The companies donating the software say that, beyond seeking to publicize their products, they want to support and convey a sense of urgency to meet the market for analytically trained information workers.
Enterprise software vendors including SAP and IBM have long supported lab environments for information system and information technology classes as well as their own product development. Now, statistical, reporting and visualization vendors are reaching out to education domains and, hopefully, the mindsets of the next generation of information workers.
The vendors reaching out to academia range from sophisticated analytic providers like SAS Institute to mainstream business intelligence tool providers including Jaspersoft and InetSoft.
Some decry the lack of tools and labs to acclimate students to the modern information and analysis landscape. In a video promoting SAS's effort, CEO Jim Goodnight said, "Today's kids know how to use technology for everything from communication to entertainment, yet when they enter the classroom, they are transported back a half century."
But others, including David Rosenthal, chair of the computing and decision sciences department in the Stillman School of Business at Seton Hall University see an endemic lack of interest.
"You can go back to about 2003 when the decline in kids studying computer science and information systems became painfully obvious," Rosenthal says. "We see analytics as a growth area just like everybody else does, and we're challenged because the math skills of a lot of kids aren't great, and they're also turned off by computer science and engineering in general."
In fact, Rosenthal says the assumption that younger people are highly proficient with tech tools might be a myth projected by incumbent workers and other observers who have predicted they will transform the tech workspace.
"I'm not sure many students don't view technology like driving a car. I can drive a car well too but that doesn't mean I'm going into automotive engineering."
To read an extensive interview with David Rosenthal of Seton Hall's computing and decision sciences department, click here.
InetSoft has partnered with institutions including Rutgers and Galludet as well as Seton Hall. Jaspersoft, an open-source software provider has relied on a community of developers to support interest in its product and has extended its Scholar's Program to universities including Carnegie Mellon and the University of Arizona.
Seton Hall's business school partners with SAP in offering lab software, but has also signed up with InetSoft for visualization software, the kind of tool Rosenthal sees students needing awareness to in the new information workplace. Increasingly, he says a trend among educators is to inject tool and analytic learning into broadly attended courses rather than watch enrollment decline for concentrated studies in analytics or statistics.
He's also disappointed that many educators have not connected the dearth of analytic skills to the existing demand for them. "It's not a headline, it's more a base hit for getting kids more involved with data, with visualizations, with how these things tie together and how the real world is," Rosenthal says. Part of this is an opportunity to work with the tools of the trade, and he adds that this kind of experience is also helpful to a student's resume, part of a university's obligation to support job placement as well as education.
Spokesmen for vendors involved in academic support often have previous IS/IT training that they see lacking as their clients’ IT staffs mature and head toward retirement.
Mark Flaherty, chief marketing officer at InetSoft also feels a hands-on approach will encourage interest. "Part of our hope here is that they [students] can and will draw some general lessons from using our software or someone else's. You're learning how to do analysis and you're applying techniques."