Interview with Prof. Federico Rajola

federicoProfessor Federico Rajola has a chair at Cattolica U., Milan, Italy. He teaches information systems (IS) management and organizational theories in the university’s management faculty. His research field is process management and the role of the introduction and development of technology innovation in large organizations. His focus is on the Italian financial industry and he has conducted numerous studies on the implementation and post-implementation of information systems. He is Director of CeTIF (Research Center on Technology, Innovation, and Finance http://en.cetif.it ) in Cattolica U.

 

The purpose of this interview is to find out about European PhD programs that focus on the IS discipline; have European research centers and universities been developing new ideas and activities; what is their current research focus; are there opportunities for Italian and European academic centers to develop collaborative case studies with practitioners?

Prof. Rajola we would appreciate some ideas of your perspectives on European PhD programs, based on your experience.

 

Firstly, I want to highlight that there are huge differences between eastern and western PhD students and programs in Europe. Eastern PhD students often choose UK PhDs –that are pretty popular in Europe and known to be the best quality PhD programs, such as the London Business School, LSE Business School, the Warwick Business School, and the Lums University in Lancaster.

Western PhD students on the other hand have traditionally sought study opportunities in the US and in the last few years Australia and New Zealand have achieved some popularity.

 

Europe has a number of working groups for the development of the IS discipline, for example IRIS, in Scandinavia, famous for its PhD summer school and the doctoral consortium held by ECIS and EGOS, two of the most important conferences (and academic associations) in Europe.

France has developed some new IS programs (I have personal experience of INSEAD, where I spent a 6 months period as a Visiting Professor in 2008), and I believe that Germany is considering some remodeling of its PhD schools along more international lines. Finally, Spain is investing in research both for academia and industry.

 

Thanks a lot Professor Rajola. And what is happening in Italy? What are the latest trends in IS research in Italy, and what is the level of internationalization of the PhD programs there –from your perspective?

 

In Italy we have a heterogeneous situation. We have some of the best universities pursuing internationalization, especially for PhD programs. For instance, some universities have developed entire PhD programs in English and there are many international professors working in these universities – in permanent positions or for periods as Visiting Professors. Some universities – for instance, Cattolica – are developing English courses for undergraduates and post graduates (PhD programs and masters). The trend is to encourage students to spend periods abroad (for undergraduates through Erasmus projects, and for PhD students through PhD visiting projects) in order to achieve a good level of internationalization and to import and export knowledge and experience. Some of the smaller universities are also investing in internationalization by focusing on the adoption of English texts and encouraging PhD students to apply to US summer school. However, it is not always easy to satisfy the needs of all students. The quality of PhD programs and what they offer is dependent on both the resources available at different universities and the capability of the professors to attract highly motivated PhD students. These aspects are part of the same circle, as the more motivated students are keen to apply to PhD programs that offer the greatest opportunities.

 

Thank you Professor Rajola. And for the future, what is your perception of the IS discipline worldwide?

 

This is a difficult question. My perception is that IS could become a reference discipline encompassing several streams of research (e.g. computer science, sociology, psychology, management, economics), which would be both a point of strength and a point of weakness. On the one side it would be a strength if we see IS as a potentially interdisciplinary research field that would benefit from the contributions of scholars with different backgrounds and different perspectives. On the other side, such heterogeneity might be dangerous since – especially in large conferences – there would be the risk that papers and contributions might focus on just one or two streams of research; not all contributions would be suitable for a broad, interdisciplinary, audience.

In my opinion, a strength of IS research – is that, more than the other social sciences, it has value for both scholars and practitioners. To be clearer: In my view, it is possible to write good academic papers which have an impact on practice. This may not occur as often as we might like but it is something that can be worked on. It is important to write with rigor but not to overlook the relevance of our writings for industry, since they are our sample!

 

Yes, and what you have said leads me to ask you another important question: as we know and as you have underlined in this interview, you and your research center have very good relationships with industry in Italy, which allows you to spend time in firms observing, interviewing and constructing case studies. What is your technique? What outcomes – if any – do you guarantee to the firms that you study?

