By Ahmed Retiwalla and Adam Tompkins
Joseph Fischer is an active duty Military Officer for the United States Marine Corps, as well as a student in the Jenkins MBA program at NC State University. He also graduated from NC State in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
During the fall 2019 semester, Fischer had the opportunity to work with three of his classmates on a practicum project for the American Red Cross for their Supply Management course.
In the following interview, Fischer talks about his experience working with his team to find data management solutions for the company, and how it has helped prepare him for a career after life in the military.
Can you describe the practicum project you worked on this semester?
It was a master data management (MDM) data governance project for the American Red Cross. My team looked at existing industry best practices utilized within other companies similar in size to the American Red Cross — specifically with how those companies acquire their data, how they store and utilize it, and how they segment it so that it’s usable in an efficient and trusted way for the organization. We used this information to define and create a supply management MDM framework for the American Red Cross. In layman’s terms, we developed a way for the company to store their data in the right place so it’s available when it’s needed.
Have you had any other experiences working with corporate clients like this before as a student?
I haven’t had experiences at this level until now. As an undergraduate I worked on small projects, but this is the first time I’ve had a project where I’ve interacted with a business on a weekly basis. In fact, this is the first time I have ever worked directly with an organization on a student project.
What were you hoping to get out of the experience?
I was looking to gain a better understanding of what MDM is and how it’s used in real-world experiences, and to see from a company’s perspective how procurement and supply chains work within an organization. I was also looking to add those experiences to my toolset to use in the future as I transition out of the military into the next part of my career. It was invaluable for me to learn about how organizations operate, what works for them and what doesn’t, and what executives look for and how to tailor things to meet their needs.
What challenges did you and your team face, and how did you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges we faced in our research is that a lot of organizations don’t have their data management information readily available, so there weren’t a lot of examples or templates to draw from. A lot of organizations consider it proprietary information, so they don’t share it publicly because it’s a competitive advantage for them — they don’t want people copying their formula. That was probably the biggest hurdle we ran into. There were case studies we found which helped, but only so much. Lucky for us, though, we were given access to research firms we could submit questions to, and they helped provide us with background information on industry standards.
What has it been like working directly with a major organization like the American Red Cross?
The people from the American Red Cross were great. They took time out of their schedules to work with us, and they were very responsive which really helped move the project along.
We were also able to get feedback on our process from high-level managers and learn what they were specifically looking for, which allowed us to tailor our work to meet their needs. Because if our work wasn’t tailored to their needs, it wouldn’t have added any value for them, which would have made the whole project fall apart. That feedback really helped us get a better big-picture understanding of how they operated and what was important to them, which was a great experience.
How were you able to apply what you’ve learned in class to the project?
Each organization does things a bit different, but overall the themes we’ve learned in class were very helpful. It comes into play even at the lowest level, in terms of the terminology of how supply chains are run — like when we would have conference calls with the client, we were able to understand what they were saying, which helped ease the process and helped us stay ahead of the curve.
What was your favorite part of the project experience?
My favorite thing was the fact that we were able to step outside the classroom to work on a project for a real business to solve a real problem. These projects are not made up scenarios — these are real problems the companies have that they want us to help solve. They turn to the SCRC to have students like me do the work to understand and solve these problems. So it’s the applicable, hands-on experience and opportunity to work with these companies on these projects that makes it all worthwhile.