Archive for the ‘msis’ Category

IS Research in Real World Organizations   1 comment

Lisa Kleinman, a doctoral student in IS at University of Texas-Austin, recently asked the AISWORLD Information Systems World Network mailing list for advice on getting research projects running in real-world organizations.

Lisa compiled all of the responses and created an information page. If you do IS research, or any sort of real world research where you want to get your nose into an existing corporation or organization, there’s some good advice here.

With permission, I’m replicating the page here, in case Lisa’s personal web page disappears from the Internet some day:

Obtaining (Academic) Research Access from Organizations
This web page is intended to help doctoral students with the process of obtaining access to conduct data collection with a real world organization. I am a doctoral student who is currently trying to access four Fortune 500 companies to conduct a survey with their employees and make observations while job shadowing.

The information summarized here is mainly drawn from the wisdom of readers on the ISWorld mailing list who were generous enough to share their insight into this process with me. If you would like to be given credit for your response, please let me know and I will add a citation. Also, feel free to contact me if you have additional resources or advice to add to this page.

1. Published Resources on Research Access
Rymer, J. & Rogers, P. (1993). How researchers gain access to organizations. Business Communication Quarterly, 56, 42-48.

  • This paper has four vignettes where researchers describe in detail their experience with gaining research access. In one case the individual already works for the organization but wants to collect data for his dissertation simultaneously, in another case a doctoral student finds his own research site by cold-calling, the third case discusses access using family connections and the fourth describes how she focused on discussing her research with new people whenever possible in order to generate leads.

Brewerton, P. & Millward, L. (2001). Organizational Research Methods (Chapter 4: Obtaining and Using Access to an Organization), 44-51.

  • This chapter briefly summarizes the process of research access by talking about finding leads, putting together a proposal, getting a buy-in and manging the overall process.

Witman, P. (2005). The art and science of non-disclosure agreements. Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 16, 260-269. Available online here.

  • Helps researchers negotiate the process of NDAs when trying to conduct research in organizations.

Interview with Prof Kevin C Desouza on AOM-OCIS Student Site

  • Professor Desouza discusses how he achieves buy-in from organizations to carry out research.
2. Finding Leads
  • Ask your adviser and/or committee members for introductions to people they know in industry
  • Attend conferences where executives and managers are likely to be in attendance and introduce yourself
  • Utilize the connections of alumni groups from colleges you have attended
  • Utilize the connections of graduated Masters students from your college who may be in industry now (or former students you may have taught)
  • Check your Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. connections for any leads
  • Contact local community service groups/clubs (e.g. Rotary, Toastmasters) and offer to give a presentation
  • Connect with a professional organization/institution who may be able to grant you access to their member list
  • Try and get to the highest person possible in the organizational hierarchy (but not so high up that they don’t have time to consider your project and/or are concerned about the reputation of the company)
3. The One Page Proposal
  • Emphasize the direct benefits to the company in terms that they will value and understand
  • Explain that they are getting a consultant’s evaluation in exchange for their time
  • Eliminate any scientific lingo in the proposal
  • Emphasize confidentiality of the organization/employee participants
  • Discuss the “lessons learned” that your research will provide
  • Explain how risks will be mitigated (time involved, potential political problems)
  • Don’t bring up any questions that will put the company in an awkward or defensive position
  • Be sure what you can offer (e.g. a written report) will be given to them soon after data collection, not when the dissertation is complete
4. General Advice
  • Rejection by one person from the company does not necessarily mean someone else in the company can’t be of more help
  • Don’t send an attachment in your initial e-mail to a lead, people are unlikely to want to open an attachment from a stranger
  • Use every opportunity to demonstrate that you are an excellent person to work with
5. The Verbatim Responses (Uncredited)
Pardon my bluntness, Lisa, but in my experience no manager is going to read an 8 page proposal from a doctoral student whom they barely know, if at all. I suggest you write a one page proposal and include in the proposal the direct benefits to the company in terms of something that they will value. When I send my MBA students out to do case studies, I tell them to sell themselves to the company as if the company was getting a consultant’s evaluation for the price of their time. That same strategy got me entry and a grant with NASA, also. Create some ROI to the company and they will respond; well at least you will increase your chances.
Lisa,
In general it is just a tough proposition and takes time and likely multiple rejections. Given the school that you attend, it might be possible to get some introductions from Professors who already have consulting or prior research relationships.

But generically, these folks are all busy and have too much to do and too little time to do it. So your approach needs to be fairly concise. If you are working with executive levels of management, you probably need to outline your proposal in one page rather than eight.

Additionally, I always try to ensure that there is a value proposition for the company. That is, they can expect to receive some appreciable benefit for the investment in time that they do make.

But even with those suggestions, I have found it difficult although not impossible to gain access.

First thing that strikes me is your eight-page description of research. I’d bet the managers didn’t even read it, since they are chronically short in time and attention. Can you put your description in one page?

This improvement would also help you to compress your research intent into a digestible and communicable format.

Cut out all the details and focus on the essentials (e.g., drop the literature, methodology, hypotheses/expectations…). Speak in more general terms, eliminating scientific lingo. Be clear on how
your research would benefit a client organization; thus, focus on practical contributions and drop the research implications and considerations in general.

In a word, frame yourself as a consultant rather than researcher (you still are a student-researcher, formally speaking, but you act at a more mature and self-confident level that managers can more easily relate to). Your pitch: you will be providing a free piece of potentially a valuable advise.

Make sure you don’t save words in guaranteeing confidentiality of info you’ll collect (disguising persons, organization’s name; promising to sign a non-disclosure agreement; citing that you are bound by the ethical norms of academic research).

My guess is that the 8-page proposal probably scared them, or maybe had them running for legal advice. Naturally, we don’t want to deceive our participants, but it may not be necessary to disclose a lot of information that may not be relevant (I can’t say for sure not having
seen your proposal).

I was able to gain access to two different types of organizations, two electric power companies, and a submarine research and development lab. I have to confess. I had major connections with the
submarine research lab and wouldn’t have gotten within a hundred miles of the place without them.

With the power companies, it only took a casual acquaintance to get me in the door and high up in the chain of command. My situation was a bit different than yours. I was looking to conduct interviews, so I only needed about 10 people from each environment.

In any case, I think the best way in is to have/develop a relationship with someone on the inside. Schmoozing the right people can be the biggest help. I hope this helps. Best of luck with the research.

1) Go to a conference or meeting where likely prospects might be, and introduce yourself. Industry conferences, discipline-specific conferences, SIM chapters, Executive Women International, UT Alumni groups, academic departmental advisor boards, etc. Be able to explain who you are and what you are trying to do in about 30 seconds. Ask them first if you can setup 15 minutes with them to explain your project, and get on their calendar. If they won’t, ask them if there’s someone else at their organization who can help. Take along your advisor or a committee member if s/he is available. Don’t give them the 8 pages unless they ask for it. But DO explain what insights they can get from your work.

2) Send your email to someone you know at a prospective company to forward along. (UT Alumni groups might be able to help here as well. Also, ask your committee members who they know. And what about their former undergrad and master’s students, where are they working now? What about your former students? What about your Facebook lists?) Internal emails will receive more attention than external emails. Include a one-paragraph summary in the email. Make sure the attachment is small in size, or just don’t include it in the initial email. Few people will be interested in opening a document from someone that they don’t know.

Also, keep in mind that a Fortune 500 company will have many different people who could potentially help you. So a rejection by a specific individual does not mean a rejection by the company. And not hearing from a given person is more likely to reflect that they never read your email than they read it and rejected your proposal.

Finally, ask for funds if you need it, or make it optional. The higher up the corporate ladder you go, the more the issue is not their money, but how much of their time you will need.

I have worked with many companies in the past 5 years and my experience is that the shorter the description of the project the better. I personally never write a proposal longer than 1 page or that is longer that what can be shown on one screen. A proposal should explain to the business what is the question you are investigating, what data will you need from them, and what
they can learn from it. Your model(s) will probably be very different than the model (data analysis) that you will provide to the company. I wouldn’t try to explain to them exactly what models I’m running. The focus for the company is on the lessons learned. Hope this helps. Let me know if you have further questions.
8 pages is a problem Lisa – try one page with emphasis on the value proposition to them. You’re a risk with no clear reward. Show them how you will mitigate the risk (e.g., employee time is a cost, you could cause political problems for them, … ) and maximize the reward (i.e., tell them what’s in it for them). There’s other considerations but I’d need to know more about what you’re trying to do to be helpful.
My experience shows that the following are key to getting the cooperation of senior management, who are the only gate to get access to their organization:

  1. Use personal contacts to get to the highest hierarchy. It only works top down, no chance for bottom-up. Personal assistants are excellent contacts.
  2. Send VERY short research descriptions, 1-1.5 pages. they don’t have time to read 8 pages.
  3. In the executive summary you send focus on the following:
  • how they will benefit from cooperation
  • why it is not risky for their organization to cooperate
  • what they are required to invest in the process.

When (a) is high and (b) and (c) are low, plus the assistance of a trusted or close person, you might succeed. The most difficult thing, however, is to
get the attention of a (very) senior manager.

See OCIS PhD students website http://ocis.wordpress.com/, there is a very interesting interview with Dr Kevin Desouza http://ocis.wordpress.com/2008/08/25/interview-with-prof-kevin-c-desouza/ – he has some great advice to share about gaining access to those companies. And — do join the discussion if you find it interesting…
Hi: This is one of the greatest challenges we have as researchers. Here are some suggestions/questions for you to consider:

  1. Why does this have to be Fortune 500? Sometimes local orgs with ties to your institution are more amenable and just as suitable. Why do you need four sites? Can you change your research appproach to perhaps mine or or two in deeper ways?
  2. What’s in it for them? Managers of firms need to justify why they would have staff spend time on YOUR project. What possible benefit – in immediate terms – will accure to them? In other words, what relevance (in real not fake academic terms) does your proposed research have for them?
  3. How much time do you think they have? An 8 page proposal scares them off! Managers are NOT readers the way academics are. An initial one pager covering key issues from their perspective should suffice to gauge interest.

I sincerely hope this is helpful. Good luck with your research.

The most important thing to remember is that managers don’t have the time or desire to read 8 page research proposals. At the most they will read a 1 page summary and it should be written in business language (avoid all academic jargon).Personal connections are quite important to gaining access to organizations. Some other ideas that might be helpful to consider:

Ask you PhD supervisor/committee members to help you gain access – they are likely to have better contacts than you.

  1. Offer something back to the company. Be sure that what you offer doesn’t impact the independence of your research. You might offer to write up a short report at the end of the field work that would provide them with insights about all the companies where you conducted field
    work (anonymized).
  2. Be willing to open up your research design and reconsider the factors that are limiting you. For example must you study F500 companies? Do you have contacts in other companies/sectors that would make just as interesting a study? Of course you want to make your decision about
    fieldwork on more than just convenience and willingness of the company to participate, but we can often find the rationale for our choices once we have a viable company to work with.
  3. Use the prestige of the School to gain access and talk about the value to the company of partnering with the university (they can put this sort of information on their PR material). Some folks buy into the idea of helping to shape knowledge but others want to know how your study will
    help them.
  4. Find the right level of contact person – someone too high up will likely ignore it and worry about how the findings might effect the company’s reputation whereas someone too low (line level manager) will not have the authority to authorize the study and will be very busy…so
    your proposal will stay at the bottom of the pile.

Hope these ideas are helpful. Best of luck.

Three thoughts:

  1. Make your connection with someone relatively senior in the organization. You want to be in touch with someone who can approve your project and commit the resources to it. If your contact is too low, then s/he can only say “no”, never “yes.”
  2. Use your alumni relations office to identify graduates of your school. They may be more receptive to your proposals due to institutional affinity.
  3. When you make contact, do an excellent job. E.g., prepare thoroughly for meetings, follow up promptly, prepare excellent deliverables (be they memos, proposals, etc.) In other words, use every means you can to illustrate that you are going to be a good person for the organization to work with.
I’m a PhD candidate in a very similar situation. What is working for me is to offer organizations I want to work with something that’s of interest to them in the short term (i.e., not the results of the thesis in x years). It can take the form of a report or recommendations from what I have learned in their organization. I’m presenting this as a way for the organizations to better understand their own practices and thus to be able to improve them. This approach is also useful as a form of validation of the initial data analysis.
One thing that struck me in your message was the 8-page proposal. The companies that I’ve worked with have wanted significantly shorter requests – 3 pages at most (with lots of white space) but oftentimes, only 1 page. Once I’ve received the OK, the person designated as my contact has sometimes wanted more detail, but usually, nothing more than the original proposal.I suggest creating a 1-page executive summary of the proposed project that outlines what you want to do, what type of involvement is required by the company, and how the company will benefit. For example, you might organize the page into the following sections:

Introduction – 1 paragraph that describes the problem you want to address and the goal/objectives of the research.

Organizational benefits of participation – 1 paragraph about how the company will benefit. A sentence or two followed by 3-4 bullet points followed by a concluding sentence or two is all that’s needed.

Study participation requirements – here, you have 2 subsections, job shadowing and employee survey. Include shadowing requirements (How many people, how long will you follow people? Will you observe or ask questions?) and for the survey, how many people, how long to complete (I suggest aiming for 20 minutes since that usually doesn’t scare people off). You may find it helpful to include a third element – a timeline (e.g., 1 quarter for the shadowing, 1 quarter for the survey, 1 quarter for data analysis and feedback, and 1 quarter, assess benefits of ongoing research).

Conclusion – statement about absolute confidentiality for individuals and organization, along with contact info. I suggest including your advisor’s info along with yours.

Gaining access can be challenging, but field research is the most rewarding for me. Best of luck.

One of the things that I learned from doing my own dissertation research was that these managers need more than just a liking (or real interest in) your research topic. I did interviews across all employment levels of a multi-national company to study the implementation of an ERP system. What (I am pretty sure) gained me access was to point out to the General Manager (who became my ‘sponsor’ of sorts) the value to him of what I was doing. In the end, we agreed that I could do my research freely but I was to provide the GM with a short paper/report answering some of his concerns: what did the employees feel was done ‘right’, what was done ‘badly’, what should be done again/not done again in a similar initiative.Try ‘selling’ your project on its merits to the company: it may just give you that edge.
First, did you include an executive summary in your proposal? I know, from my own research experiences, that executives are too busy to read an 8-page proposal. Secondly, be persistent, but considerate. We must remember that accommodating academic researchers is not a high priority in their exceedingly busy lives. And third, do you have any contacts who might intercede on your behalf? Are there senior researchers (an advisor?) who could pave the way, so to speak? Could you make use of the school’s (or university’s) advisory council/board? Those individuals are already involved with academia, and it is more likely that they would have a personal interest in seeing you succeed.

Other creative avenues would be building rapport through local organizations: Toastmaster’s, Rotary Clubs, Country Clubs, etc. For example, you could volunteer to give a program for a Rotary meeting. Then at the end of your presentation, make a verbal request for participation. Have business cards and a 1-page outline ready to distribute. You are very fortunate — there are 14 Rotary Clubs in the Austin area. You can make contact with the clubs, explain what you need, and see if they’d be interested. This link shows meeting locations, date/times, and contract numbers for your area.
http://www.rotary.org/en/AboutUs/SiteTools/ClubLocator/Pages/ridefault.aspx?k=ClubKeywords%3AAustin&txtKeywords=Austin&start1=1

My biggest problem was the high turnover of executives in the companies in which I had already gained access. Essentially, I had to start from scratch twice, re-building relationships with those organizations after my dissertation.

In a nutshell, be concise in your explanation of the project, be specific in requesting what you need from them, and communicate what they can hope to gain from helping you. It doesn’t hurt to offer to make presentations on your results, perhaps finding a solution to an issue relevant to the executive.

Hope that helps a little. Gaining access to corporations is often difficult. Best of luck,

I saw your message on IS World and sympathize with the difficulties you’re having. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and have visited hundreds of companies, but it’s always a challenge. It mostly takes a lot of persistence and using any network that you can access. One good place to meet managers is at conferences where they are attending or giving talks. You can just walk up and introduce yourself, instead of going through all the e-mailing and phone calls just to meet them (you still have to do that to set up an appointment).
One suggestion. You said that “Using my personal network and some creative emailing, I’ve managed to get some initial nods of interest from two managers at different companies. However, I am having trouble “closing the deal.” After I’ve sent them both 8-page proposals outlining my research plans and questions, I’m not receiving any replies back.” I would send people a one page outline of your research, with another page at most of questions. A long proposal or very extensive questionnaire can scare people off. Also, leave out any questions that are likely to put them on the defensive. Save those for then end of the interview after you’ve gotten the rest of the information you need. Finally, let them know you won’t use their name or company name without their permission, and that you’ll show them what you write before publishing it in case there’s any sensitive or proprietary information they don’t want published.
The good news is that this can be the most fun part of research, talking to real people and learning from their experience. Good luck.
I don’t know if this is any help in your situation but the best thing I found was to work initially with a professional organisation (in my case the Insolvency Practitioners Institute ) and sell them on my ideas, then I was able to contact their members with their permission and support. The other important thing is to make sure the organisations you contact can see a benefit for them. In my case I targeted early career practitioners and was doing research into DSS design for a particular task, so I was able to frame it and sell it as free training. I ran my data collection sessions strictly in accordance with my research needs, then did a subsequent de-brief and interactive discussion which was all about the learning for the participants, and nothing to do with the research. I probably would suggest you cut back the proposal material also – a short zippy single page overview with an offer of more detail later if required is more likely to be read than a longer detailed story.
I’ve just been through that process (finished my dissertation one year ago), and routinely work through that issue with various clients, and various research methods (quant, case study, etc.).Several thoughts:
– In my most successful instance (my dissertation research) I was working through people I’d known in industry for some time. Even though all I was seeking was access to documents (which I would return, and which would be anonymized before publication of research) and access to people (for interviews, with no human subjects risk), there was still considerable friction, esp. due to the large company (a large bank).
– To overcome that friction, it was critical to give them a “what’s in it for them”. Even though these were people I’d known for a while, if there’s any up-chain reviews, they need to be able to explain it. So while an 8-pager is good, a 1-pager may actually serve you better, as execs won’t read 8 pages.
– What do you need from them?
– What are the risks?
– What are you doing to protect them? (confidentiality, encryption, anonymization in writing, …)
– What benefit do they get? (These could be meaningful to them as a company, as well as the altruistic “benefit to the educational system, to others, …”)

– One resource you might look at is The Art and Science of Non-Disclosure Agreements. It was intended to look at the legal aspects of these relationships, but there’s a lot of good material there about relationships as well.

