Interview with Bob Galliers

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Interview with Bob Galliers, Provost at Bentley University, Waltham, MA – USA.

Appointed to his current post in 2002, Bob Galliers came to Bentley from the London School of Economics, where he was Professor of Information Systems and Research Director in the Department of Information Systems. Before joining LSE, he served as Lucas Professor of Business Management Systems and Dean of Warwick Business School, and earlier as Foundation Professor and Head of the School of Information Systems at Curtin University in Australia.

Marco: This is my interview with Professor Galliers. He’s going to talk about IS in the world, his experience as a professor, and some suggestions for PHD students. Thank you Professor Galliers for being here with us.

Galliers: My pleasure. Would you like me to say something generally, or have you got a specific question you’d like to ask?

Marco: I think something generally is really interesting.

Galliers: Okay. So perhaps I could start with the field of information systems on how it has grown and developed over the years. If you think, as an academic subject, it probably had its genesis in the 1960s, so we’re almost 50 years as a subject area. And, of course, it had its genesis out of computer science and some of the other cognate fields, such as organization science, operations management, operation research and others.

But it has really developed, I think, into something much more than simply the development of computer-based information systems, which is all you ever heard about in those early days – IS development methodologies. And now we’re covering such territory as organizational, strategic impacts of information technology, which may change the very nature of the business. We are talking about societal issues such as the digital divide, and some of the ethical considerations associated with the use, application and impact of information technology on societies. We’re talking about security and privacy of information and so forth.

So it’s a hugely different field to what it started out to be and that’s what’s exciting about it because it has many aspects, which impact on other disciplines. And then that leads me into the whole area of what I call transdisciplinarity, because it seems to me, in order to be able to understand those phenomena in any depth, one has to apply tools that are not just from the field of information systems, but from those other fields as well. 

And then what’s even more exciting is that information systems itself as a field of study can inform other so called disciplines like organization science; even sociology, psychology. So our materials should have an impact on those other fields of study as well. So that’s what I’d like to start, in a sense, the emerging nature of the field itself. What else can I say? Something about my own interests? Something about my life as a provost and academic?

Marco: Yes.

Galliers: So my own interests really stemmed from an interest in the strategic impact of technology on organizations. And when I did my PHD, there had been some preliminary work done in the United States, and to a lesser extent in the UK about approaches to information systems planning. But at the time, I was based in Australia and there had been nothing done at that stage in Australia about what it was that organizations are doing to plan for their information systems. And there had been limited empirical work done in the United Kingdom.

As I did my PHD at the LSE, I thought why don’t I do a comparative study on what’s going on in Australia and the United Kingdom using my location as a means to get some empirical data, which was missing. I could relate it then to earlier work that had been done in the U.S. that could hopefully add value to that earlier work. So I conducted some survey research of IT directors and senior executives to identify what approaches they were using and what impacts those approaches were having and how successful they were. I think that enabled me to develop an understanding of the process of information systems strategizing.

And rather like people in the strategy field generally, I see the strategizing process as being at least as important, if not more important than the outcome of the process. So people like Henry Mintzberg, who talk about the emergent nature of strategy, is something similar to my understanding of the strategizing process and information systems. You and your colleagues in Italy have an interest in the work of people like Michael Tushman and others on both the exploitation of the technology and how we can explore with the technology, so the potential ambidextrousness of that process is what’s interesting to me.

And it’s much more than simply a mechanistic application of some methodology or other. That learning process that organizations go through I think is fascinating. If I then go into how on earth can I do this work while at the same time being a provost of the largest business school in New England? That’s an interesting question. First of all, I should say why I do it, before I answer how I do it.

Why I do it is that I got into academia to be a researcher and a teacher, not a manager. It seemed to me that in order to have an impact on the curriculum and on the research reputation of one’s institution, you can’t say to colleagues don’t do as I do, but do as I say. You had better be able to demonstrate what’s important for your institution is important for yourself.

My ethos, if you like, in relation to being a chief academic officer has to be about connecting with the Academy. It has to be about connecting with students. It has to be about testing your ideas in the classroom and in practice, otherwise it’s an exercise, which has no impact on life. So, when I get an opportunity to meet, for example, with PHD students, I take that chance. So last year, I taught the information systems course on the Bentley PHD program.

And it was fabulous on a Tuesday afternoon to get in a seminar room and meet with bright, emerging talent, who could ask some quite pointed questions about the material, which enabled a conversation to take place and new ideas to emerge from that.

Now, given the nature of my job, it means that I really can’t spend a lot of time out collecting data. I just haven’t got the time to do that. But I can either write conceptual pieces – reflections, which is what I do, and/or partner with colleagues and students who have the time to go out and collect the data. And what can I do to help in that regard? I can help in terms of the planning of the research project, the approach. I can be a sounding board for a project as it develops. And I can be of help when it comes to writing up the articles, which emerge from that work.

