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This is an unprecedented time
in economic and commercial history, Dr. Thomas P. Gerrity was saying.
Its very, very exciting. Its also a time, with all this speed
and innovation, of considerable unpredictability in terms of outcomes. This
is a story that is unfolding in front of us.
story is the business revolution being fomented by the Internet, and Gerrity,
the Reliance Professor of Management and Private Enterprise who stepped down
as dean of the Wharton School last year, has some standing to talk. In addition
to founding the Index Group, a leading consulting firm in information technology
and management, he oversaw the development of some powerful e-programs at Wharton
during his nine-year tenure there, and is now serving as director of one of
them. Thats the Wharton Forum on Electronic Commerce, described as a collaborative
partnership between business and academe that explores critical
topics for research in business. (http://ecom.wharton.upenn.edu/
constant confluence of research and businessand, of course, technologyis
fast reconfiguring the worlds of teaching and learning as well as buying and
selling. As Dr. Patrick T. Harker CE81 GCE81 Gr83, the professor
of operations and information management who has just been chosen to succeed
Gerrity as the schools dean, put it: It isnt enough to simply
study technology; you must dive in and learn how to use it to transform our
educational and research programs. (For more on Harker, see
the story on page 21.) In order to be at the cutting edge of management
education and research, he added, Wharton needs to understand their
implications for business and for education.
the schools other e-programs are:
new interdepartmental major for MBA students, Managing Electronic Commerce,
which focuses on the design and implementation of effective strategies
related to the use of electronic commerce.
a bi-weekly online magazine, which fuses timely business-oriented stories
with the latest business research and insights from Wharton faculty and industry
Research Data ServicesWRDSan Internet-based data service currently
licensed to some 30 business schools around the world.
- SPIKE, a customizable
Intranet communications suite for students, which offers
access to e-mail, Wharton news, course materials and a virtual cafÈ
where students meet to share information and work on joint projects.
- Wharton Direct, an online executive-education
initiative that delivers courses simultaneously to up to 30 sites around
the country via satellite, the
Internet and videoconferences. [Gazetteer,
The idea behind the Forum
is to deploy the rigorous scholarship of Whartons e-oriented faculty some
50 of themin a partnership with subscribing corporations, thereby penetrating
the hyperbolic fog surrounding e-commerce. (So far, the corporate members include
British Airways, Fannie Mae, Ford Motor Company, IBM, Johnson & Johnson,
Kraft Foods, Scottish Widows and State Farm, Inc.)
The Forum was established four years ago, and what gives
it a real leg up on the competition, Gerrity believes, is
that we have developed particularly rich sets of data on buying behavior on
the Internet. We have a longitudinal panel of several thousand Internet users
who have provided detailed information about their buying behavior over
three years or more, and its growing month by month. So we have an almost
incomparable set of data to use on consumer behavior.
One recent Forum study, for example, found that while total
online retail spending is increasing, the rate of growth of online spending
per person declined in 1999contrary to the assumptions of many economic
forecasts, which assumed linear increases in per-capita spending.
Based on a recent Virtual Test Market survey, noted an online
press release, Wharton researchers estimate current levels of consumer
online spending at about $29.2 billion and project that Internet retail sales
will climb to $133 billion by January 2004. Another Forum study projected
that online spending would reach $37 billion by the early part of this year,
while others concluded that e-commerce has not produced the ruinous price
competition some had feared; and that about 15 percent of online shoppers
who bought something online in 1997 did not do so in 1998.
All the excitement and fuzzy understanding of the hyper-evolving
e-commerce has made some people very richand, in some cases, led to absurdly
high valuations of dot.com companies.
Its a phenomenon of very, very dramatic change
thats creating all sorts of new market opportunities, and the marketplace
is very anxious to invest, notes Gerrity. The question, as always,
is: Which ones? Valuations seem high across the board, and were now settling
into a phase where investors are getting more thoughtful and careful and analytical.
Theyre in the process of separating the wheat from the chaff.
Providing a broad base of support to the 50 faculty members
pursuing the Forums research agenda is a constant challenge, notes Gerrity.
Theyre very interested and very excited, and were trying to
provide the best tools and data and financial support and access to corporate
support that we can.
Given the number of issues touched by e-commerce, its
not surprising that the Forums faculty represent not just the predictable
disciplines like marketing and finance but also business ethics and international
law and public policy and management.
Its a huge range, says Gerrity, but
if you look at it, its less surprising. Because as e-
commerce evolves, it touches almost every domain and thought, one way or another.
And keeping abreast of it all is a very large challenge,
he admits with a laugh. People keep examining the models, and the models
are evolving as we speak. We go from Chapter One to Chapter Two to Chapter Three
in about 12 months. Its hard to stop this thing. Its really going
Given Whartons willingness to offer interdepartmental
majors, its facultys entrepreneurship in developing an appropriate
set of courses, and the keen interest shown by students, the Managing
Electronic Commerce major was a natural, says Dr. David Schmittlein,
the Ira A. Lipman Professor of Marketing and department chair. The major had
been in the works since last April, he explains, and several departments already
had a set of courses that focused on managing electronic commerce.
In becoming one of the first business schools in the country
to offer such a major, he notes, we were aided obviously by the high quality
and scope and scale of the Wharton faculty, since having approximately
200 high-quality standing faculty is really a huge asset relative to other top
business schools. Furthermore, the strengths of that faculty include
precisely the areas most critical to course-development innovation relevant
for electronic commerce such as entrepreneurship, information-based
strategies and marketing.