Posted August 27, 2008 by padraic2112 in information science, msis, research, science, tech

New Year’s Resolution   Leave a comment

By the end of 2008 I’ll have completed the workload for my Master’s in I.S & T, and I’ll be packing an advanced degree to go along with a bucket of experience dealing with IT problems.  I’ve enjoyed the workload, and I’ve learned quite a bit even in the classes that covered material for which I already had a pretty good knowledge base.

In the last year, I’ve been thinking more and more about progressing on after the Master’s degree and buckling down for the Ph.D.  There are a lot of different reasons for this, among them the fact that I generally enjoy research and I like teaching. I’ve spent a lot of time in academia as a support member (both at the secondary and higher levels) and in business, so I’m well aware of the general differences between The Ivory Tower and Corporate America.

The tricky part isn’t the coursework; taking classes pretty much blows away my ability to have anything resembling idle time for braindead fun, but there is an entertainment value in the coursework too, so that’s not a problem (part of me wishes I had realized this back when I was working on my undergraduate degree, but I can’t say I’d willingly trade the last two decades of my life for something different, either).

No, the tricky part is the dissertation.  It’s not the work involved, mind you.  Most Ph.D. students go from their undergraduate degree straight into advanced academia and the dissertation is a pretty daunting logistical event for them.  For people like me who have had a decade plus of dealing with the task management problems of being a member of the workforce, though, a dissertation is just another project, albeit one with a significant amount of work involved.

The tricky part of the dissertation is figuring out *exactly* what you want to dedicate roughly a year of your life to producing.  Completing a dissertation shows you are one of the world’s foremost experts on something (at least it ought to show this if your academic program is any good), so you have to absorb and digest a staggering amount of detail.  It also shows that you can actually contribute to the field, so not only do you have to absorb and digest all this stuff, you have to actually be able to produce something of value out of all of it when you’re done.  Finally, if you’re considering using your Ph.D. directly (in other words, you’re going to be a researcher after you get the degree), you have to consider the fact that not only do you want to study this subject intensely enough to get your degree, you want to study it for the next 30 years or so.

When I started the Master’s program, I always considered the possibility that I would want to go on for the Ph.D.  I did think it was pragmatic to start with a Master’s, since at the time I was starting the adventure of parenthood, and I wasn’t sure that diving headlong into a Ph.D. program was either practical or responsible given my current stage of life.  However, things have turned out to line up nicely, and (although it may take a little longer than I would like) it seems reasonable that I can tackle a full-on doctorate track without severely damaging my quality of life, my relationship with my family, or my ability to earn a living in the meantime.

Practicality thus covered, I’ve finally started to give serious consideration to what the focus ought to be for my research.  Anybody who has read this blog would probably assume that I’d be working on research in InfoSec, since I do spend a lot of time reading about security and it’s a topic I generally like.  Here’s the problem… IT InfoSec research leans *heavily* towards cryptographic research, and in spite of my background in mathematics I really don’t personally find cryptographic protocol analysis to be the fascinating area of security.  The security problems I find interesting are where people and process interact with bits and hardware, like key management, audit, human-machine security problems, etc.  Sure, there’s programs where you can focus on this aspect, as well.  After careful thought, though, I decided that while I’ll always be interested in security, it’s not the subject that I would want to dedicate myself towards studying; security is a necessary part of everything you do in IT, but there’s a difference between being interested in something and being one of the few real experts.

I’ve read maybe 400 articles in IS research since I started the Master’s degree, and one of the ones that stuck most in my head is the writeup (registration required but free) of the Rimsat project that I came across in our knowledge management class.  Summary of the project writeup is here.  Crisis management and disaster response are incredibly interesting to me, have a number of unique obvious real world applications, and have ties to organizational science, security, cognitive theory, and information science.  It’s a complex problem with complex dependencies and agendas, and there’s a million things to learn and a million things to discover.

