New Class Redirects Futures

BYU information systems students are learning how to predict the future through the IS program’s newest capstone class.

Professor Mark Keith, who teaches Information Systems Capstone Project (IS 415), hopes students will learn to creatively solve business problems by predicting the future through machine learning, which is the process of recording consumer decisions to predict future behaviors.

“To solve the latest business problems it takes creativity and the ability to look at data and say, ‘What can we do with this to predict the future somehow?’” Keith says.

In the junior core curriculum, students learn how to build basic transaction processing systems, websites that record general data such as what purchases were made, when, and how often. Keith says that although these basic skills are essential and will remain a part of the program’s curriculum, there is a greater need for students to not only be able to record data, but also predict behaviors by interpreting data. According to Keith, this class takes what students learned in junior core to the next level.

“We are definitely ahead of the game compared to other IS programs,” Keith says. “There is no undergraduate-level IS program that puts all the needed skills together in a single course like this in a business school that I know of.”

Kristian Johnson, IS advisory board member and VP at Anglepoint, presented the idea for the course a year ago during a board meeting. At the meeting, Johnson expressed his concern that the skills to create basic processing systems were now being outsourced to other countries while the ability to create predictive models is in high demand.

“To keep a competitive edge, not only do the students have to be at the forefront of their industry from an educational standpoint, but the school and the program itself needs to give them the tools necessary to keep that competitive advantage,” Johnson says.

While the course has provided students the opportunity to work with companies such as Intermountain Health Care and NUVI in class projects, students are also allowed to pursue their own capstone ideas.

Students have already seen how developing machine learning and large data analytical skills will improve their marketability for future jobs. Michael Case, Gary Nielsen, TJ Murphy, and Derek Gibson are interns for Sutter Health, a multi-billion dollar hospital system in California. They are using their capstone experience to build an integrated system and online portal for the hospital that will manage and predict Sutter Health’s inventory needs, schedule personnel automatically, and automate the company’s overall system.

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Students Michael Case, Gary Nielsen, Derek Gibson, and TJ Murphy are working together on their capstone project.

“This isn’t just a project where you learn a lot and it’s a good experience,” Case says. “This is something a lot more realistic. We are working with an actual client, we will have real data from them, we are building it with all the latest technology, and it is something that will be used to solve a real problem­­—not just getting a grade at the end of the semester.”

Johnson hopes that the capstone will better prepare BYU students for the workforce and give them the competitive advantage they need to secure future employment.

“What you get in the IS from BYU is a great mix of a business mind, a technical mind, soft skills, and problem-solving,” Johnson says. “Capping that educational experience off with something real-world and relevant to today’s market is the perfect capstone.”