So that’s the role that I tend to play now. I don’t have sufficient time to do a major longitudinal piece of work. But if I’m talking with practitioners, I could test out ideas with them quite informally. I wouldn’t call it research, but I think that one can still get a sense of what are their concerns and whether there is any traction of one’s ideas on them as practitioners. But, primarily, I see myself as an academic who has a role to play in furthering – in this instance, Bentley – as a business university, and raising our reputation as a major player in that space. How better to do that than to give a keynote address at a major conference, or be seen to be active in the Academy?

That, in itself, not only is an example to colleagues, but is a way of marketing my institution. So I see it being synergistic really. It’s important to me as an individual, but it’s important in my role. If I were simply taking the view that I’m a chief operating officer of my institution, then how on earth can I, as an individual, get the message over about Bentley University nationally and internationally? I can’t do it. So I have to be active in order to be visible and help to raise the reputation of the institution.

That’s why, in addition to doing a little bit of teaching, doing a little bit of writing, and continuing to edit The Journal of Strategic Information Systems, I respond positively to invitations to talk, to visit other institutions, to be a visiting professor, and generally be seen to be active in the Academy. Is that enough?

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Methodspace: Connecting the Research Community

This new site may be of interest to you: www.methodspace.com. It is a venue to share and discuss research ideas:

Methodspace: Connecting the research community


New social network aims to bring together practical support in research methods

Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC (26 March 2009)—SAGE, the world’s leading independent academic publisher has today launched Methodspace.com; a public social network dedicated to the discussion of research methods online.

Methodspace aims to bring together researchers from across the academic spectrum looking for support and advice on any aspect of methodology. Registered users can participate in discussions about methodology issues and controversies; find out about relevant conferences and events; and discover and review new resources in methods, including free book chapters and journal articles. The site was launched to a private beta audience in February 2009.

We are thrilled by the speed and scale of the response to our beta launch,” said Ziyad Marar, Deputy Managing Director and Publishing Director, SAGE. “Methodspace will enable connections and dialogue, without any restrictions on discipline or geography. The site has a growing community of international researchers, university lecturers and postgraduate students from around the world.”

A unique area, research methods is the common thread that unites all researchers, with research methodology a fundamental part of every research journey. SAGE is recognized worldwide as the leading publisher in research methods, supporting researchers for more than forty years with a collection of more than 1200 books, journals and reference works in this diverse field.

“We intend that Methodspace should be the online hub for research methods, with the community driving the discussions and debates,” said Marar. Whether you are looking for resources in research methods, want to discuss a particular approach, or just connect with other researchers in a particular field, Methodspace aims to be the first place that any professor, researcher or student will turn.”

Join the debate at www.methodspace.com.

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SAGE is a leading international publisher of journals, books, and electronic media for academic, educational, and professional markets. Since 1965, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students spanning a wide range of subject areas including business, humanities, social sciences, and science, technology, and medicine. An independent company, SAGE has principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC. www.sagepublications.com

Future Stars – Jeff Cummings

jamaica_2008-0983Year of the PhD program:

I will be finishing up my second year in the program here at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

Explain your background which has led you to the PhD program.

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degree at Texas Tech University. While there, I had contemplated the idea of continuing on to receive a doctorate degree but decided that some industry experience would be beneficial in my future endeavors. Upon graduation, my wife and I moved to Houston where I started as a systems analyst for Reliant Energy. During my tenure at Reliant, I participated in a number of roles as well as department changes while experiencing interactions with a wide range of technologies/programs from COBOL to SAP/ABAP.

After 5 years with the company, I decided it was time to move on. I was always interested in the research aspects of academia. After some soul searching and discussions with my wife, I decided to go back to academia to pursue my doctorate.

What research areas are you interested in?

Over the past few years, my interests have really changed from my initial intentions. As I started working with a number of faculty members at Indiana, I began to get interested in group interaction/behavior as well as the effects on computer mediated communication. I am currently working on a number of research topics around virtual teams, Web 2.0 adoption and the use of media with respect to synchronicity. Lately, I have been interested in healthcare IT.

What do you like to do for fun?

We are supposed to have time for fun? J

When I am not working on research or courses, I enjoy cycling and playing an occasional round of golf. My wife and I enjoy the outdoors and try to get out of the house to enjoy the weather in Bloomington (especially compared to Houston). Lately, much of spare time has been going into preparation for a new edition to the family. We are expecting our first child, a boy, this April.

Just curious – how often do you blog?

Until recently, I was not as much of a contributor to blogs although I did enjoy reading them. As I have started becoming involved in the OCIS website, I am more active in blogging and plan to continue.

Mention some things that you are currently doing which is helping to make your PhD career successful.

First and foremost, time management has been the key for a successful PhD career. Especially, since I was working before with a straight forward 8:00 to 5:00 job. While the program does allow flexibility, I have learned to schedule out my days, creating mini-milestones to achieve on a daily basis. As everyone knows, research is a long process that can often be discouraging when it comes to progress on a specific topic. These milestones help get me to that final product.

Discuss some challenges that you’ve encountered in your PhD career and how are you working to overcome them.

One of the most challenging aspects I have confronted during my PhD career has been thinking “academically”. As I started the program, I had a very narrow view of the world that would often be based upon my experiences within industry. While this has helped in some academic areas, I am working hard to think abstractly and looking at the larger picture when concerning research.

