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Students play vital role in state e-business initiatives

Consortium for Global Electronic Commerce symposium, December

More than 70 engineering and business students collaborated on E-commerce-related projects with Wisconsin companies last semester. The groups conducted their work through the college's Global E-Business Consortium. (large image)

Consortium for Global Electronic Commerce symposium, December

Students described their projects with Wisconsin companies during the Global E-Business Consortium's annual symposium in December. (large image)

From August through November, Don Heiliger, Zach Leveston, Grace Satyadi, Mary Maedke and Greg Spry prepared for weekly project-strategy meetings with Rayovac executives, including the company's vice president of information systems and vice president of sales.

In most corporate climates, this is business as usual. But in this case, the group members were University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering students working on a class project to help Rayovac assess its new business-to-business electronic commerce strategy.

"Every time you do a project with a company, you learn more about the real world," says industrial engineering senior Spry. "You learn that a lot of these companies are as unsure as you — that you can go in as a student and educate them. That's really something."

The Rayovac project was one of 10 similar student-industry projects highlighted during a recent annual symposium hosted by the UW-Madison Global E-Business Consortium (CGEC).

Founded in 1998 by Industrial Engineering Professor Raj Veeramani, CGEC is a university-industry partnership with campuswide involvement. It offers companies — many of which are Wisconsin-based — a nonthreatening, unbiased forum in which to share knowledge and experiences about the intricacies of conducting business via the Internet.

The consortium is an area of focus in the most recent phase of the Madison Initiative, a four-year plan to enable UW-Madison to continue to provide outstanding education and help Wisconsin maintain its competitiveness in the global economy.

Students play a key role in the consortium's activities, says Veeramani. This fall, more than 70 students worked on 18 E-commerce and E-business projects with Wisconsin companies, including accounting and consulting firm Andersen, Lands' End, The Swiss Colony, and Brady Corporation. "The multidisciplinary student-team projects are providing the students direct exposure to E-business initiatives of leading companies in Wisconsin, and the opportunity for them to interact with E-business executives in these companies," he says.

At the symposium, business student Jan Hulstedt talked about his group's project with "client" Andersen, conducted in collaboration with Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership. To research Wisconsin manufacturers' use of Internet-aided supply-chain management and business-to-business E-commerce systems, the students distributed more than 2,800 surveys to companies across the state, and conducted several in-depth interviews as well. "Companies can use this report to benchmark themselves against companies in Wisconsin," he says.

Andersen will use the study results to help its clients improve their supply-chain management systems, says Bill Gienke, a senior manager at the firm. "It was a great project," he says.

Similarly, the Brady Corporation already has benefited from a student-group study of how easily distributors can use its "web-to-workbench" application. "We're making the changes to the application based on some of the things we found in the usability test," says Susan Bain, global E-business coordinator at the company. "Some of the things we suspected; some of the things were tremendous surprises to us, which were incredibly helpful for us to change because they were huge in the customer not knowing what was going on."

In addition to the student projects, which Veeramani says are good examples of the "classroom-to-boardroom" student-learning experience, the CGEC symposium highlighted E-business trends and emerging technologies. The agenda included presentations about web accessibility and next-generation interface design, personalization technologies, and next-generation customer support through mass collaboration.

Regardless of their needs and knowledge levels, CGEC members reap from such symposia and other consortium activities a greater understanding of evolving E-business models and next-generation technologies, says Veeramani. "CGEC's holistic perspective and its focus on state-of-the-art and emerging issues benefits all participating companies," he says.