BackForwardHomeWharton Now

From ENIAC to Emerging Technology

In 1946, the 17,480 vacuum tubes of the world's first general-purpose electronic computer — ENIAC — flickered to life in Penn's Moore School, and the information age was born. IBM's Thomas Watson estimated a market for maybe five large computers, and Popular Mechanics looked forward to the day when computers, might be slimmed down to 1.5 tons. It was decades before the pen-and-paper organizations that received this new machine began to realize how it would fundamentally change the organization, markets, and the world.

Wharton, already a leader in modeling, began using information systems to add power to these models. In the 1970s, Wharton decision scientists were among the leaders in "heuristics", an important, computer-based, information-intensive alternative. By substituting data processing for mathematical manipulation, managers gleaned workable solutions to a large variety of difficult problems. Wharton's Decision Sciences Department established itself as one of the outstanding academic groups in the entire field of management science and developed a growing reputation in business and educational circles.

Wharton also has been a leader in providing students with high-level perspectives on technology management. In 1979, Wharton joined with Penn's engineering school to found the first multidisciplinary undergraduate program in technology and management. The Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology continues to be recognized as one of the most innovative programs of study in the world. At the graduate level, Wharton has developed a number of technology majors in the MBA curriculum, including a new major in Information Strategy, Systems, and Economics (ISSE) which graduated its first class in May 1999, and a new major in Technological Innovation.

In the 1980s, Wharton researchers began groundbreaking work exploring the economic impact of information systems, research that transformed financial markets and financial service firms. Termed "full-contact, combat economics" by Professor Eric K. Clemons, Wharton faculty worked with partners from AT&T, Merrill Lynch, MasterCard, Prudential Insurance, the New York Stock Exchange, and others in examining the strategic implications of information technology and the economic value of information. Clemons also worked with stock exchanges in London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Singapore to study the impact of information systems on revolutionizing trading. The same research is now being applied successfully to the revolutionary impacts of e-commerce.

Wharton continues to extend the frontiers of technology management. Established in 1994, the Wharton Emerging Technologies Management Research Program allows nearly 30 Wharton faculty members — in collaboration with 13 corporate partners — to study the new best practices that are helping firms compete, survive, and succeed in emerging technologies. Research topics include valuing corporate innovation, managing technology portfolios, patterns of success and failure in technology alliances, and new rules of competition fostered by the ongoing convergence of information technologies.

In addition to leading studies of the impact of technology on business, Wharton has led in new initiatives in applying technology to education and research communications. Among its diverse new technology initiatives, Wharton launched Wharton Direct, a distributed executive education initiative that offers programs by satellite and computer in classrooms in 30 U.S. cities, and Knowledge@Wharton, a bi-weekly online websource that offers the latest business insights, information, and research from Wharton and other sources. The School has also created standard-setting software for business school student intranets (SPIKE) and academic research (WRDS).

"Wharton pioneered the field of decision sciences — what is now information and operations management — 25 years ago. Combining information systems, decision modeling, and decision processes analysis was an entirely new area, and we were first in making that linkage."
William Hamilton, Ralph Landau Professor of Management and Technology and Director of the Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology

ENIAC (left) launched the information age at Penn's Moore School in 1946. It would be decades before business began to recognize the full potential of these new machines. Wharton led the way in developing models and research, as well as pioneering educational programs in management and technology.

Knowledge@Wharton (left), a bi-weekly online websource, was launched in 1999 to communicate new business ideas. Wharton's student intranet, SPIKE ( right), set a new standard for student intranets; and Wharton's research interface, WRDS, has been licensed to nearly every leading business school. Professor Eric K. Clemons (center), worked with stock exchanges in London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Singapore to study the impact of information technology on trading systems.

"Wharton has been able to understand the role of information as a resource and to integrate information and strategy in a way that no other school has been able to accomplish. We have also made the discipline mainstream, so that all students leave here with some understanding of information-based strategy and information economics. Twelve years ago, you could not publish on information-based strategy, and there were no conferences on this subject. It's now become legitimated as a field, and Wharton was there first."
Eric K. Clemons, Professor of Operations and Information Management and Professor of Management

Back to TopHomeWharton Now
Copyright The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania