Interview with Mike Smith – Part Three

Part Three:  Interview with Mike Smith – Associate Professor of Information Systems and Marketing, Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University

This interview began in part one discussing Dr. Smith’s graduate student experience and job search and continued in part two discussing Dr. Smith’s experience and advice as a faculty member.  In this session we will discuss his perspectives on research.

Perspectives on Research

What is the “secret” of your productivity?

I’m a firm believer in treating this as a job.  Our undergrad days have led us to believe you can work a twenty-hour day and that has to be twice as good as a ten-hour day.  At least for me I’m not productive for more than ten hours a day.  I think it helps to recognize that I only have ten hours to get a certain amount of work done and I need to intentional about keeping track of what time I am goofing off and what time I am working on the things I should be working on.

How would you describe the process from start to finish of one of your “typical” papers?

I tend to get the ideas that I’m most fond of from the press and the media.  I tend to advise my students to look to questions the media is asking, as opposed to the two paragraphs at the end of somebody else’s paper where they talk about future work.  You can be sure, that if someone tells you at the end of their paper that “future work should do” this list of things it means one of two things:  either some referee asked them to do it but it was too hard, or it is a problem they are already working on.

Most of the topics that I have found most interesting have come from quotes in the industry that say “we think this is happening but we’re not entirely sure,” so start with that.  For me it is about finding the right data to ask that question, and then trying to look at that data pretty quickly to see if it has any hope of saying something that is going to be interesting.  We’re working right now on a project where we’re thinking about the question “if you take content off a legitimate digital distribution channel does that influence piracy.”  The first thing I asked my student to do was take two or three popular pieces of content and just graph what piracy looks like, and if we see a spike the day after something goes off this channel we’ve probably got something we can publish.

I’ve really enjoyed some of the economics papers that start from just the pure descriptive statistics.  Austan Goolsbee is extraordinarily good at this, if you read one of his papers it will say “Here is an interesting question, we got some data, we ran the simplest possible test on it to see what’s going on and it sure looks like something is happening.  Of course that is a very unsophisticated test so we’re going to need to go and do X, Y, and Z.  When we do X we see it, when we do X and Y we see it, and when we do X, Y, and Z we see it.”  Building up from the simplest possible test suggests that there is something interesting going on here, and then you bring in the more sophisticated econometrics to tease that out.

I have gotten in the habit of starting to write my papers earlier as opposed to later.  Once you found that there is something going on in the data, start writing the paper.  I’m not averse to writing an abstract before I write the paper.  I think that keeps me focused on what this paper is doing and what I expect to find.  You’re obviously going to change that abstract a lot, but having that abstract in mind from day one is a helpful discipline.  I frequently tell my students to go write an abstract of what they think this paper is about when they start a project.

All your papers seem use very sophisticated Econometric methods.  How did develop your research methods’ skills, and how do you keep up on them?

It’s an important lesson for students to get as tooled up as possible during your course work, those are the skills that are going to carry you through to tenure.  You can keep building on those skills but if you don’t have a decent foundation you’re dead.  MIT forces you to do this, so I can’t attribute this to anything other than being forced to do it, but I’m glad I took some pretty tough classes because it brought me out with a set of skills that I could then build on.  If you don’t have those skills to start there’s no way you can generate them “on the job” while trying to get tenure.

Many of your papers have become influential in policy decisions.  Could you discuss the ways your research has been applied in the real world?

Again, the joy of this job is that you get to work on problems you find interesting.  I have tended to gravitate towards problems that are talked about in industry journals.  We had some influence on policy associated with peer-to-peer networks and that was just because I thought there were a bunch of interesting questions on how these networks should be arranged and organized and we went out and looked at those.  I think we’ve had some influence on whether legitimate digital distribution channels cannibalize your physical sales or cannibalize piracy.  I started off that paper comparing a quote from Steve Jobs who said, “You’ll never be able to stop piracy, what you have to do is compete with it”, with another person in the industry who said, “You can’t compete with free, that’s an economic paradigm that doesn’t work.”  So here we have these two very bright, very prominent people saying completely different things.  The question is what really happens in the world and those are the sort of topics I find fun.  I also think they end up being more broadly influential.

In addition to your many journal publications, I counted about 5 or 6 pages of conference publications as well.  Some professors seem to encourage heavy conference submission/presentations, and others shy away.  What is your philosophy on the benefits of conferences, and what advice can you give on how to get the most out of conference attendance/presentations?

