iSchool Informatics students win Deloitte Case Competition

For the second year in a row, Information School students took first place in the 2013 Deloitte Case Competition. Informatics students (pictured left) Curtis Howell, Evan Griffith, Suparno Chakrabarti, along with fellow team mate Jim Inoue from the business school/computer science, won the top spot among the 25 competing teams. Howell, along with two iSchool master of science in information science students, won in 2012.

The four students had at least one advantage: between them they had experience from doing more than 20 Case Competitions. They are also involved in a University of Washington student-run consulting organization called Montlake Consulting Group.  As a result, they knew how to work together and had confidence in their team process.

Unlike past years, the 2013 Case involved a fictitious non-profit organization rather than a for-profit company. The teams were told that the Bertelli Foundation was “well known for its efforts in making healthcare services accessible to vulnerable populations.”

The goal of the competition, conducted over one week, was to help the Foundation define its strategy for entering the education market in the US and/or internationally, using their existing resources and capabilities.

The team soon found that there was very little research available on the education market beyond a few studies sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“It was really difficult to find information,” said Howell. “This was an interesting situation in that we had to go with our intuition. Normally we would have data, so this was the big difference between this year and last year.”

As a result, the team decided to look to the fundamentals when designing a strategy that would have a lasting impact: they focused on ways to get parents more involved with their children’s education.

“We found some information suggesting that family involvement has the strongest impact on a student’s success, so we felt that targeting this area of education was the right approach. We thought that we were addressing a foundational problem in the US,” said Inoue.

The Foundation already had a program in place called “Nurses and Parents,” to help parents teach their kids about diseases, hygiene and how to say healthy. The team decided to build on the success of the healthcare program and recommend designing a similar one for the education market. 

Once they agreed on the strategy, the team had to design a presentation that would impress the judges. The 25 competing teams were narrowed down to nine and then divided into three groups. The winning presentation from each of the three groups went on to the final-three round.

“Because we didn’t have much data, we focused on the places where the plan could fall short. We looked at all the weaknesses we could think of, to come up with arguments in favor of our plan,” noted Chakrabarti.

“You have to be confident about what your recommendation is and this group is good at presenting. We were able to provide rationales when it counted,” added Griffith.

And how did their iSchool education contribute to their win?

“One of the biggest things we learned is that information is useful, it isn’t just record keeping,” observed Howell. “For us, part of our approach was helping the fictitious organization build an information infrastructure that wouldn’t be a burden for them to keep track of everything, but help them continue to leverage the information moving forward. The mantra of the Information School is leverage information as a tool and not let it collect dust in the corner.“

“Where our presentation really shined wasn’t on the technology; it was more on the human aspect, which is an important part of Informatics,” Howell added.

Howell also credited the research component of many iSchool classes and Griffith had experience implementing a dynamic CRM system at a radio station as part of his Informatics 380 course which he used for the Case.

The best compliment came from a Deloitte judge who said if he were on the board of Bertelli, he would adopt their approach. 

Two of the three iSchool students are graduating this term with jobs already lined up. Howell will be a product manager at Redfin in San Francisco and Chakrabarti will work for Hitachi Consulting in Seattle. Griffith, who has one more year before graduating, will be a finance intern for Microsoft this summer and hopes to line up a Deloitte internship next year as a result of the win.