chain management. The alliance stems from a UW CGEC work group that examined collaborative product development. The group found that OEM/supplier collaboration could yield significant benefits.
“Manufacturing is a very important industry cluster in Wisconsin, and we will lose it if we don’t find an effective way for OEMs to compete internationally where labor and operating costs are lower,” says Veeramani. The UW CGEC alliance with WMEP will develop models for OEMs and suppliers.
Veeramani believes the CGEC could only have succeeded at the UW. “The UW CGEC is sustainable because it comes from a grass roots effort, not because the administration wanted to keep up with other universities. The Consortium began not to create programs, but to help businesses,” he says. If the Consortium’s track record is a predictor of future success, then Wisconsin’s economy will be greatly served by the efforts of Veeramani, the GECC and its member organizations, as well as the University of Wisconsin.
For more information on the Consortium for Global e-Commerce, visit their website at www.cgec.org.