There’s obviously a balance.  Getting more conference publications is not going to get you tenure, at least in IS, computer science is a little bit different.  Going to a conference for me is either (A) there is a paper I want to work on and this is going to force me to work on it or (B) this is an important and influential conference and I want to make sure I’m getting my work in front of important and influential people. I’ve tried to be intentional about cultivating a set of people who are in the IS/Economics community so I go to the Workshop on Information Systems and Economics (WISE) every year, I go to the International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS) every year, and then I’ve tried to go to other disciplinary conferences where there is some intersection.  For example conferences like Marketing Science, or the International Industrial Organization Conference where there are people interested in work at the interface with IS who I can get my work in front of. But you need to recognize that going to more conferences, at least in IS, is not going to get you tenure, it’s all about “A” publications.

What research are you working on currently?

Right now we are looking at whether digital distribution channels cannibalize sales in traditional retail channels and whether digital distribution reduces piracy. The conventional wisdom today is that digital channels are going to cannibalize physical sales, but you are never going to recover from pirated products.  We’ve tried to look for opportunities to study this phenomenon.
We started by collecting data on piracy, and collecting data on DVD sales at Amazon and waiting for an appropriate event.  The event we used was NBC taking all of their content off of iTunes, which offers a great natural experiment.  We have all these people who are cheerfully buying on iTunes and now we can see where they go.

The short answer is statistically none of them go buy DVD’s at, and a whole bunch of them go to piracy.  There is about an 11.5% increase in piracy which is about twice as large as the number of sales that NBC was getting on iTunes.  You can start to play around with a bunch of interesting questions such as why is it the case that consumers seem to choose between legitimate digital purchases and illegitimate digital downloads and not between legitimate digital purchases and legitimate physical purchases.  We’re playing around with a bunch of topics that come out of those questions such as what other settings in which this might this be true, and other setting in which might this not be true, and what types of content are you most likely to buy vs. pirate.

Check back for part four of this interview. Dr. Smith will discuss his perspective on teaching and his thoughts on Information Systems as a discipline.


Interview with Mike Smith – Part Two

Part Two:  Interview with Mike Smith – Associate Professor of Information Systems and Marketing, Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University

This interview began in part one discussing Dr. Smith’s graduate student experience and job search.  In this session we will continue where we left off with Dr. Smith, and discuss his experience as a faculty member.

Faculty Experience

What was your experience like as a new faculty member?  Would you do anything differently?

The hardest thing to learn I think is balancing your time, especially balancing your time between research and teaching.  In particular, teaching a class for the first time is just brutal.  It is very hard to learn how much material you need to bring to class to get through an hour-and-a-half.  I would tend to bring about five hours of material for an hour-and-a-half class.  I think a much better approach is to ask questions of the class to get discussions going.  I think the students will enjoy it more, and paradoxically it is easier to teach that way.  Learning how to teach is really hard, and there is no substitute for experience.  If I could go back and do it all over again with what I know now, I’d have more time for doing research.

How did you balance your new teaching responsibilities with research early in your career?

I took a strategy from my consulting days. As a consultant you have to fill out a time card that says “what did I do today” and “which client gets charged for those hours.” To this day I keep a time card of the time I spend on classes and on research and on administrative tasks, and I try to be honest with myself that I can’t bill “goof off” time to anyone.

In the consulting world, partners frequently limit the number of hours you can bill to a client and I try to limit the number of hours I spend on administrative tasks per week to less than 4 and try to get in a certain number of research hours each week. The result is that you need to get your class planned in a limited amount of time — which is good because teaching can suck up all of your time. This is because it is frequently easier to plan classes than to write papers and we have a tendency to focus on what is easiest on our “to do” list instead of the “hard/painful” things. This strategy also gives me some accountability at the end of the day/week to look back on what I have done and evaluate how focused I was relative to my goals.

Congratulations on your recent tenure!  Do you have any advice on thinking preparing for the tenure review now that you’re on the other side?

The letters are more important than you think.  When you put your tenure case forward the Dean will send out letters to prominent people working in areas aligned with yours and ask them for their opinion about whether you should be granted tenure.  Having those people be familiar with your work turns out to be pretty important.  One of the things I was very intentional about almost from the first day on campus was having a list of potential letter writers and making sure that I met them at conferences and making sure that they were familiar with my work.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sending prominent faculty members who are interested in your work your paper and saying “I’ve just finished this paper, and it’s on a topic related to your research and I thought you might find it interesting.  Here’s a two sentence summary of what I do, feedback is appreciated.”  Ninety-nine percent of the time they won’t read the paper, but usually they will read the email, and recognize that it looks like you are doing interesting work in your area.  I think it is also the case that you need to go out and shake hands at conferences.  In a polite but intentional way, make sure that the prominent people in the field know who you are and know what you’re doing.

