By Sara Hoover
Any economics professor will tell you that the most fundamental economics lesson is
supply and demand. And demand is exactly what brought the Systems Testing Excellence
Program (STEP) at the FedEx Institute of Technology into being, and eventually across
the globe to India.
STEP provides software-testing training that began several years ago when FedEx approached
the U of M about developing such a program for their software testers.
“The University had a contract with FedEx to develop a technical training program
for their testers and developers. As part of that, we developed material using an
interdisciplinary approach combining information systems, computer science and engineering
perspectives,” said Dr. Jasbir Dhaliwal, director of STEP. “The prior training programs
offered in the commercial marketplace weren’t really informed by academia and science.
Ours is a very unique program and the word got out. Local companies started asking
us about the program and we started offering a public program. We had testers from
companies like International Paper, St. Jude (Children’s Research Hospital), First
Tennessee and Thomas & Betts take part and even people flying in from Atlanta and
Nashville. We realized that there was a bigger market for this.”
The U of M was then contacted by Kothandaraman Sridharan, former CEO of BFL Software
and advisory board member for the U of M’s management information systems department.
Sridharan connected STEP with Intellisys Technology, a company based in Illinois that
already had contacts and an operation in India. They started discussing licensing
the STEP material for the Indian market, and out of that grew the venture called IStep
Training in early 2009.
The Indian IT market consists of approximately one million professionals, with about
150,000 new workers entering the market annually. Testing represents 40 percent of
the Indian IT market. With almost 500,000 professionals engaged in testing in India
and nearly 40,000 of those attending training on an annual basis, India represents
a high-growth market for the U of M’s STEP offerings.
Intellisys was selected as the partner based on its credibility and expertise.
“When they came to us, they were very eager,” said Kevin Boggs, director of technology
transfer and research development in the FedEx Institute of Technology. “While they
weren’t the only ones, they were the only ones that really came with a credible package
of contacts and expertise, therefore we went with them.”
The next step was to have U of M faculty train the trainers in India who would then
be teaching the software testing certification using STEP’s materials. This train-the-trainer
training is not ongoing, but one-time and took six weeks. As new modules or supplements
are added on an annual basis based on new research, there will be additional training
for the Indian partners.
“What we ended up doing was using Skype to train. Each U of M instructor taught for
three hours at a time,” said Dhaliwal, associate dean of research and academic programs
in the Fogelman College of Business & Economics. “So, our instructors literally got
up in the middle of the night because of the 14-hour difference. It was a learning
experience for them. Wow, having an audience far away and you’re doing it in your
pajamas. We trained all their trainers and now their trainers are training testers
The trainers in India have now trained approximately 72 testers thus far. Per the
agreement, 100 students are to be trained this year, 500 next year and at least 5,000
trained in 2012 and every year thereafter.
As with all new ventures, modifications are necessary and this partnership is no different.
“It’s going well. They have discovered different markets because initially they thought
they’ll take this to large software corporations,” said Dhaliwal. “They’ve found that
some of the trainers had difficulty with highly experienced testers because our material
is researchbased. In some ways, they needed us for such market segments. But, our
faculty can’t fly around for these things. That doesn’t make sense as we need them
here. But for junior testing or entry-level, it works well. Most of their customers
are entry-level people, not the more experienced ones, which is a difference.”
The Indian trainers have been working with several colleges in India as well. According
to IStep, once it establishes its brand image, it will impact the Indian IT market
within three to four years.
Through the licensing agreement, the U of M gets royalties from a percentage of the
revenues. Besides monetary benefits, the U of M brand is going global and setting
the standard for software testing internationally.
“It gets the University’s name associated with a high-level industry training program
in a place where lots and lots of software engineers are being trained to work all
over the world,” said Boggs. “It also allows us to be the standard setter for this
sort of thing. If no one else is providing systems testing, software testing training
and certification from a University and we are the first, then anybody else that comes
along will have to say something in relation to us: They’re better than us, different
than the U of M, build on what the U of M has done. In any case, it gets us in the
game. The revenue from the royalties helps support research, helps encourage people
to work with my office to commercialize their technologies.”
“That fact that these people are saying get yourself trained by research expertise
from the University of Memphis is invaluable,” added Dhaliwal. “It attracts more graduate
students to our university and even the companies we work with here. They find out
and say, ‘Wow, you have a program license in India.’ It’s a pretty big deal. From
an insider’s perspective, the biggest benefit to our faculty has been, ‘Our material
is being used internationally.’We all hear about a global world, but at the end of
the day we teach our class here to local students. And then tonight at 9 o’clock in
the evening I have to sign up and train these people on the other side of the world.
In terms of mindset, our faculty members have changed based on this experience. That
was huge for our team.”
The program may eventually become more global as Intellisys has expressed interested
in the licensing rights for China, and STEP has been approached by another company
that wants the licensing rights for Eastern Europe.
“We are exploring. At this point, we’re trying to decide how STEP should evolve from
here. I want this initial license to work really well (first). Every year we wait,
we will learn a lot more. It’s learning as we go,” said Dhaliwal.
The next steps include figuring out how to launch a start-up company based on the
STEP program that could grow and incorporate new STEP material, possibly tap the U.S.
and European markets and provide a broader range of services.
“Right now, what IStep has is the individual tester training material,” said Boggs.
“They don’t have the test auditing and a host of other capabilities that STEP has
been developing. They just have that one. But if we were to start, or if entrepreneurs
working with us were to start, a company we would look at them probably as a much
broader service provider.”
The team hopes to know within six months or less if the start-up will happen and in
the meantime will continue to develop the Indian and other markets.
“This is a great beginning for IStep Training, and it intends to deliver the STEP
courses throughout India and elevate the Indian software professionals’ testing capability
to new heights,” said Vishi K. Viswanath, CEO and president of IStep Training and
managing partner of Intellisys Technology.
According to Dean Rajiv Grover of the U of M’s Fogelman College of Business & Economics,
“This agreement demonstrates how the College’s world class research expertise and
competencies can help open up export markets for our region. I am pleased that our
research group in management information systems is making great strides in building
interdisciplinary linkages across the campus to generate new sources of revenue for
For more information on STEP, the FedEx Institute of Technology and the Office of
Technology Transfer at the University of Memphis, visit http://www.memphis.edu/fedex/index.php. For more information on the Fogelman College of Business & Economics at the University
of Memphis, visit http://www.memphis.edu/fcbe/.