Students in Dave Chatterjee's undergraduate Management Information Systems capstone class haven't discovered the secret behind Zaxby's Sauce, but they did come away with a great deal of hands-on experience after working with the company on projects designed to prepare them for the corporate world.
The idea originated with Zaxby's IT director Tripp Sessions, who is one of Chatterjee's Executive MBA students. "Zaxby's is in Athens," says Sessions, who served as Hairy Dawg during his undergrad days. "I thought this would be a great way to get the company involved with UGA."
Chatterjee's students divided into six teams and completed projects ranging from database analysis to the development of a disaster recovery plan. They defined processes, identified possible areas for improvement, and proposed solutions - and Zaxby's executed many of their suggestions and recommendations, including implementing an enhanced, student-devised, mail-tracking system.
"We're a small company, but we cut about 7,000 paychecks a week," says Sessions. "Students re-designed the whole process, and while it's still too early to predict the long-term effectiveness, the new structure has cut down on lost mail dramatically."
One of the most demanding student projects involved converting Zaxby's internal restaurant evaluations to electronic handheld devices. The old way of doing things was a tedious process of loading all the written evaluations onto Excel spreadsheets. "The Terry team did the research on our needs, looked into the specs of the equipment, and reported the results," says Sessions. "We purchased the items and put them into place. They did an excellent job."
Zaxby's gave the students a lot of latitude as far as planning and design. "The biggest benefit was that their work increased the size of our staff for a semester, and kept us from having to devote additional resources to these issues," says Sessions. "That was huge."
Both Chatterjee and Sessions agree that the experience was advantageous for the students, too.
"They learned how content technologies add strategic value to a company, and how information is leveraged to gain competitive advantage," says Chatterjee. "Also important was learning about how critical communication is - and the collaboration part was crucial. The students worked hard on these assignments, gained valuable management skills and knowledge, and the results will serve them well down the road."
Sessions agreed, noting the adjustments that had to be made regarding job goals and deliverables. "We basically gave them mini-consulting projects, and it was a great opportunity for the students to get into a corporate environment. Sure, there were a couple of bumps and bruises along the way, but that's to be expected. Everyone was ready to learn, and this proved to be a good simulation of what these undergrads can expect coming out of UGA." Zaxby's even hired one of the students as an intern.