For the Dean to promote you to associate professor they will probably want to ask for letters from full professors, and to promote you to full will probably ask for letters from chaired professors.  So that’s not a bad starting point to think about who are the full professors and who are the chaired professors who might be interested in your work and who might be able to say that you are doing outstanding work in this area.  You should also cover both your core discipline and any relevant reference disciplines. In my case my work sits at the interface between the interface between information technology (IT), economics, and marketing, so I wanted to have a core group of IT faculty, a core group of economists, and a core group from marketing who were familiar with my work.

Check back for part three  of this interview.
Dr. Smith will discuss his perspective on research.

Interview with Mike Smith

Interview with Mike Smith – Associate Professor of Information Systems and Marketing, Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University

Michael D. Smith is an Associate Professor of Information Systems and Marketing and co-director of the Center for Digital Media Research at Carnegie Mellon University, with appointments at the Heinz College’s School of Information Systems and Management and the Tepper School of Business. He received his Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering (summa cum laude) and his Masters of Science in Telecommunications Science from the University of Maryland, and received his Ph.D. in Management Science and Information Technology from the Sloan School of Management at MIT.

Dr. Smith’s research relates to analyzing structure and competition in online markets and substitution effects between legitimate digital distribution channels, piracy channels, and physical channels for media products. His research in this area has been published in leading Management Science, Economics, and Marketing journals and covered by popular outlets including The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Sloan Management Review, The New York Times, Wired Magazine, Time Magazine and Business Week. He also jointly conducted some of the first academic research into the social welfare impact of increased product variety in Internet markets. This work was cited in Chris Anderson’s bestselling, and artfully titled, book “The Long Tail.”  (more bio)

We had a chance to interview Professor Smith about (1) his graduate student experience and job search, and (2) his faculty experience, as well as (3) his perspectives on research and (4) his perspectives on teaching and the field of Information Systems as a discipline.  We will be breaking this interview into these 4 sections to give readers a chance to read and discuss them in smaller chunks.

Warm Up:  5 Fun Facts

What do you do in your free time?

I used to like to read, now the little free time I have, I enjoy spending with my wife and my kids.

How old are your children?

I have two boys, ages eight and ten, and a little girl who’s five, or five-and-a-half as she would point out.

What paper are you most proud of?

Probably a paper I co-authored with Erik Brynjolfsson and Jeffrey Hu called “Consumer Surplus in the Digital Economy.” When we wrote the paper, most of the discussion about the Internet focused on how consumers benefitted from the lower prices they could find online. We estimated the value consumers receive from being able to find products that aren’t stocked in brick-and-mortar stores, and found that the consumer surplus gains from increased product variety are about 10 times higher than the consumer surplus gains from lower prices on the Internet. Chris Anderson picked up on this idea in his “Long Tail” article and book.
I like the paper because it is rigorous, but it is also relevant in the sense that it is making an important point about the value consumers receive from Internet access.

What is your most memorable experience as a graduate student?

It might be getting the phone call that I had passed the general exam. I was pretty sure I had failed.

What times of the day are most productive for you?

I’m most productive early in the morning.  I try to keep the thinking tasks for the morning, and the answering email tasks for the afternoon and evening.

Graduate Student Experience

Can describe what the process was like for you in your decision to get your PhD, and what lead you to come to academia?

Out of my undergraduate degree I went into a rotational job with GTE, it was sort of a management training program where they give you three different six-month assignments.  In my third assignment we were trying to sell telecommunications products to large businesses.  One of clients was the local school system, and we did some technology training for them.  I led up the training, and after the training my boss said, “You’re missing your true calling, you really need to go back into academia.” I hope he was saying that because he saw something light up in my eyes when I got to teach, and then do detailed research.  I’m forever grateful to him, because I continue to love academia in a way that I was not enjoying the work world.  I was being successful and rising up, but I wasn’t really passionate about it.  Being a professor is a job that I really love.

What was your experience like going through your PhD at MIT?  How did you go about finding your strengths and weaknesses, and differentiating your research from other research on the market?