I am also facing the upcoming challenge of taking qualifying exams. And, just to make it more challenging, my wife and I are expecting to have our first child right before. My approach has been to begin preparation throughout this semester to be prepared for a new baby and limited time to study.

What are some issues that you would like to discuss/ask fellow OCIS members (i.e. some opinions on particular research areas, the PhD program, the job search, etc.)?

This is the same question all of us seem to have at this point in our academic career: How should we approach developing and thinking about our dissertation topic? While this is different for everyone, it would be great to hear opinions and approaches from fellow students in the same situation.

Another topic I would like to hear more discussion about is the current job market and how students’ faculty have suggested approaching the process.

Qualitative Research in IS?

NSF released a report from the workshop on Interdisciplinary Standards for Systematic Qualitative Research, and it contains some ideas on promising areas of research in law, anthropology, political science, and sociology. We use qualitative research methods as well; what are our promising areas of research? I’m interested to hear your thoughts. I’m also interested in your take on the workshop report if you’ve read it.

Strengthsfinder

I’ve recently been going through a book based on Gallup data on identifying individual strengths and putting them to work in your career.  It was very interesting to see what kinds of roles and tasks are suited for different individuals, as well as the process (psychometric, cluster analysis, etc.) Gallup went through to identify these strengths.  I can now see why it so difficult to identify strong PhD candidates because any number of these combinations could lead to a strong researcher.  My top two were Input (enjoys gathering information) and Learner (I’ll let you guess), but I imagine many other strengths would be handy to have as a PhD student, such as Communicator, Focus and EnjoysWorkingVeryHardForLittlePay (ok, I made that one up).  Has anyone else taken this profile, and if so, have you been able to leverage your strenghts better for research?

Some Thoughts for Dissertation Writing

I’ve been reading Hart’s book, Doing a Literature Review, for class and he mentioned interesting points that I wanted to share. He stresses the importance of scholarship in writing. According to Hart, “There is, however, a difference between producing a piece of competent research and a piece of research that demonstrates scholarship,” (p. 8). Integration, or the ability to draw links between “ideas, theories and experience,” is identified as being necessary abilities for good scholarship. Fitting your idea into existing theory is essential. It is important to justify the position that you are making and prior literature can be used to do this.

Next, it is important to be able to clearly explain your argument. The goal should be to express content to the reader in the least confusing manner. Students writing literature reviews for the first time often produce “broad, generalized and ambitious proposals.” Narrowing the topic down is a fine art. It is during this stage that hopefully a fruitful and manageable topic will emerge. When reading papers, you should do so with an open mind, trying to understand the perspectives and approaches from which the researcher is presenting.

Seven requirements of a doctoral thesis include:

  • 1) scholarship specialty
  • 2) a contribution to the field
  • 3) high degree of scholarship
  • 4) originality
  • 5) ability to write in great length
  • 6) personal development involved in writing a thesis
  • 7) deep understanding of the field.

*A criterion of the ability to orally defend is additionally included for doctoral students.

Is anyone incorporating Hart’s advice when writing his/her dissertation? If so, do you have any insights to pass those of us who are lost in the dissertation writing phase?

Future Stars – Valerie Bartelt

Valerie BarteltYear of the PhD program:

I am a 3rd-year PhD student in Information Systems at Indiana University.

Explain your background which has led you to the PhD program:

I took a couple of MSIS courses while I was getting a masters in Immersive Mediated Environments at Indiana University. I found the faculty at the Kelley School of Business to be very approachable. This was a big factor that played into my decision to begin a PhD program at IU.

What research areas are you interested in?

Currently, I am focusing on team collaboration and virtual teams. I also have an interest in work-life balance and virtual worlds.

What do you like to do for fun?

When I am not working on research projects, I enjoy watching DVDs on my new HDTV. I also enjoy gardening, so I am looking forward to the spring. This year, I have high hopes that my landscaping will look more dense than last year. I grew most of my flowers from seed and didn’t realize that it takes perennials much longer to grow.

Just curious – how often do you blog?

Prior to the OCIS PhD site, I didn’t blog too often. I guess I don’t see my day-to-day life as being incredibly interesting.

Mention some things that you are currently doing which is helping to make your PhD career successful.

I am trying to make sure that I have research projects going on at different stages. My goal would be to have more research projects at the initial stage than I currently do because it seems that many projects end up not working out.

Discuss some challenges that you’ve encountered in your PhD career and how are you working to overcome them.

I found the first two years of the PhD program to be very busy with coursework. I had a hard time finding time to relax. I am currently beginning to establish a better rhythm for balancing work and relaxation while in the PhD program. I think that this will be helpful for my long-term success.

What are some issues that you would like to discuss/ask fellow OCIS members (i.e. some opinions on particular research areas, the PhD program, the job search, etc.)?

I am interested in finding other people with similar research interests so that we could discuss research ideas.

Please make additional comments here:

I think that the OCIS site is a great way for PhD students to get to know each other. I hope that more discussions can take place in the future! 😉