BusinessMedia Center offers state new business tools for success CD-ROM projects proving to be helpful to many businesses, industryFor businesses, cities and counties, schools, and non-profit groups shopping for an upgrade in image and information, Tennessee Tech University's College of Business BusinessMedia Center provides a storefront of possibilities.
After 10 years of nurturing its mission to use technology to help regional businesses, the Center has matured into a solid resource for the region's industry, government and education leaders. Though the Center has come of age, innovation and energy still characterize the efforts fueled primarily by Tennessee Tech students under the guidance of Director Kevin Liska and his staff.
To date, about 25 Tennessee counties boost tourism and industry using CD-ROM presentations developed through the BusinessMedia Center. Tennessee Tech's Distance MBA Program boasts 50 CD-ROMs in its curriculum, and the university's Admissions Office sends thousands of CD-ROMs to prospective students and faculty interested in learning more about the university. Fortune 500 companies and local, small businesses alike find success using Center-produced CD-ROMs for training, recruiting, and selling products and services.
To explain the way the Center adapts to this variety of demands, Liska points to a culture that encourages a "non-stop sharing of knowledge." Although the most up-to-date technology and the expertise to use it are at the Center's core, he says the culture is the key.
"It's not the technology that makes the ultimate difference," said Liska. "It's the invaluable understanding everyone here has for each other. We know we need each other to create what we offer to the community."
The Business of the BusinessMedia Center
Established in 1994, the BusinessMedia Center, housed in TTU's Johnson Hall, produced its first CD-ROM for Pickett County. Providing equipment, software and man hours the county could not have afforded, students created a presentation mailed to potential tourists. A few years later, the Center focused on inspiring entrepreneurs through the Virtual Incubator, a system offering classes and seminars for those interested in "growing" their own businesses. Again, the Center provided technology and expertise.
Drawing on the decade of experience, Liska says the key to growing into a stronger resource has been the Center's ability to step in and fill an unmet need. Current projects reflect how the Center customizes presentations to suit the marketing, sales and/or training needs of regional business and organizations. Each uses a combination of digital video, interactive elements, original graphic presentations and sound to create a message.
"Businesses could not find what they needed in corporate America," said Liska. "If a resource like ours had existed, business would have used those services. Instead, we've filled a void, and the center's responsiveness had contributed greatly to our success."
Liska found businesses needed a one-stop shop for equipment, software, technical expertise and original thinking to produce customized presentations for specific audiences. For instance, the Nashville Sounds, the city's baseball team, wanted to be the first minor-league team to use a CD-ROM to market sponsorships. Working with the BusinessMedia Center, the Sounds created a customized CD-ROM to show the colorful crowds, demographics and sponsorship opportunities.
"We captured what it's like to be at the ballpark," said Media Specialist Jenny Carter, who works closely with the accounts at the Center. "Our goal is to make you interested from the first moment you see the presentation."
On a larger scale with a different purpose, Clayton Homes, Inc., one of the nation's largest providers of homes with 20 plants and more than 1,000 sales locations, asked for a CD-ROM to help them present their manufacturing facilities to an internal audience.
Adams USA, a leading manufacturer of football helmets, will soon distribute more than 30,000 Center-produced CD-ROMs to every high school, college and professional football team in the nation demonstrating helmet safety training.
"The high-tech look of our presentations and the information provided can serve several purposes individually or all together," said Liska. "They can provide visual credibility, clear explanation and demonstrated capability.
Entering the BusinessMedia Center, there's an organized flurry of activity that Manager Katie Callis affectionately calls chaos. She says the Center harnesses the energy and creativity of students who may or may not know exactly what they want out of the experience when they arrive at the Center.
"This is the most ever-changing culture I've ever worked in," said Callis. "And that's what makes it work. Our students create their own answers to questions they are presented, and if there's not an obvious answer, we work together to create one."
About 20 students working under four graduate assistants are assigned to the Center. Some volunteer; some find themselves assigned there through work study programs. Their backgrounds are varied, as are their majors. Scott Villeneuve, an MBA student with a psychology degree, came to the Center when he realized he might need to enhance his technology skills.
"The BusinessMedia Center had a strong reputation across campus for enabling students to volunteer and learn new and emerging technologies," said Villeneuve.
Ben Hickock, a sophomore and former White County High School valedictorian, chose TTU over other schools when he was assured he could work in the Center. He leaned about the Center while still in high school.
Liska says a stability and continuity exists, even through turnover because of student graduations. The lead graduate students direct work based on project deadlines and all students work within that framework. Plus, Liska, Carter and Callis emphasize that the relationships students develop fosters a pride in their work.
"I wake up happy everyday looking forward to coming in to work," said Paul Harrison, a management information systems major from Hendersonville, Tenn. "Being around innovative people allows you to learn as you go together."
"For the client or the students, it's not a requirement to know what you want projects to look like," said Liska. "It is necessary to know what how the final product will be used and how to find the tools and knowledge to complete the project."
Liska measures much of the Center's success in what he calls "leveraging the knowledge." While there is a cost for the Center's services, the price is reduced by the Center's belief in sharing information, equipment and even computer code. This benefits paying clients because students can customize a basic program that may have taken significant time to create, but that can be converted in a short amount of time for other clients.
"We also leverage our knowledge by contributing to non-profit groups," said Liska. "For instance, we teamed with Smith County volunteers to create a free CD-ROM to help curb teenage smoking. This CD was a spin-off of another project that we converted, so we donated our time to this worthy cause."
Other examples of leveraging include an award-winning online auction for the benefit of the Bryan Symphony Orchestra. The technology used for the auction was borrowed from the Distance MBA education CDs. An annual CD produced for Boy Scouts of American incorporates code developed for regional tourism CDs.
Besides goodwill, the Center's success can also be measured in awards and funding. In 10 years, the Center has received more than $2 million in external funding, which has been reinvested to keep the latest, best technology available to students, staff and clients. The Center won a 2002 Pinnacle Award from the Honor Society of Nursing for the best CD-ROM promoting the field of nursing. In 2001, Center was awarded the Academic Excellence and Quality Award from the Tennessee Board of Regents Committee on Academic Policies and Programs.
"Advertising agencies, marketing firms, government officials have all begun to consider the BusinessMedia Center a source of expertise in this area," said Liska.
Robert Niebuhr, dean of TTU's College of Business Administration agrees."The work of the BusinessMedia Center has put us at the top in the development of technology for e-learning applications," he said. "We now have a very sophisticated learning platform and are also able to provide clients with the latest approach to both marketing and training presentations."