I went to MIT to interview and talk with the faculty and to get a feel for what the environment was like and had a chance to sit down with Erik Brynjolfsson who ultimately became my advisor. Erik has a famous paper called “Bundling Information Goods” that at the time was still just a early draft. During our meeting, he sketched the model on the board and explained what he was trying to do with it and I just fell in love with that type of research.  It was one of those “wow, I really want to do that” type of experiences.

In terms of strengths and weaknesses, a colleague commented that I have “good taste in research questions.” I think this comes from wanting to do relevant research and working hard to keep up with both the academic and practitioner literatures. In fact, most of my research starts with a quote or a question from a practitioner outlet or the popular press.

What was your experience like with your advisor?  Do you have any advice on getting the most from the advisee/advisor relationship?

The advising process is supposed to be a mentorship, or “learning a trade” type of experience.  I would encourage students to pay attention to what their advisor does that’s gotten them to the place they are.  Ask questions, and watch carefully.  One of the many things Erik is good at is being very focused on “what question is this paper trying to answer” — and then staying focused on answering that question in the paper.  He’s also fantastic at presenting his work, and I learned a lot from him that I still use today.

Job Search

What was the job search experience like when you came on the market?

I came out right at the height of the bubble, so it was a very good job market, and obviously that’s not what students are facing today.  The one thing I didn’t realize about the job market is that although it is mostly about finding a job, it is partly about publicizing your work to the market that will be evaluating your work six to nine years after that when you’re up for tenure.  It’s partially about getting your work in front of the important people in your discipline so they can see it, and hopefully hire you.  There were a couple fly-outs that I turned down that if I could go back again I would have taken.  They were jobs that for location reasons I was not going to take, but in hindsight there was probably some benefit to going out and presenting my work to those folks.

How did you ultimately choose Carnegie Mellon over other opportunities that you had?

I was really compelled by Ramayya Krishnan’s vision for this place and his passion for Carnegie Mellon.  I was fortunate enough to have offers from other great places, but I was really inspired by what Krishnan wanted to do here in terms of building a department that could work at this interface between business and public policy on technology problems.  I have not regretted one bit of it.  Carnegie Mellon has lived up to all of my expectations in terms of being an intellectually stimulating environment and in terms of being a great opportunity to teach really bright students, and Pittsburgh also has been a very good location for my family.

What advice would you give for students now heading out into a difficult job market?

Network. Faculty are busy. They will be getting hundreds of applications and you want yours to rise to the top. A conversation at a conference between you and someone on the faculty or a call from your advisor to someone on the faculty can make that happen.

You’ve also got to differentiate your work, and your passion for your research topic has got to come across in your job talk.  I think it’s also important that your job talk be both rigorous and relevant. About 30% of the audience in your talk will appreciate the rigor — and using the right methods is a must to convince these folks that you belong at their University. The other 70% will mostly evaluate your presentation on whether the question is interesting and a useful contribution to the literature.

Obviously it’s a hard job market, but in selecting you should still place a high premium on a place that is going to let you do your research, and a place that is going to keep your teaching load as low as possible.  But again, I don’t envy folks going out on the job market now; it’s a tough job market.

Check back for part two of this interview.
Dr. Smith will discuss his experience as new faculty member and his
thoughts on the tenure process.

