Indiana State University Newsroom

Business professor to take e-commerce class to Harvard

June 3, 2008

At first, Jeff Harper wasn’t sure what to make of the phone call he received while grading spring semester final exams in Indiana State University’s College of Business.

“The individual identified himself from Harvard and said they found my course on the Internet and would like me to bring that course to Harvard this summer,” says Harper, who teaches a class in electronic commerce.

A glance at the Caller ID screen showed the call came from the Boston area code. The caller was Bruce Watson, coordinator of Harvard’s Summer School Economics and Business Program.

So Harper, an Alabama native who is a professor of management information systems at Indiana State, will be packing his bags • and his laptop computer •and heading to Cambridge, Mass.

For four weeks, starting June 23, he will be teaching a graduate-level course in the hallowed halls of Harvard University.

Wait a minute. This is an e-commerce class. Couldn’t he just do it via the Web'

In a word, no, Harper says.

“This has to be in the classroom. The students will be doing a lot of case studies and working with me on a number of research projects,” he says.

This is not a class about how to set up an online store, Harper stresses.

“We take an executive’s look at the key issues associated with being in the electronic commerce arena, the kind of business fundamentals that have to be there, the types of information technology support that have to be in place and best practices among organizations that lead in electronic commerce.” To say that e-commerce has exploded would be an understatement. When Harper first developed the course in 1998, electronic commerce was expected to account for $3 billion in sales by 2000. A few years later, the projection was for $100 billion by 2003. Now, the actual number stands at $300 billion, and e-commerce is not limited to Web-based businesses such as Amazon and eBay.

“The vast majority of electronic commerce today is what’s called business-to-business electronic commerce,” Harper says. “That’s where General Motors is ordering tires from Firestone or steel from one of the major steel manufacturers and is conducting their business through electronically assisted means. The idea behind the course is that electronic commerce has to be managed strategically, as many other parts of the organization have to managed.

“We’ll take a look at organizations as diverse as eBay and Yahoo! and compare those with what General Motors, ExxonMobil, or even a small antiques dealer or flower shop, does through electronic commerce. We’ll look at the different business principles, apply those and hopefully the students will walk away with a better understanding of what it takes to grow a business through the use of electronic commerce.”

And the folks at Harvard say Harper is just who they were looking for to add to the university’s mix of summer course offerings.

“I did some research into who has taught and published in the field of electronic commerce and Professor Harper’s name came up often,” Watson said. “I also saw that he had taught a course at Indiana State which was quite similar to the one that we offer in Harvard Summer School. So, he seemed like a good candidate. My telephone conversations with Jeff impressed me with his commitment to excellent teaching. We are truly delighted that Professor Harper will be joining us. I know that Jeff will be first-rate addition to our summer faculty.”

Harper says being selected to teach a class at Harvard is a reflection on the overall caliber of Indiana State’s College of Business.

\"I have wonderful colleagues and this opportunity stems in part from the collegiality and the cooperation I’ve had from them,” he says. “Many of my students are of the quality that I would expect to see at Harvard.”

Photo: Jeff Harper

Contact: Jeff Harper, professor of management information systems, organizational department, College of Business, Indiana State University, 812-237-2279 or

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or