MSIT IAB Chairman Kevin Glynn talks about next-generation technological innovations and how MSIT is preparing students to leverage them in the future.
When Kevin Glynn thinks about the future of information technology, his mind goes to quantum computing.
Glynn, who is the chairman of Northwestern Engineering’s Master of Science and Information Technology (MSIT) program’s Industry Advisory Board (IAB), imagines a time when this emerging technology will do things that seem unattainable today.
He thinks quantum computers will eventually figure out how to fold molecules in the right way to create not-yet-imagined life-saving drugs, or solve supply chain shortages with advanced re-routing of massive truck fleets across the country based on thousands of ever-changing variables such as traffic, gas prices, and weather.
Yet for all that promise, Glynn recognizes the technology is barely in its infancy.
“It’s the equivalent to where we were in the 1950s with classical computing,” said Glynn, managing principal at The Laminar Group, a boutique information technology and consulting firm. “Quantum computers today are unique machines. They take up a whole room and take highly trained engineers and physicists just to maintain them.”
In his IAB role, Glynn helps ensure the MSIT curriculum is preparing students for the present and future needs of the IT industry. He also co-teaches the program’s capstone course, where he sees firsthand how MSIT provides students with a framework to learn how to develop new technologies and develop the business knowledge needed to know the right time to adopt those technologies.
In the Technology Strategy & Enterprise Architecture capstone course, Glynn and adjunct instructor Alan Graves emphasize the management of large, integrated systems as students learn what it takes to be a chief information officer (CIO).
“We talk about some pretty wonky stuff,” Glynn said with a laugh. “We talk about what’s the math to find the efficiency in a quantum algorithm, but we also talk about specific use cases. For example, how do you apply that algorithm if you’re the CIO of a hospital?”
This intersection of emerging technologies and those not yet developed is a key focus of the MSIT program. Glynn points to the meld already happening with automation and the Internet of Things (IoT), a term that describes a network of physical objects embedded with sensors, software and other technology to rapidly exchange useful data over the internet.
It’s what allows companies like Amazon to have something a customer orders at 2 a.m. on their doorstep less than 24 hours later.
“This idea of automation in the supply chain is super-compelling,” Glynn said. “There are literally things we haven’t thought to do with it yet.”
Yet it’s not always the latest and greatest technology that solves a problem. MSIT’s business focus emphasizes efficiency and cost-effectiveness. As a case study, Glynn points to his time as chief information officer of DSC Logistics, where he and his team tried to figure out a way to use drones to track inventory. Eventually, a staff member suggested a low-tech solution using cameras and carts that were already used on the warehouse floor.
“I was like, yes, exactly,” Glynn said. “It’s cheaper. It’s safer. Why not do that instead?”
Glynn takes pride when students have those types of light-bulb moments.
“When students can see things like IoT, which is here and almost mature, and quantum computing, which isn’t quite ready,” Glynn said, “and the students can distinguish between those, they become better leaders.”
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