Interview with Bob Galliers 2/3

9351871Marco: That’s a very hard job.
Galliers: It’s a hard job and it does take a little bit of handling in terms of time management. I’m fortunate in that I have quite a lot of energy. While I might be tired from an overseas trip, I don’t really get jetlag. I suppose I’m so used to travelling that somehow I can recover from a long journey. I was in the UK last week. I flew out in the morning and got here in the afternoon. I was in the office by the afternoon, having spent some time on the plane writing a report of an accreditation of another business institution.
On Thursday, I fly out back to the UK and will be visiting Queen Mary College University of London to talk about the role of the arts and sciences in business education; a kind of experiment that we’ve been working on here at Bentley because Queen Mary have a transdisciplinary ethos, which is somewhat similar to ours. And then on Monday, we’ll be at Warwick talking about a new handbook in the Oxford University Press series. It will be called The Oxford Handbook on Management Information Systems that I will be editing with Wendy Curry who’s a professor at Warwick. Then on Tuesday, we’ll be giving a talk to MBA students at Brunel Business School in London about doing applied research projects as part of their MBA qualification. I’m a visiting professor at Brunel and at the London School of Economics and at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
Again, one interacting with colleagues in different parts of the world, and students who are taking masters or doctoral programs is interesting and fascinating. It adds another dimension to your life, but on the other hand, it gives you the ability to test out ideas and to see whether those ideas actually work.
Marco: I think you know pretty well the PHD programs in Europe and the United States. Many PHD students don’t know exactly if they need to get a PHD in the U.S. if they want to work in a U.S. university, because, for example, in Europe PHD programs are sometimes 3-year programs, while here they are usually 4 or 5-year programs. So do you think that there is a huge difference in terms of what I can offer to a university? Whether they will hire me if I don’t get a PHD in the United States? Are there other requirements that are more important such as annual publications? What do you think about this?
Galliers: Well, I think there are a number of issues than that for the individual PHD student. I think the most important thing is to get their PHD. But in so doing, they can be publishing as well. Then I think that puts them on a really firm footing to get a better chance of getting a position at any university in the world. In my field of information systems, if they have published in one or more of the major journals, if they’ve been able to represent at one of the major international conferences in the world, then they’re demonstrating that they’re able to publish, on the one hand, that their work has been assessed by international referees. But, two, they are building up an opportunity of making something of a network. They are becoming known in the Academy.
When I did my PHD, I was fortunate enough to have, I think, something like 13 publications as a result of doing my PHD studies. Now, I did my PHD later in life. I’d previously not been an academic, so it was very important for me to be able to publish and to get my PHD almost at the same time. But the technique that I adopted was, in a sense, to work out what the research was all about, what my dissertation would look like, and then write articles which could then be edited into a dissertation.
Marco: And then put them together.
Galliers: Rather than writing a dissertation and then trying to get a journal article out of it. And my argument there was in the British system; I did my PHD at LSE. So in the British system, almost the litmus test is: Is this material publishable? Are there two or more articles that could emerge from this PHD? Well, I had demonstrated that because I already had 13 articles published as part of my PHD. SO, therefore, I was challenging my examiners to dare to fail me. How can you fail me when others have already identified that this work is good enough to be published?
But, more seriously, if you already have articles published, then, one, you’re visible in the Academy, and, two, you’re making yourself known as a serious player and someone that any university around the world should be interested in. And if you’ve published in some of the American journals, even if you’ve got a doctorate from another country, then in a sense, it doesn’t matter what system you came through as much.
Now, at Bentley, what we’ve tried to do is to combine the best of the European tradition or perhaps the best of the non-North American tradition with the best of the North American tradition. When you mentioned 5 years as being common in North America, that’s true, but it’s true that in many institutions in North America, there will be 2 years of course work followed by a comprehensive exam, then two or so years of research. But in the European system, you may be doing 3 or 4 years of research. So which is better? It’s different.
I would say that the strength of the North American system is the training that you get in research methods and so on as part of your course work. But I’d say that the strength of non-North American traditions is the training that you get in actually doing research. So if you combine those two strengths, then you have a really program, and that’s what we try to do here, so that not only are our students taking coursework, but they have a supervisor and the beginnings of a doctoral committee, as it’s called in the U.S., from the very beginning.
We’re encouraging them and requiring them to publish as they go along, so that when they have gone through their comprehensive exams, they’re not suddenly stopping and thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve finished my coursework, now I’ve got to think about doing some research.’ But they’ve already thought about that and applied their knowledge from the coursework into their planning for a program of research.
One of the weaknesses of the North American system, particularly in business, is the syndrome of ABD (all but dissertation). Well, we don’t want our students all but dissertation. As a European, I find it remarkable for anyone to talk about being a PHD all but dissertation because that is the PHD in the European system. So we’re trying to avoid that and also give our students the best opportunity we can to ensure that they really are the kind of PHD graduates that any institution the world over would be interested in.
So I think the answer really is to demonstrate that one is able to publish. One of the other problems though with many PHD programs is that sometimes PHD students are simply used as teaching assistants. Now, it’s important that PHD students get opportunities to teach. I can remember the first time I taught in a classroom, I was like a deer in the headlights. It’s pretty scary. I had no training whatsoever. And even though I had, prior to taking a PHD and getting into academia, as a consultant, I’d make presentations, and I’d even supervised some master’s projects. So I had some background, but that first time I was in a classroom, teaching my course, it was scary. I felt very unprepared for it. I think most PHD students feel that way.
What we’re trying to do here at Bentley is to have a series of workshops during the coursework period so that our PHD students begin to get some techniques in teaching and get some help in becoming a professor. And in their third and fourth years, they actually have an opportunity to teach a class. Rather than be at someone else’s beck and call to do some marking or prepare some materials or whatever it is, they’re actually being trained to teach and gain some experience of teaching as part of their doctoral program. I think that’s a little bit different from many institutions.
One of our PHD students here said something along the lines of, “I’m not just a slave.” I don’t think that was quite the terminology that she used, but a professor’s slave or something like that. That’s not what we’re about. What else can I say? Is that it?

