sealPurdue News

February 2001

Teaching e-business not business as usual

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – One of the challenges for professors teaching in the technologically fast-moving field of electronic commerce is finding books that are "only modestly obsolete," says a Purdue University professor.

Roberto J. Mejias

"A good academic textbook used to take three to four years to develop, write and publish," says Roberto J. Mejias, assistant professor of management information systems at the Krannert School of Management. With e-commerce, he explains, that's not fast enough because businesses are competing in Internet time where an " Internet year" is often three to four months.

In the world of academic textbooks, single authors are becoming as rare as single transistors in the world of electronics. The writing work today tends to be spread out to three or four authors who can bring better, more precise information to bear on the subject matter.

This is particularly true in areas such as electronic commerce architecture and infrastructure, which Mejias teaches. Mejias says most of the e-commerce world takes the supporting equipment that runs Internet businesses for granted, and few universities even have classes in the area. He solved his textbook problem when he was at the University of Oklahoma by assembling and publishing a customized book of several authors' writings on the subject.

"It's more of a challenge now, but we need to deliver the latest and greatest product – cutting-edge technology, information and learning opportunities – to our clients," Mejias says.

During the fall semester, Mejias taught an eight-week doctoral-level class on e-commerce infrastructure at the Krannert Graduate School of Management. "That class made me realize that I was just scratching the surface," he says. He is expanding the course into a complete semester and offering it to Krannert School undergraduates.

Mejias describes the class – and his research – as an "eclectic convergence" of a hybrid field that is made up of hardware, software and markets. The class will consider infrastructure backbones, telecommunications, networks, database search engines and security and how they support e-commerce. Students will also get an introduction to the economics, marketing and logistics of online commerce.

Armed with this basic knowledge and information, students will take the class to Main Street and act as consultants to real businesses – from dentists' offices to departments of corporations – that have an online presence or think they need one. The students locate clients on their own.

Students will not automatically decide to take their clients' businesses online. Economic feasibility is a major factor throughout the students' consulting exercises.

"In the frenzy of organizations wishing to take advantage of the Internet gold rush, some businesses must simply recognize that a Web presence is not conducive to generating online sales," Mejias says. A mom-and-pop ice cream store is a good example.

"Whether to go online is the first question for the student teams to answer," Mejias says. "And then maybe they might decide the best data system for the business or organization is a filing cabinet."

After analyzing a business' current system, Mejias says the students have to answer a second basic question: Is the existing system doing the job? That is often the case, according to Mejias.

If a new e-commerce system is needed, the student teams' real work begins.

"They'll design a new a new infrastructure system, complete with specifications, costs and a comparison of lease versus purchase," Mejias says. "They'll decide if data transfer rates call for T1 (telephone) or fiber optic lines. They'll also design a new working Web page for the business."

Design considerations may include a backup and firewall for the whole system they design, something that Mejias says many businesses overlook, leaving themselves vulnerable to loss of irreplaceable data.

At the end of the semester, the student teams will present their analyses and Web-data infrastructure design to the class, often with the business clients present.

Source: Roberto Mejias, (765) 494-1526,

Writer: J. Michael Lillich, (765) 494-2077,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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