The Spring 2012 students worked with IBM on the Smart Retailer project.
Corporate giant IBM is working to help make a Smarter Planet. To that end, IBM is partnering with Texas Tech University and other universities worldwide to find out what consumers want and how they want it, to make processes and purchasing “smarter.”
For the past two spring semesters, teams of Texas Tech Rawls College of Business MBA students have worked with teams from the University of Hertfordshire (UH), UK, to gather information for the technology company, present research findings and give the students international business experience.
“Students get hands-on experience with a real business problem, not an established problem, but the exploration of new opportunities,” said Mayukh Dass, assistant professor of marketing and the supervisor of the Texas Tech project. “Here’s an opportunity – a new idea, new technique – think ‘how can you involve consumers in this?’ They also get international exposure, which I think is the biggest element of the project. We are dealing with a multinational company, so we deal with people from all over the world.”
The graduates most often find positions in marketing research, management and customer management. Some of last spring’s team members started careers at Chrysler, American Express and Hershey’s.
Choosing the team
The Spring 2011 students worked with IBM on the Smart Energy Project.
Dass said he tries to choose a very balanced team, including students from disciplines such as information systems and quantitative sciences (ISQS), marketing and management. The students, who participate in the project in their final semester, are chosen from an application and interview process each fall, and Dass said that process for the 2013 MBA grads will begin soon. Students who are chosen are each granted a $1,000 Rawls Scholarships from the MBA office. Dass said the scholarship covers the travel to and from London.
“When our students go there, we pay for their travel and UH pays lodging and food,” Dass said. “When they travel to the United States, they pay to get here, and we provide lodging and food. So the scholarship basically covers the price of the airline ticket.”
Supplying smarter energy
The 2011 teams tackled the Smart Energy Project, which studied the impact of residential micro-generation systems (such as solar-powered technologies, ground/air source heat pumps, solar water heating and electricity and micro turbines) on the public’s understanding and adoption of green initiatives and technologies. The Texas Tech MBA team studied the market behavior in the U.S. and the UH team studied the U.K. market.
Dass said IBM wanted to better understand the consumers’, as well as suppliers’, level of awareness toward energy efficiency to be able to provide them with technologies that can change their consumption attitudes and behaviors. They must be able to identify the motivations which will encourage consumers to adopt energy efficient solutions.
Students who participate in the partnership most often find positions in marketing research, management and customer management after they graduate.
The team traveled to London to discuss the particulars of the project and came up with a basic outline to identify the process by which consumers in the U.K. and the U.S. find out about energy-saving initiatives and how they evaluate the costs and benefits of micro-generation systems for their homes; complete consumer surveys with both customers and suppliers to evaluate the awareness, understanding, values, attitudes and behaviors towards purchasing micro-generation systems; and make recommendations about the existing processes to drive up future demand for micro-generation systems.
“One of the biggest challenges with this particular project was, even in our own country, energy rules differ from state to state,” Dass said. “What works for Texas may not work for New Mexico or Oklahoma. It was a great learning experience for the students.”
The project culminated in presenting the results to IBM in Dallas, with the U.K. team attending via Skype. A complete overview of the project, surveys, suppliers and outcomes is available here.
Selling smarter retailing
Spring 2012 found a new team working on the Smart Retailer project. According to the project synopsis, today consumers are more enlightened and empowered than ever, placing greater demands on retailers to “get it right” or lose their loyalty and business.
Driving consumer behavior today are new technologies that allow access to huge amounts of information about retailers, brands, offers and product recommendations from peers. Shoppers – especially younger Generation Y consumers (ages 20-30) –also are increasingly using social media and alternative channels to communicate with and about their retailers.
Some of the students from the University of Hertfordshire visited the Texas Tech campus, including Jones AT&T Stadium, last summer.
The teams were asked to develop an information-gathering and purchasing model which showed how Gen Y consumers accessed information, recommendations, offers and ultimately purchases for the product/service category of vacations and travel.
“The students studied how consumers book trips, how they decide where to go, the whole decision process they go through – who influences them the most and how they are influenced by social networks,” Dass said.
“The structure was similar to the previous project – surveys, focus groups, suppliers – travel agents to see what they think, since there are many existing platforms to book travel that put a lot of pressure on travel agents. What is the role of a travel agent, or is there one any more, in this whole process?”
The UH team came to the U.S. in January to discuss the details with IBM and develop a plan. The Texas Tech team travelled to London at end of May to present the results to IBM, so the full team got to travel together. The complete Smart Retailer project report is available here.
In the spring when the Rawls College had its year-end MBA banquet, students were asked what the highlight of their years in the school was. Students who had participated in the IBM Smart Planet program said, without a doubt, taking part in the Smarter Planet program was indeed, the best part of their MBA experience.
Dass joined the Rawls College marketing faculty in 2008, after completing his doctoral program at the University of Georgia. He holds master’s of science degrees in artificial intelligence and in statistics from the University of Georgia, and a Bachelor of Engineering in Electronics and Power from the Nagpur University, India. His research work has been published in Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, Environmental Modeling and Software, International Journal of Computational Intelligence Research, International Journal of Forecasting, International Journal of Production Economics, International Journal of Retail and Distribution Management, Organizational Research Methods, Journal of Business & Economic Research, Journal of Brand Management, Journal of Electronic Commerce Research, Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, Journal of Marketing Management, Journal of Probability and Statistics, Services Business: An International Journal, Statistical Science.