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IBM Adds Security, Mobile, and Other Trending Topics to Academic Program

In response to a growing and changing skills gap, IBM has introduced what it's calling the "largest expansion" of its Academic Initiative since the program began in 2003. The update includes new course area coverage and initiatives intended to help students put their learning into action. The details of the announcement track along with several findings the company has released in its third annual technology trends report.

According to "Fast Track to the Future: The 2012 IBM Tech Trends Report," only one in 10 organizations worldwide say they have the skills they need to address emerging technologies, including business analytics, cloud computing, mobile computing, and social business. The company said the skills gap is intensified because so many new forms of IT are coming to the forefront simultaneously.

The report's conclusions were culled from a global survey IBM performed among 1,200 technology decision-makers, 250 information technology educators, and 450 students.

Survey respondents also reported that adoption of new technologies that can transform their organizations is hampered by security concerns; IT leaders want to protect their data, and each of these new areas comes with its own vulnerabilities. Security is the number one barrier to adopting mobile, cloud, and social business, and number two for data analytics. For example, the report explained, "Moving into mobile means organizations must address the increased risk of data loss and security breach, device management challenges, and complications introduced by the growing trend toward bring-your-own-device."

To help address the skills gap, IBM has updated its academic offerings, which are used by schools to supplement their IT courses. New offerings include curriculum on IT security, big data, commerce, and mobile computing.

The new security and information assurance content is the first on security that's being offered by IBM as part of its academic program. That includes pre-packaged curriculum that features security scenarios and access to security software that can be used by students to learn how to test applications for bugs and check network and virtualized servers for vulnerabilities.

The big data and analytics material includes digital content and learning modules on Hadoop, an open source framework for processing large data sets. "Over the next 10 years I think [we're] going to see a sea change in requirements in companies; and what that's going to drive is a need to have more people in the organization who are more expert in understanding how analytics can drive the company forward," said Phil Francisco, IBM's vice president of big data.

In the area of mobile computing, IBM is providing learning modules on HTML 5 and Dojo, an open source JavaScript development toolkit. The modules include hands-on exercises to help students learn how to develop mobile applications. Faculty can also download IBM mobile development software for the students to use.

"Mobile is by definition something that everyone has with them 24/7," said Mike Riegel, IBM vice president for mobile computing. "If you're an IT professional, you have to have mobile skills or you're not going to be successful down the road. It is the next revolution."

The commerce program provides marketing and analytics software from IBM's Smarter Commerce initiative for use in the classroom. Through a series of hands-on learning modules, students study topics such as benchmarking and how to develop code to uncover online buying patterns.

Along with the new curriculum, IBM has launched an online exchange that allows instructors to share and collaborate on courseware and best practices. The initial offerings in the "Knowledge Exchange" will feature materials contributed by IBM Smarter Planet grant faculty members.

"Universities should build new programs and curricula to address the skills gap," wrote Jim Corgel, IBM general manager for academic and developer relations in a blog entry on the topic. "They should incorporate real-world technology and business cases to prepare students for a rapidly changing environment. And they should develop a local industry ecosystem so they’re aware of the latest trends and can place students in internships that provide them with the most up-to-date expertise.

The company is proceeding with new programs for students to help them understand how various areas of IT can lead to careers. For example, later this month IBM will introduce the "Power Skills Job Board," with an emphasis on entry-level positions for students with an interest in IBM's Power Systems who are attending classes at schools that participate in the Academic Initiative.

On February 5, 2013 the company will hold a half-day virtual career event. The event includes two sessions and 10 information booths and is intended to allow students in higher education as well as recent graduates to meet with IBM executives and other experts online for networking and to learn how to position themselves optimally for the job market.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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