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IBM Sponsors Annual IDM Case Competition

The philosophy of the Industrial Distribution Management (IDM) program is "learning by doing," and the annual case competition is a perfect example of this philosophy in action. The event draws industry leaders, such as IBM this year and Ford, Kimberly-Clark, and Caterpillar in previous years, to challenge students with a true-to-life business issue and expose them to the host company. The 2005 annual case competition was held at the Levis Faculty Center with College of Business faculty and IBM executives on the judging panel. Among the IBM judges were three graduates of the College of Business: Bruce Anderson '82, Steve Owens '82, and John Bunyan.

Bruce Anderson from IBM awards the first-place check to Jennifer Snyder, Robert Mietus, and Gregory Brongiel, all IDM students. Professor Wm Qualls is in the background.The case competition offers IDM students a variety of benefits and real-world experience. A chance to be evaluated and receive feedback from potential employers is a big win for the students who get to meet personally with industry representatives. More broadly, the actual competition is an opportunity for students to hone business skills such as researching, problem solving, financial analysis and communication that they will use daily after they graduate. The annual event is also a healthy opportunity to compete with their peers and, as most students were quick to point out, for cash prizes of $7,500 for 1st place, $4,500 for 2nd place, and $1,500 for 3rd place. New this year was a track for teams of MBA students, with the first-place team receiving $5,000.

The competition also serves as a chance to build the relationship between the College and the event sponsor. IBM has an early opportunity to assess the talent from the IDM program as well as enhance their reputation among students in the College. In turn, the IDM program and the College can stay in touch with the needs of the industry.

Getting Down to the Details

The presentations were based on a hypothetical business case statement developed by the director of the IDM program, Professor William Qualls. Students used the background information on IBM to develop a proposal for the panel of judges about how to best track product movement in a new automated manufacturing facility. This year's assignment asked students to develop an evaluation and recommendation about whether the IBM Fishkill facility should adopt RFID (radio frequency identification) as the solution for tracking semiconductor wafers through the plant and how the plan should be implemented. Students were provided with the following scenario:

"While RFID appears to be the obvious choice as a solution to address the hands-off product tracking requirements of the new automated Fishkill facility, the business case for its adoption needs to be developed. The business case entails articulating the financial benefits to be achieved through the manufacturing process changes, identifying improvements in current product tracking processes, and analyzing the implications of any process changes. At a minimum, executives expect a managerial level presentation in six weeks to address the following issues:

  1. How can the manufacturing operations at East Fishkill use automatic identification technology to reduce manufacturing costs and increase material throughput?
  2. Where and how would automatic identification technology (manufacturing, distribution, logistics, etc.) be applied given a cost-benefit analysis?
  3. How would automatic identification be applied? Specify the supply chain tasks or processes to be enabled, including expected areas of improvements that can be measured empirically (e.g., inventory turns, TAT, labor cost, etc.)."

IDM students are required to participate in a case competition and students in other programs may volunteer for the competition. Ten teams of three or four students then researched the issues and developed presentations based on their conclusions. All teams have six weeks to prepare. While the turn-around may appear lengthy in comparison with some case competitions, the expectations are high because of the lead time. In most companies, Qualls said, it is nature of the workplace that staff have both short and long time periods to work on projects.

The Competition and The Outcome

This year's case study reflects a strategy IBM has adopted for a number of clients. The panel of judges were very knowledgeable about the case scenario and could draw from their daily experiences about the hypothetical solutions that the student teams developed. This provided the team members with the opportunity to obtain real-world feedback on their ideas from IBM executives who are currently responsible for advising clients on similar supply chain management issues. area.

First Robert Mietus, Greg Brongiel, Jennifer Snyder
Second Amanda Aackerman, Lisa Mehta, Milind Patil, Lance Russel
Third Justin Lee, Steven Suh, Enoch Chang
MBA Brenda Coelho, Ted Tsuchiya, Adam Stanton, and Aaron Thomas

"Although the case competition required a great deal of extra work, it was fun," said Greg Brongiel, a member of the winning team. "I really enjoyed the opportunity to work on a real-world problem, push ourselves to find the best possible strategy and then and get feedback on our ideas."

In general, the judges evaluated the groups on the overall strength and effectiveness of the proposals, noted the strong and weak points in the presentations, and considered the data, sources, thoroughness, and relevancy. They then huddled to determine the top three undergraduate teams and the leading MBA team. A handful of exceptional students were singled out to receive all-star honors and awarded a PDA, as well as recognition from leaders within IBM. [Full results]

Bruce Anderson a graduate of the College of Business concluded the awards reception with a final comment to the students: "Let us help you out with a better career!"

About IDM

IDM's mission is to develop students who will become leaders capable of handling the complexities and challenges of in the business environment in the next millennium. The program seeks to develop graduates who recognize the importance of the business- technology interface in a world increasingly dominated by technology.

--Kelly Barron
March 2005