By David Rosenbaum
MIT System Design and Management (SDM) student Avi Latner went to work for JP Morgan Chase & Co. in 2009. It was not a good year for a financial services world still reeling from the subprime mortgage disaster, the bankruptcies of Lehman Brothers and other major financial institutions, and what came close to a worldwide economic meltdown. Latner, who has a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Management/Information Systems from Ben Gurion University and spent three years as a bomb squad leader in the Israeli infantry, recalls that life at the bank "was extremely difficult."
Photo by L. Barry Hetherington
Today, Latner believes the U.S. economy has hit bottom and has begun to rebound. But that doesn’t mean he’s entirely sanguine about the future. "Now that profits are returning, big bonuses are again being handed out," says Latner. "There are still big profits to be made from big risks. So incentives haven’t changed; regulations haven’t been changed. The system hasn’t been fixed yet."
The opportunity to study systems is what attracted Latner (who has spent his career designing and implementing information systems for financial institutions, first at Deloitte Consulting and then at Matrix IT) to SDM rather to an MBA program. "Pursuing an MBA seemed like taking the beaten path," Latner says. "I wanted to look at technology through a business prism, with the additional level of engineering, product design and development, and system architecture, and that’s just not available in MBA programs where the courses are more predictable. At SDM, you find a collection of people—faculty and students—with varied real-life experiences and knowledge. And the students are much more a part of the learning experience."
For example, today Latner is exploring the potential of RFID technology in Professor Qi Van Eikema Hommeshis’ Product Design and Development class. As described in Latner’s blog, Savvy Avi, "using techniques learned in class," the students began interviewing and observing people to identify a market. Ultimately, they decided that parents vacationing in resorts or theme parks would like to know their children’s location at any time. Based on that need, the team members are developing a system of durable RFID bracelets, a grid of RFID readers and a companion web-based tracking system. According to Latner, "The team is now exploring the possibility of collaborating with a potential customer on implementing this idea in their resorts".
Latner’s blog is a reflection of his growing interest in social media. He writes it because "I like thinking through problems and discussing them," but he sees unlimited business opportunity in social media. "Consumer-facing organizations," Latner says, "can use data mining tools to scan social media and see what people think, making market research much more powerful. B2B enterprises can use social media to establish their reputations and grow their market."
In the future, Latner plans to return to Israel to bring the lessons he’s learned at MIT’s System Design and Management Program—"a deep understanding of system architecture combined with business domain expertise—to help an enterprise software company ("not necessarily in the financial world") become a market leader." And, chances are, he’ll leverage social media to do just that.
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