Some students want to create a solid foundation in
developing and managing e-businesses, and in signaling that skill to employersor,
as entrepreneurs, to potential investors, says Schmittlein. Others view
the major as a kind of roadmap to the different realms of e-commerce,
both at Wharton and in the business world. Employers, he points out, are
looking for students with a great foundation in management skills, and
with a sense of cutting-edge challenges and opportunities. Obviously, this major
fits in well with the latter, whether a student elects to fully complete the
major or select certain courses from the major as a part of their overall portfolio
Those looking for the future of business magazines would
do well to to surf Knowledge@ Wharton, a bi-weekly electronic newsletter
(Web-site: http:// knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu).
The articles are timely, lively and generally well-crafted; not surprisingly,
they also tap the expertise of Wharton faculty. Each issue is e-mailed to subscribers,
and those interested in digging a little deeper into the issues can usually
hyperlinks to do so.
One of the big advantages of the Web is that we are
able to respond quickly to news, points out editor Mukul Pandya, a veteran
business journalist who holds a masters degree in economics from Bombay
University in India. We dont see ourselves as a news site, but in
view of Whartons expertise in several business disciplines, we can offer
insightful analysis of
current business events. For example, weve been able to respond quickly
to developments like the AOL-Time Warner merger, the Microsoft judgment and
the U.S. decision to back Chinas entry into the World Trade Organization.
Most of Knowledges (predominantly free-lance) writers are professional
journalists who are used to working on short deadlines, he notes, while
the facultys expertise makes it easy to respond rapidly to current
developments, and the Web, of course, is a medium made for rapid response.
By using the Web, Pandya and his colleagues realized, they
could eliminate the costs of printing and mailing and achieve global distribution
from Day One. It also allowed them to present information in layers,
so that readers could drill as deep into a subject as they liked and
to offer a search engine that allowed readers to find research about topics
they were interested in.
They launched the site last May 26.
I always knew the Web was a global medium, says
Pandya, but it was still incredible to see our readership go from nothing
to nearly 800 in 33 countries in the first 24 hours after launch. He had
hoped to get 3,000 subscribers by the end of the first year; they had that many
in three weeks. By the end of January, they had more than 20,000 subscribers
in 125 countries.
The sites impact has been amazing, he
adds. Last summer we wrote an article about online stock-trading based
on the research of [Dr.] Barbara Kahn, who teaches marketing. Within a few hours,
we had heard from Information Week magazine, which named Knowledge@Wharton
its hot site of the week, based on that story. We also heard that day from a
group of researchers in Spain, who were studying online trading in Europe and
wanted access to Whartons findings, and a journalist in Japan who wanted
to write a story about Whartons research.
Though no other business schools were offering such a product
when Knowledge was launched, Harvard Business School recently launched
a site that looks a lot like ours,
says Pandya. Its flattering to be imitated.
Another first is the Wharton Research Data Services program
news/news_rel/wrds.html). Originally developed for Wharton faculty, WRDS
offers 200 gigabytes of online business data, including stock prices and returns
for more than 6,500 companies, Standard & Poors data on 7,000 publicly
held companies, and macroeconomic data back to 1946. Approximately 20,000 faculty
and students at the subscribing business schools have used the system. According
to Dr. Gerard McCartney, executive director of Wharton Computing and Information
Technology, a couple of other business schools tried to launch similar programs
but werent able to win any customers.
While WRDS has changed the whole way faculty do quantitative
research, in the words of McCartney, students have been the driving force
behind SPIKE. The Wharton intranet communications suite was ranked
fifth in the top 100 innovative IT applications by InfoWorld, as well
as one of the top 50 Internet and intranet sites by CIO WebBusiness.
SPIKE, which was launched in 1995, is now in its fifth generation (http://www.wharton.upenn
The first version of SPIKE was developed around a student-written
documenthalf proposal, half manifestodescribing the communications
environment the students wanted, says McCartney. We used this as
a blueprint to develop a communications environment that addressed the specific
needs of Wharton students. And each year we work with students to make next
years product better. We continually refine the interface by developing
prototypes that students useand to which they add their own ideas and
SPIKE doesnt really stand for anything, though according
to Kendall Whitehouse C79, director of technology at Wharton Computing
and Information Technology, its creators retrofitted it with an acronym (Students
Personalized Integrated Knowledge Environment) to assuage those who got
agitated by a lack of meaning. It offers students an interface for
using e-mail; viewing current headlines and constantly updated information from
the school and student groups; participating in e-discussion groups and visiting
the webCafÈ (which provides a virtual room for courses in which faculty
and students discuss and vote on topics of interest); downloading online course
materials; accessing the electronic resources at Whartons Lippincott Library;
locating other Wharton students, staff and alumni; and personalizing SPIKE for
their own interests.
It gives them what they need reliably and quickly
and all in one place, says McCartney. Rather than having to check
various Web sites run by different departments, SPIKE aggregates this content
and presents it in a single, integrated, customizable interface. In an era of
info-glut, SPIKE offers a rare combinationaggregation and focus.
Which probably sums up the schools approach to the technological
revolution now in progress. While no one knows exactly where its headed,
says Pat Harker, its very clear that you wont know the answer
by standing on the sidelines. To be on the cutting edge of this revolution means
that you need to experiment, to learn how to use technology. Thats the
reason weve invested our energy in new technologies to expand the definition
of the classroom, and in new programs to understand the e-business revolution.
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