So, my resolution for this year is to read enough literature on the subject to decide for certain if this is what I want to spend the next few years focusing on, and (most likely) the rest of my working life dealing with.  Hopefully it won’t take a year to answer these two questions.  I’m not going to get a Ph.D. just to get the degree, so if I decide after careful consideration that this isn’t what I want to do, I’d like to have enough time to explore other possible subject areas before 2009 rolls around.

Posted January 9, 2008 by padraic2112 in management, msis, tech

On Culture and IT Management   8 comments

In my last post, I talked a bit about culture and how hard it is to assimilate culture. In this post, I’m going to talk about why assimilating culture, in practice, generally doesn’t matter.

We talked a lot about culture in class last night, which is a very interesting topic when held in a cross-cultural class… my current IS class has one Korean, one Nigerian, one Saudi Arabian, a Malaysian, some Chinese, a Jamaican, and four Caucasians. I don’t know everyone’s official status in regards to nationality (that is, I don’t know how many of the non-Caucasians are naturalized Americans vs. student visa holders), but everyone non-Caucasian has a thorough grounding in their native culture, so there were a lot of viewpoints in the discussion.

We were discussing a paper written in MISQ a little while back illustrating conflict problems in cross-cultural software development. Given the wide variety of destinations for outsourcing projects nowadays, some people might consider this to be a pretty important topic. I pretty much think it’s a bunch of hooey, and apparently most of my classmates agreed; the “culture of the geek” was way more important to IT workers, in our collective opinion, than anyone’s individual ethnic or religious background.

Yes, there are some obvious cultural norms that must be accepted when one is running an outsourced project, but there are cultural norms that must be accepted if you run in-house projects. Usually, these are either blatantly obvious conditions, or completely unimportant. For example, if you have a bunch of orthodox Jews on your software development team, you should pretty much plan that they aren’t going to be available on the Sabbath. Duh. If you’re in the US and you have a member of your team who hangs an Irish flag in their cubicle and wears a shirt that claims he’s a staunch supporter of “The Boys In Green”, you ought to consider it likely that he’ll be distracted during the World Cup if Ireland is in contention, and the odds are non-trivial he’ll be late to work on 18th of March, particularly if he’s young and unmarried. Unless you have someone who’s idea of “culture” is “being a racist”, the odds that this is going to really impact your team significantly is marginal.

A non-ethnic example: if you have someone on your team that has been married for, oh… say, 18 months or so, it may not be a bad idea to consider the fact that they may be asking for maternity/paternity leave, and that they may be severely sleep deprived for 4 to 8 months sometime in the next couple of years.

If you want to consider yourself a good manager, project or otherwise, you have to consider your employees as a bunch of individuals. Generalizing “by culture” is shorthand for saying, “I’m a lazy PM”. If you have a project that’s outsourced to Jamaica, shrugging your shoulders and claiming “everybody is on ‘island time'” is shorthand for saying, “I’m not interested in finding out more about how to motivate the individuals on my team” or, “Honestly, that 8 am meeting wasn’t really important, was it?”

Assimilating a culture fully (usually by immersion) is difficult and can have wonderful payoffs in understanding ethnic art, literature, and *causal* reasons for cultural norms. This is great if you’re a professor of literature, an art critic, planning a national marketing campaign in Swaziland, or just like assimilating other cultures (a goal worthy in its own right). It’s hardly necessary for your understanding of your team to the extent you need in order to motivate them. It doesn’t really matter *why* one of your team members prays five times a day, only that you take that into consideration when managing the team member. Consider it a necessary habit, and allow for it. If you’re looking to motivate someone, you don’t have to dive into their ethnic, religious, and social status like a researcher, all you have to do is talk to them.

Dipping into a culture briefly is a good idea, because you want to find out the obvious social norms. Thinking that understanding a culture is necessary to managing effectively is silly; understanding the people is necessary, but culture is only a part of the makeup of an individual.

I know pacifist Irish who don’t drink. I know Jews who go to Temple and eat bacon. I know Catholics who use birth control. I know Asians who are bad at math, but good drivers. There are independently-thinking Muslim women, Indians who don’t expect their children to become doctors or engineers, white people who can dunk, black Republicans, Montana Democrats, conservative feminists, golfers who are poor, and probably out there you can find someone under forty who doesn’t look like an idiot smoking a pipe. Take the time to get to know your people, and you’ll find lots of surprises.

Posted December 4, 2007 by padraic2112 in management, msis, social

Research Summary – Authentication Methods and e-Financials   Leave a comment

I’m working on a paper on multi-factor authentication methodologies, in the domain of e-financials (eg, internet banking, online stock accounts, etc.)

If you’re interested in reading some of the research and don’t want to spend days digging around looking for references, you can take a look at my current repository (although you’ll need some e-journal access to read the articles, at the very least you can load a decent bibliography).