Interview with Bob Galliers


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?

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 ) 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.

Interview with Prof Kevin C Desouza

Prof Kevin C Desouza is on the faculty of the Information School at the University of Washington. He is a Director and founding faculty member of the Institute for Innovation in Information Management (I3M) and the Institute for National Security Education and Research, both housed at the University of Washington. His most recent book is Managing Knowledge Security (Kogan Page, 2007). In addition, he has published over 100 articles in practitioner and academic journals, and frequently keynotes at international academic conferences and industry conventions. Dr Desouza has advised major international corporations and government organizations worldwide on strategic management issues ranging from knowledge management, to competitive intelligence, and crisis management. He is a fellow at the Royal Society of Arts… And… he only got his doctorate in 2006.

We had an opportunity to interview him. The first “answer” is a quick briefing about Prof Desouza from more of a personal side, which I learned from informal discussions and talking with his friends. Thought they are interesting enough to share as a warm-up.

  • Nationality: Indian, Grew Up in Doha, Qatar. Moved to the US in 1996, has traveled to over 25 countries…
  • Enjoys rugby, football (not American but the real football), and wine…
  • Spends his free time learning more about the art of wine making and touring wine regions of the world…and enjoys watching rugby and football….
  • Best time to do writing and intensive research work: between 4 AM and 9 AM…when the mind is fresh…
  • Does not have Internet or Cable TV at home…When he gets home he relaxes by enjoying good food, wine, and the company of good friends…
  • Is surprised to be a “star” and is humbled by the recognition. He argues: “There are many other individuals who have a more impressive profile than myself.”

Now the “official questions”… PS: Thank you, dear site visitors, for suggesting questions for the interview.

Can you talk a bit about your current research projects?

Sure. I am currently pursuing two related research streams. The first is to get a deeper understanding of how organizations innovate and manage their intellectual assets. This research stream draws heavily on my prior work in the area of knowledge management. The focus of this work is to understand the process of organizational innovation. I am particularly interested in understanding how organizations secure their competitive advantages from innovation by (1) superior customer engagement, (2) effective integration with business partners, and (3) embedding security programs to protect their intellectual assets.

The second research steam seeks to examine information-based organizational fragility. Information management can make or break an organization. Unless an organization manages its information and knowledge in an optimal manner, it is likely that it will operate inadequately. In this research project, I am developing a conceptual framework that examines how the lack of robust information and knowledge management practices at various levels (the information sources, analytics used to process information, interpretive methods applied for sensemaking, and the calibration of actions) leads to breakdowns within organizations and in networked settings (i.e. collaborations across organizations). To date, I have examined breakdowns in several cases including: (1) the US Intelligence Community’s failure to estimate Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) capabilities, (2) the current challenges of the USIC as it re-designs itself to operate as a public sector network under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and (3) stakeholder interactions that led to the collapse of the Seattle Monorail Project. The goal of this work is to develop both applied and theoretical knowledge on information-based organizational fragility.

Each of these projects is aimed at contributing new theoretical insights, while also designing applied knowledge that can be appreciated and utilized by executives. The first project will arrive at new methods and frameworks to manage innovation in organizations. The second project will provide an understanding of the impacts of information and knowledge management on organizational fragility. The findings from this project can be used by crisis managers to plan for adverse effects, by IS managers to make business cases for investments in IT and conduct process improvements, etc. The second project has already received seed funding from government sources, and once we do the initial work, I am hoping to get private enterprises involved.

Can you share your views on how you interact with organizations and get them to participate in your research?

As an applied field, we have an obligation to take our stakeholders seriously when we conduct research. To my frustration (and I know that I will upset a few people by saying this), the IS field has a long way to go in this regard. Most of the research that gets published in our most respected journals seldom makes an impact to practice. Theory development and theory testing seems to be the predominant focus of many. I believe that theory is important but it should not be viewed as the end product of a research project. Theory is a means to an end. The end should be developing value-added practices for our stakeholders (business, government, non-for-profits, and society at-large). If we do not impact society, we are wasting valuable resources and energies. Only through making positive impacts on society, crafting innovative businesses and management approaches, and empowering individuals to recognize and take advantage of the transformative power of information technologies, will we make a difference!

