01 Feb 1997
HBS Introduces Global Networking through TechnologyTopics:
You've just been asked to relocate from New York City to work on your firm's new operation in Singapore. You have less than a month before the assignment starts, and part of your job will be to acquire suitable permanent office space. In a flash, you remember that a sectionmate from your HBS class is a real-estate developer in Singapore. What's the quickest way to get in touch with her?
By late spring, your friend the real-estate mogul may be only a few computer keystrokes away. That's the time frame for the introduction of the new HBS Global Electronic Network, which will make it easier for alumni all over the world to contact each other via e-mail and to find the latest HBS news, publications, faculty research, and alumni offerings listed on the School's area on the World Wide Web.
"This is the latest development in the ongoing technology initiative that began shortly after Kim Clark became Dean," notes Professor F. Warren McFarlan, the School's senior associate dean, director of External Relations. "Over the last eighteen months, information technology has transformed the way our students communicate on campus and how they complete their daily class assignments. The new HBS Global Electronic Network will enable them - and all alumni - to use this powerful tool to stay connected after they graduate and to take advantage of the rich variety of services and information available to them from HBS throughout their careers."
Although online communication among alumni has been possible since 1995 through a special arrangement with America Online (AOL), the key elements in the new system include immediate access to regularly updated information and the assignment of a lifetime e-mail "pointer" and security password to each of the School's 66,000 MBA and executive education alumni. "The plan is for each graduate to be assigned an e-mail 'address' based on name, HBS degree or program affiliation, and class year," explains Susan Rogers, the School's chief technology officer. "The 'address' is really a pointer that will transfer all e-mail they receive from their HBS colleagues to the e-mail address they already have at their company or home. Alumni - if they haven't done so already - will need to provide us with that address, and we will set it up so their HBS e-mail is forwarded to them."
One significant advantage over the old system is that with the most basic information - name, degree, and class year - classmates can easily find each other. "The HBS e-mail address will never change; alumni may move, change jobs, or change online service providers, but as long as they provide their current information for our database, our 'pointer' will direct their mail to them wherever they are in the world," Rogers notes.
Another advantage is that alumni will no longer be limited in their choice of Internet access providers. "Alumni who already have accounts with AOL may choose to keep them, but they are also free to use any other provider," Rogers adds. "This is a real breakthrough, especially for international alumni who have been unable to subscribe to AOL."
In order to gain access on the World Wide Web to protected HBS information, such as the alumni database, the Bulletin's class notes, conversation areas, and career advisory information, each graduate will also be assigned a unique, five-digit security password. (If graduates request, their passwords can be modified later to a five-digit password of their own choosing.) "We won't roll this out until we can authenticate that those using the system are alumni," states Rogers. "We will definitely build in protection against using the database to send junk mail, and alumni may also choose not to have their data posted on the Internet at all."
Christine Fairchild, director of Alumni Relations at HBS, is enthusiastic about the new system's potential. "The HBS Global Electronic Network opens up many new opportunities for alumni communication," she notes. "Previously, our graduates stayed in touch either through their local clubs or through reunions. That's pretty sporadic - once every five years. But now there will be a 'place' where alumni can always go to find a classmate, career advice, the latest research of a favorite HBS faculty member, books on a particular business issue from HBS Publishing, or an updated listing of HBS club events worldwide."
"This technology facilitates communication throughout the entire extended HBS community," echoes Harvard Business School Alumni Association president Catherine A. Connett (MBA '79). "As graduates, we will be able to connect with each other on many different levels - not just geographically but across job functions and industries and eventually across interests and life experiences. That's very exciting."
Detailed information about the new HBS Global Electronic Network will be sent to alumni in one of the two mailings de-scribed in the sidebar that accompanies this article. A follow-up article will also appear in the April issue of the Bulletin. Alumni with current access to the World Wide Web can visit the HBS Alumni Web site.