For some bed-stand reading, enjoy!

Posted November 1, 2007 by padraic2112 in msis, security, tech

On the Bookshelf – Theory and Reality   Leave a comment

By Peter Godfrey-Smith, CiteULike page here. An interesting approach to philosophy of science. I’m halfway through it so far (class blog posts about it are here), so I’m not sure at this point if I’m going to like it or not, holistically, but one way or the other I find the study of scientific thought to be really interesting, and the author covers not only the philosophy of science but the historical and social context.

Posted October 8, 2007 by padraic2112 in books, msis, tech, theory

Portable Document Format: Really?   7 comments

— edited 18-Oct-2007 —

I wrote this post when I tired, and grumpy particularly at PDF more because of time wasted finding out than future time wasted.  I broke one of my own rules (#6) about blogging – although I wrote the rule about commenting it applies to posting as well.  This is still an annoyance, but I’ve been working with the workaround for a week now and it’s not that bad, really.

— end edit —

So, I was going to save this for another post, but in accordance with my UI quest, I’m currently using a Tablet PC. I didn’t jump into this project lightly; I tried out a Wacom tablet for a few weeks, then I tried a Nokia N800 (absolutely cool gadget; I’m going to be eBaying mine now that I graduated to a full Tablet PC), and now I’m using a Fujitsu T4220, and it rocks out.

But that’s not the real reason for this post, I’ll talk about the emergent wonders of tablet PCs later. The real reason for this post is this:

I wanted to get this tablet for a number of reasons, but one pretty major use case is that my graduate school career has led me to reading a lot of research. I mean, a staggeringly large number of journal articles. Since I want to do this as efficiently as possible, I thought long and hard about my processing of all this stuff and in very brief summary, here’s what I came up with.

  • I need a nice interface to read PDFs, since virtually everything available via online library databases is in PDF format.
  • I need the ability to mark them up, highlight stuff that is interesting, and store them in a digital format
  • I need to classify and meta tag them, and put them in some sort of document repository.

Well, since this is the digital age, it makes sense that I ought to read the PDFs in digital form (this is a stretch for me, I really like paper), which is facilitated by a tablet since I can actually see the page when it’s in the portrait configuration. It also makes sense that I ought to mark up the file in Acrobat, using the native highlighting and searching tools, which is also facilitated by the tablet for obvious reasons.

Here’s the problem. Apparently *every* PDF file, in every digital library, is tagged with headers, or footers, or bates numbers, or some other tag that halts the OCR recognition of the PDF file. If you google “This page contains renderable text”, you’ll see that this has been a complaint since Acrobat 6 at least. So you can’t just OCR the document and get a nice, mark-up-able document.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. There has to be a workaround, right? Of course, there is. You can manually remove the headers and try again. Oh, now there’s a footer; you can take that out too (manually) and try again. Oh, now there’s a bates number, okay, take that out too. There’s STILL some renderable text in there somewhere, well, now you can either try and edit out the blocks of renderable text (again, manually, made more entertaining by the fact that you can’t just right click on the page and say “remove renderable text”), or you can export the entire document to a graphics file (say, a TIFF), re-convert it to a PDF file (which turns the entire document into a rasterized image), and THEN run the OCR tool to get an actual mark-up-able document. This process is made more enjoyable by the fact that Acrobat will turn that 300 page dissertation you’re reading as part of your research into 300 distinct TIFF files, which you then need to recombine into a PDF file. Multiply this by 100, and you’ll see what sort of a barrier to productivity this is for me to get started organizing my existing document collection.

This is CLOSE TO THE DUMBEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN. And I’ve seen a LOT of bad design. Rather than prompting me “This document has renderable text” and giving me “Cancel” as the only option, any feature-driven developer would say, “Gosh, people get really frustrated by this. I know, because I can read the results of a simple google search. We need to change this right away! Here, I’ll make it so that you can just click ‘Treat existing renderable text as white space’ or even prompt the user to rasterize the renderable text and embed it in the document, then OCR the resulting file!”

The only conceivable reason I can imagine that this hasn’t taken place is because your lovable electronic document vendor wants to make it a colossally, enormously painful process for someone to actually do anything to the document they’re providing you to use. Thank you, electronic document vendor. You’re going to be wasting about 20% of the time that you’re saving me by giving me electronic access to this document in the first place.

Progress is grand. Collide it with self-interest, progress seems to lose out more often than not.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go get some sleep. Then I’m going to get up in the morning and go to work. Then I’m going to come home, and instead of enjoying some family time with my kids, I’m going to fart around with manual document conversion.