With this view in mind, I place great emphasis on interacting with the stakeholders of my research. Here are a few examples. In 2006, I was invited by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia to Bled to European Strategic Forum to meet with Heads of States, Elected Officials, Senior Government Officials, Policy Makers, Business Leaders, and Entrepreneurs of the European Union to discuss the changing nature of innovation and power in a global context. During the three day summit, I not only learnt about how critical is the role of information systems in the transformation of economies, but also realized that most of policy makers have no knowledge, not even awareness, about the research being conducted in the IS discipline. This year, I have had the opportunity to meet with about five executive boards of leading organizations in emerging markets (e.g., in South Africa, I presented to the senior executives of First National Bank (FNB) on the invitation of the CEO). During each of these discussions, I came away with new problems that need scholarly attention yet are not conducive to publication in top-tier journals. The reason for this is simple – these problems need approaches and methods that are focused on creating value rather than reporting on what has transpired.

It is common to think of consultants or practitioners as the ones who have the responsibility to develop innovative practices in industry. I know of quite a few senior scholars who make statements like, “do not be a consultant focus on theory”. In my opinion, such thinking is not only short-sighted but will negatively impact the growth of our field. We need to develop theory, yes, we do. However, we also need to ensure that we take this theory and actually make an impact to practice. Else, why is there a need for theory! Theory in itself has limited value, even though some claim that there is nothing as practical as good theory. Good theory is just good theory. Now, whether the theory can help change businesses, positively impact stakeholders, and advance society, should not be left to chance, wishful thinking, or be relegated to something that consultants do. We have a responsibility to ensure that our theoretical contributions are making a difference. After all, society funds universities and subsidizes a lot of our research (especially if you are in a state or government institution). Why should they continue to invest in us if we do not deliver knowledge of value to our stakeholders!

During discussions with colleagues I very often see that many just can’t get to the data for their research. It seems that companies are more and more reluctant to share their views with academics. What do you think the reasons are for this? How have you been successful in getting organizations to allow you into their premises, and more importantly, how do you manage to engage senior executives in your research?

Executives get frustrated when they sense that all you are doing is trying to get a paper published at their expense, rather than fundamentally helping their organizations advance.

Here are some simple rules that I follow when involving stakeholders in my research:

  1. The stakeholders are your customers and you owe them actionable knowledge.
  2. View the problems/issues from the eyes of your stakeholder first, and only then from the theoretical lens.
  3. Work with your stakeholders to refine the problem statements and co-create solutions.
  4. Be respectful and mindful of the pace of business and do your best to provide actionable knowledge under severe pressures of time and resources.
  5. Always provide value to your stakeholders as they have contributed their valuable time and resources.

I am always mindful of the time that executives give me and I never take it for granted. I make it a point to report back to executives no later than 10 weeks from the time that I have engaged them in a conversation, interview, or collected data from their organization. Further, I write up an executive briefing first, before I begin to craft a paper for an academic journal.

In terms of process for engaging them in the research, the answer is “it depends on the problem”. But, in most cases, I try and have an informal phone or face-to-face conversation with executives who are close friends of mine. I use this as a process to vet my research problem and ensure that it is one that has traction and merits executive consideration. Then, I ask them to recommend colleagues who might be interested in the research. Executives have vast personal networks, and many are willing to share their contacts, if they trust your work integrity and believe in the research exercise. After I assemble a base of organizations and executive support, I then construct a research briefing. This consists of the problem statement, expected research approach, and expected results. I then present these to executives who share their feedback and we jointly refine the problem statement. Next, the research gets executed. Most of the time, I send out weekly updates to my research stakeholders updating them on progress and coming milestones. After completion, I schedule a conference call or in several cases, an organization will be willing to host a workshop with their key people, where the research results are presented, discussed, and refined further. I wish I could say that crafting an academic journal paper happens simultaneously, however, it seems that this is just what I hope for now. So, after reporting-back to organizations, comes the task of crafting an academic journal paper. And if I may add at this point, stakeholders that you need to tackle with equal professionalism are the journal editors and reviewers.

I firmly believe that engaging deeply and seriously with our stakeholders makes research enjoyable and impactful. Simply put, you will not get a deep appreciation of the environmental context in which problems reside and solutions must appropriate in, without engaging with your stakeholders. I also think you will be able develop more interesting papers for submission for academic journals, as you will have better stories to tell and a richer understanding of the contextual details surrounding a theoretical model or framework.

