CORVALLIS, Ore. - As technology, accounting, customer support and other industries try to stay competitive, outsourcing continues to be an attractive option. While outsourcing is often perceived to be going overseas, another kind is staying closer to home-outsourcing to universities. The Oregon State University Business Solutions Group (BSG) is a recipient of this outsourcing and, in the recently completed fiscal year, earned revenues totaling $830,000.
A College of Business program, BSG is self-sustaining and operates as a break-even proposition. Companies outsourcing work to the group benefit from competitive rates and the knowledge that they are investing in their future work force by supporting student learning in the United States.
"Companies have often looked to universities for research collaboration," said Ilene Kleinsorge, dean of the College of Business. "Now, they are realizing the win-win by contributing to the experiential learning of our students."
OSU is one of only a few universities in the nation to provide software and hardware testing and custom application development through its business school.
The BSG consists of full-time software and testing engineers, MBA and MIS students and more than 50 student interns from business and non-business disciplines who undergo training to become software developers, testers, project managers and critical thinkers. With a track record of 14 years, it is one of the most experienced testing and development teaching facilities in the nation.
"The BSG fills a gap in the traditional education of business, computer science and engineering students," said Mark Van Patten, BSG operations manager. "Our approach leverages the newest testing and development technologies while teaching students how to solve the real business problems of our clients."
The software development side of the BSG benefits from its long-term Microsoft relationship. A partner since 1991 when it beta-tested and implemented the university's first Microsoft Exchange system, the BSG is now using the latest in .NET technologies to meet customer needs. The group creates custom, multi-tiered applications for workflow processing, content management, business intelligence and large enterprise resource planning systems.
BSG's customers also benefit from the Microsoft connection. Through advanced access to the next generation of Microsoft software, customer projects are often one step ahead of the technology curve.
Product testing is another area of BSG expertise. BSG testers identify defects and performance issues of products per manufacturing specifications and play an essential role in the development of new products. BSG testing competencies in wired and wireless environments include interoperability testing, security and network management.
Fortune 500 companies and start-ups, as well as public agencies such as the Oregon Department of Transportation, have identified the BSG as a source for efficient, cost-effective outsourcing services. In return, OSU students gain hands-on learning experience and entrée to careers in information technology.
"My experience with the BSG helped me stand out in a large pool of other candidates for a recent internship with Intel. I know the same thing will happen when I graduate because of the skills and experience I've gathered as a student employee in the BSG," said Nick Funk, a senior in computer engineering.
The BSG continually integrates new technologies and looks for development opportunities with new business partners.
"Open source, especially, is getting a lot of attention right now," said Van Patten. "However, because we're a business school, and market share is still dominated by Microsoft, we're filling the need by developing that expertise in our students and including open source components into our systems and instruction when beneficial."
"By training students in industry-standard practices and toolsets, as well as the latest in IT technologies, we're not only giving them a solid learning experience, we're preparing the next generation of IT professionals to contribute to our economy," Van Patten said.