 

Well it has taken over 10 years to build these good relationships with the industry. My research center (CeTIF) started by developing one or two research project per year, focusing on Italian industry as a whole. This required a quantitative approach, building questionnaires, and initially we were focusing on the costs–benefits of the implementation of new IS in large banks. After a couple of years, we transferred our findings to the respondents (generally process managers from the IS department) and attempted to ‘translate’ our academic outputs into something more accessible to and –most of all –useful for managers. That was our start. And that was the channel used to build relationships with banks. Another important step was when we started talking to the Bank of Italy. We sent them our research reports which they returned us with ‘acceptance’ comments. This allowed us to push more banks into participating in our surveys, since they all contributed to the financial system. Another activity that helped us to gain commitment from the banks was that we began to organize (and still do so) thematic workshops to present the outcomes of our research. We invite the whole financial industry and try to provide a good insight of the financial industry, from an academic perspective, with the research rigor learned in universities, but keeping in mind industry relevance and using its language. So, the content of these workshops is the same as the content of the academic papers – it is our presentation and words that are varied (he laughs…)There is advantage for both parties. They benefit from our analyses, which are unique in Italian research on the banking industry, and we have the opportunity to produce something that makes sense for scholars and practitioners. We have personal and friendly relationships with many of the CEOs of the largest international banks in Italy and Europe and have the opportunity to develop extended and complex case studies.

 

Wow! Just one last thing… we see a picture of you driving a boat… how do you manage to spend time outside the office while working so hard on your research projects, which would seem to involve 24-7 writing and managing meetings…

 

I think that is important to take time off, since our job is not a 9 to 6 one, but requires creativity, serenity, and always new ideas. I can’t think of a researcher who spends the whole weekend writing, since the ideas come from literature and from the world outside. What I mean is that it is really important to have a balance between the work and leisure time. My ideas would die if I didn’t go out sailing at least a couple of days a month. Actually it is more than a couple of days a month in the summer[laughs]. And also I have a family, which is the most important thing for me. So, I work hard during the week and spend time with my son and my wife on the weekend –maybe sailing!

 

Ok, this is really the last thing… give us one suggestion for all the PhD students who are going to read this interview.

 

Well my advice would be to be sure that you like what you are doing because researchers must love researching! We are not filling modules or printing documents. We need to think critically and with passion. We must love writing and studying. We must love improving both our own knowledge and that of our readers. This I believe is true research. And without this enthusiasm we can’t do good work.

We thank Prof. Federico Rajola for sharing his thoughts with us.

 

Did you find this interview interesting? Do you have any questions you always wanted to ask some OCIS faculty members or practitioners? This is your chance, just let us know your comments/questions and your faculty of choice and we will get the answers for you.

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2 Responses

  1. Is anyone participating in a study abroad program? If so, how has your experience studying in the abroad been in comparison to studying in your country?

  2. Hi Valerie, hi all!
    I am an Italian PhD candidate and I am spending a one year visiting scholar period at Bentley College, Waltham.

    Even though is actually really hard to synthesize the differences between studying in Italy and abroad I can try pointing out a few main changes that occurred to my research activities.

    Firstly, since as I arrived here I started developing my PhD dissertation, I had to focus on one thing instead of many things (e.g. attending many classes, teaching, etc). Studying abroad has the main advantage that scholars can focus on the objective of the visiting (in my case, the dissertation). Being more focused means being able to do things with no rush and this for me contributed a lot in terms of developing new ideas.

    Secondly studying abroad means having new networks (PhD students as well as academics). I think that for the PhD students is really important to develop international networks for their academic careers. Moreover I firmly believe in the long distance work and I hope to keep writing papers with all colleagues that I have met here.

    Thirdly, studying in US for an European PhD students means having access to many international conferences (that are held very often in USA), consequently i am having the possibility to attend conferences that being here in USA result more affordable.

    Finally, I had the luck to work with Prof. Newell that has incredibly helped me in developing my research skills. Personally, this last thing is for sure the most important advantage I could benefit during my staying in USA.

    Hoping to stimulate further discussions on this important topic…

    Cheers
    Marco

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