Can you talk about your mentors? Who has had the most influence on your work and your approach to IS research?

I have never had formal mentors in research training. Most of what I have learned about research has come from trial and error; however, I hold a few scholars as role models. These scholars influence the kind of research that I undertake. Let me share three of my role models, in no particular order:

  • Professor Richard (Rick) T. Watson, J. Rex Fuqua Distinguished Chair for Internet Strategy, Department of MIS, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia
  • Professor Robert (Bob) D. Galliers, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Bentley College
  • Professor Omar A. El Sawy, Professor of Information Systems, Department of Information and Operations Management, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California

I met Rick Watson during my doctoral studies, while he visited the University of Illinois at Chicago. I was immediately impressed by his dedication to reforming the manner in which we as a discipline conduct MIS research and teaching. Rick presented on reducing waste in academic teaching and scholarship. Privately, Rick and I had a chance to share a pint (and tasty fish and chips) while he took a break from touring houses built by Frank Lloyd Wright. During our discussions, I not only got to know him as a friend, I also got to know him as a scholar who wanted to make changes to our field. Advocating for change requires a lot of courage and the ability to tackle “big problems.” Rick conceptualized the Global Textbook project (to which I continue to contribute and to which I urge all of you to consider contributing also).

Bob Galliers and I met during an ISOneWorld event in Las Vegas, also during my doctoral studies. We shared an enjoyable dinner, after which he dropped me a very nice thank-you note. Bob and I continued to exchange emails as I completed my doctoral studies. He took part in two ICIS panels that I had the privilege of chairing. I have come to respect Bob’s view on crafting and managing IS strategy. He is one of the first people within the IS discipline (of whom I know), who has called for greater appreciation of diversity of research methodologies and frameworks and for a trans-disciplinary (inter-disciplinary) approach to IS research [See the book he co-edited with Lynne Markus and Sue Newell, Exploring Information Systems Research Approaches (Routledge, 2006)]. His work at Bentley College has been nothing short of marvelous and he continues to contribute in numerous ways to the IS field.

I met Omar El Sawy during the same conference as Bob. Omar and I chatted briefly as he was running to catch a flight back to Los Angeles. We then exchanged a series of emails, and like Bob and Rick, he also joined the ICIS panel that I chaired in Las Vegas. Omar is a world-class IS scholar. I have read almost all of his papers, and in my opinion, they are nothing short of fantastic. Omar cares deeply about making a difference to business and taking our business stakeholders seriously. He continues to be a scholar I would like to emulate; he has been able to contribute to the rigorous development of theory, while ensuring that his work makes a significant impact on business. He has won numerous awards from the Society for Information Management (SIM). The word that comes to mind when I think of Omar is “reverberation.” Omar’s research reverberates, meaning it spins off new lines of inquiry and makes shifts in the IS field.

Now, I will briefly mention a couple of other people who have acted as my role models. John King, who I first met at the Academy of Management (AOM) Doctoral Consortium in New Orleans, first introduced me to the concept of Information Schools. Samer Faraj, who I also first met the AOM Doctoral Consortium, has impressed me with his research and attitude toward developing scholarship, both his own and others, as a reviewer and editor. There are many more people who have influenced me but I have not mentioned here.

Each of you should choose your own role models and try to emulate the good in them.

How and why do you travel so much? How do you get time to do your research with all the travel?

I love to travel. Traveling provides me the opportunity to learn and explore. You get so much more out of being in a country then reading about it. Luckily for me, and I am thankful for this every day, about 80% of my travel is related to my research. In my opinion, you cannot study applied problems and not go to organizational locations. I hence travel to meet executives and organizations. The other reason I travel is to give research presentations and meet colleagues at universities and research institutes around the globe. I actually do most of my writing and deep reflective thinking while on airplanes. This works for me. I have on occasion, even acknowledged the airlines in some of my writings. For example, in the acknowledgement section of my book, Agile Information Systems: Conceptualization, Construction, and Management, (Boston, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006), I write: “…for the last few months as I prepared this book, I have had an unusually busy travel schedule. During this time, I have been on over 40 flights all of which have been on United Airlines. I did most of the work for this book while on flight, and it is fitting that I extend my sincere warm gratitude to all of the airhostesses who made my travels safe, calm, and peaceful. I would not have completed this book on time if not for their generosity and kindness. As scholars, we are uniquely and generously blessed with the ability to travel to places to explore phenomenon. I would not have it any other way…

We thank Prof Kevin Desouza 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.