In October 1998, the Walton Family Charitable Trust donated $50 million to the now-named Sam M. Walton College of Business, earmarking a portion of the donation to establish a center devoted to information technology research.
With the announcement of the Walton grant in October 1998, an interdisciplinary faculty committee formed to begin the process of defining the center. Chaired by Bill Hardgrave Information Systems), it consisted of Jon Johnson (Management), Pu Liu (Finance), Betsy Creyer (Marketing and Transportation), Lisa Austen (Accounting).
This committee worked feverishly during October and November preparing the initial proposal for the center (which contained the suggested name -Information Technology Research Center). The faculty of the Walton College approved the proposal in November 1998. The University approved it in January 1999, and the Board of Trustees followed in April 1999. In January 1999, Bill Hardgrave was appointed the first Director of the ITRI, effective July 1, 1999.
The approved proposal established the mission for the center and a broad framework for its operation. From January 1999 to July 1999, Hardgrave consulted with industry and academic experts to establish the detailed operations of the center. First, he visited many other research centers (via web sites, e-mail, and phone calls) to generate a set of possible best practices for the ITRI to adopt (conversely, he also generated a set of "worst" practices to avoid).
Next, three focus groups provided feedback and input regarding the ITRI (utilizing the best practices as talking points). The first focus group consisted of members of the Arkansas Executive Forum (AEF). The next two focus groups, one in Fayetteville on May 11 and the second in Little Rock on May 13, consisted of invited IT executives. The following companies attended the Fayetteville focus group: Data-Tronics, J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., Tyson Foods, Inc., Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Latco, IBM, Southwestern Energy, Beverly Enterprises, Arvest Bank Group, and NCR. Acxiom Corporation, ALLTEL Corporation, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, Dillard's, Inc., ESI Group, Arkansas Department of Information Systems, First Security Bank, and Baxter Healthcare attended the Little Rock focus group.
Overall, the focus groups provided invaluable information concerning the ITRI design and led to the first full prospectus for the center. Also during this time, ITRI staff visited several companies individually to gather specific information regarding ITRI operations. They also solicited faculty input via e-mail and held one town hall meeting.
The ITRI officially opened its doors on July 1, 1999 (which marks the beginning of the fiscal year at the University of Arkansas). By late August 1999, 12 corporate members had joined the center.
By July 2004, the ITRI had grown its membership to include to 17 IT organizations, retaining all 12 of the original charter members. In the preceding 5 years, the ITRI provided activities and services to over 3000 IT professionals and students via its conferences, career fairs, workshops and research endeavors. Birthdays often provide time for reflection and change, and the ITRI's fifth birthday was no exception. As the ITRI considered new directions for its next five years, University leadership suggested a subtle, but significant, change. On February 4, 2005, the ITRI became the Information Technology Research Institute (ITRI). The organization's mission - to promote research, interest and interaction in the field of information technology - remains unchanged. The new name, however, better reflects our role as the interdisciplinary research unit at the University of Arkansas addressing all aspects of information technology practice and research.
The ITRI triangle symbolizes several things. First, it symbolizes our three part mission of conducting multi-disciplinary IT research, promoting student interest in the study of IT, and facilitating interaction with the business community. Second, it symbolizes the multi-disciplinary research of the center: the three P's of developing and using information technology - the people involved in developing and using IT; the process of developing and using IT; and the products developed or used in the development process. Finally, it symbolizes our constituents: the business community, faculty, and students.