MIT Sloan students tackle Cisco’s Internet of Everything initiative

Four-day hackathon is organized by MIT Sloan Enterprise Management Track

November 12, 2013

Enterprise Management hackathon winners Liraz Shwartz Lavi, Ken Young, and Pakorn Jarpuanich, all MBA ’14

Enterprise Management hackathon winners Liraz Shwartz Lavi, Ken Young, and Pakorn Jarpuanich, all MBA ’14

Call it management practice boot camp. Twenty-one MIT Sloan students spent four days last month crash-studying transformation opportunities for the Internet of Everything for Cisco, the multinational networking corporation, and presenting their recommendations to judges in a hackathon setting.

The problem on paper: What short term and long term programs are needed to build marketing partnerships, awareness, and demand for Cisco’s Internet of Everything initiative?

The problem more bluntly: How can Cisco lead the market transition to the Internet of Everything?

The new concept is just beginning to be articulated to customers, Ken Young, MBA ’14, said during his team’s winning presentation.

Using Young’s loose definition, the Internet of Everything is a connection of things, people, processes, and data. For the purposes of the hackathon, students were asked to consider how it could be applied to trains, factories, and cities (think of today’s “connected cities” with smart parking, smart traffic, and smart lighting—a responsive networked ecosystem). Cisco is considered a leader in the space, but the technology, like cloud computing a decade ago, is not widely understood by potential customers.

But it’s big: Cisco believes the Internet of Everything will be worth $14.4 trillion—in asset utilization, employee productivity, customer experience, and other realms—by 2020.

The students who set out to solve the challenge are all members of the Enterprise Management Track in MIT Sloan’s MBA program. Launched in 2012, the goal of the Enterprise Management Track is develop students’ capabilities to apply a holistic mindset to solving today’s businesses’ most pressing challenges. Cross-functional perspectives and action learning prepare students to be leaders in consulting, marketing, operations, and product development and innovation management. This integrated approach guided the teams’ solutions for Cisco, and the hackathon setting provided ample opportunity for inventive problem solving.

Sharmila C. Chatterjee and Retsef Levi, academic head and faculty advisory board chair respectively, for the track, developed the hackathon idea as a means to bring MIT Sloan’s emphasis on action learning to enterprise management students.

“They have these hackathons in the technology domain all the time,” Chatterjee said. Levi and Chatterjee believed “Why can’t we do it in the business decision domain?”

Chatterjee said it was important that the hackathon problem be a real business problem that even seasoned managers and consultants have yet to solve. “These are projects where the companies do not know as much themselves,” she said. “The students do a quick study, collect information and do intelligent brainstorming on evolving problems.”

Chatterjee recruited MIT Sloan alumnus Scott Wieder, SM ’86, at Cisco, to help lead the hackathon. On Monday, Oct. 21, Wieder hosted conference calls with Cisco professionals in marketing, consulting, and business development to brief students on the current state of the Internet of Everything.

The controlled frenzy began as soon as students split into four teams and spent two intense days researching the problem, developing solutions and preparing presentations for the judges. On Thursday, Oct. 24, the excitement reached a head as teams shared multiple perspectives on the given challenge, communicating the value of the Internet of Everything to customers. The winning team proposed an “IoE University” and an interdisciplinary approach to building partnerships. Key suggestions included dynamic common jargon language for understanding and discussion, and pilot applications tailored to particular customer verticals and regions.

The tight deadline on the project gave students a sense of urgency that can otherwise be hard to replicate.

“It really does embody the Sloan [and] MIT spirit,” Young said after the competition. “It really is 'We've talked enough. We need to get out of the classroom and roll up our sleeves. We need to get things done.’”

This industrious attitude helped Young and his teammates, Pakorn Jarupanich, Sharon Lee-Quick, Liraz Shwartz Lavi, and Mansoor Zaman, all MBA ’14, win the competition. The team was awarded a plaque and gift for their work. The runners-up, Amanda Cayo, JP Gerald, Oren Inditzky, Nathanaelle Klein, and Mayu Sasabe, MBA ’14, were also acknowledged for their contributions by the judges.

The awards ceremony was highlighted by Cisco’s on the spot commitment to returning for next year’s Enterprise Management hackathon and notable mention of implementing the students’ ideas.

“The students did a great job of understanding the problem and coming up with innovative solutions that Cisco will look to put into action,” Wieder said.