Posted October 5, 2007 by padraic2112 in msis, software, tech

On the Bookshelf: The Craft of Research   Leave a comment

I finished the first book for IS 360 last week, there are some blog posts about it on the class community blog.

I thought this was an excellent book for an introduction to research, and I should add “mandatory reading of this book” to the post about blogging etiquette as part of #4.

Frankly, it bothers me that logic and rhetoric are no longer part of the high school curriculum. The level of public discourse regarding research, theory, and proof in this country is horrid, and is unlikely to get better as long as it is considered acceptable to consider yourself “informed” on a topic if you’ve read a few op-ed pieces and listen to talk radio.

“The Craft of Research”, or some book like it, should be mandatory reading for college undergraduates by the time they hit their sophomore year at the least.

Posted September 17, 2007 by padraic2112 in books, msis

IS 360   Leave a comment

New class begins next Monday night -> IS 360: Principles of Information Science Research Methods.  Bibliography for the class is being added to my CiteULike page.

Yes, there is an unnecessarily verbose formal title for the class, but I have to admit I’m looking forward to this one.  Research methodology is something that is generally overlooked in the U.S. educational system; even a great number of graduate programs don’t teach people how to do research, especially scientific research.  As a non-practicing mathematician and a fan of formal logical systems, I’m looking forward to reading the books, not to mention the couple of dozen research articles we’re going to critique as part of the class.

It was nice taking the second half of the summer off, but I’m getting geared back up for gray matter training.   Graduate school is much more rewarding when you’ve been in the workforce for a while.

Posted September 4, 2007 by padraic2112 in msis, newsflash

Officially Published   Leave a comment

My co-author Chris Malek presented our paper on municipal wireless networking at IRMA a couple of weeks ago. I now officially have something to put on my CV, yay!

Posted June 12, 2007 by padraic2112 in hardware, management, msis, tech

KM Article of the Week   Leave a comment

What’s Your Strategy for Managing Knowledge?” by Hansen, Nohira, and Tierney.

I found it lacking.  Some of the links here are to the (non-public)  class wiki for my knowledge management class, if you’re reading this post and you’re curious about the references, feel free to comment as such and I’ll post the references.

Reference Information

Summary

The authors studied several knowledge management consulting companies and real-life knowledge management projects as a basis for this paper. They separate knowledge management techniques into two classes (codification vs personalization) and discuss which approach is most viable given an organization’s culture, purpose, and competitive strategy. They discuss some lessons learned and properly aligning incentive programs with knowledge management projects.

Issues

Brief History

Hansen and Nohira talk briefly about the adoption of Knowledge Management from the early 1990s until the present, discussing how advances in technology have opened up the ability to capture and codify knowledge.

Codification vs Personalization

Hansen and Nohira compare codification to personalization by explaining that codification occurs when knowledge is stored and quantified in a collection where it can be retrieved in an easy fashion by members of an organization, and personalization occurs when information technology is instead used to facilitate communication between knowledge sources, rather than storage and retrieval. Codification, then, involves taking existing explicit knowledge or capturing implicit knowledge and storing it in a system which is referenced by users, and personalization involves social networking or other methods of reducing barriers between users to enable them to better transfer knowledge between each other.

KM in the Context of Business Strategy

Hansen and Nohira posit that different corporate drivers dictate different approaches to knowledge management. The three big drivers they examine are:

For each driver, they discuss the implications of the different approaches (personalization vs codification).

Internal Project Examples vs Consulting

Several KM project examples are presented to illustrate the approaches in relation to the business context. In each case, the advantage of the approach given the business context and the particular problem is illustrated well. For example, Dell Computer’s codification strategy to maintain machine configurations is shown to be a particularly apropos use of codification for the purpose of turning a profit. In contrast, the example of Hewlett Packard’s personalization strategy works for creating value for customers due to a more complex level of knowledge that does not lend itself to codification.

Disadvantages of Straddling

Hansen and Nohira summarize their examples as, “companies that use knowledge effectively pursue on strategy predominantly and use the second strategy to support the first. We think of this as an 80-20 split: 80% of their knowledge sharing follows one strategy, 20% the other. Executives who try to excel at both strategies risk failing at both” (Hansen 112).

Aligning Incentives

Regardless of strategy, the authors stress that “real incentives – not small enticements” (Hansen 113) are required for knowledge management to succeed. However, the method of providing proper incentives should be linked to the codification or personalization strategy. A codification strategy must reward people for creating useful content, and a personalization strategy must reward people for communication skills.

Choosing Strategy

The authors provide three questions to assist executives in choosing the right strategy:

  • Do you offer standardized or customized products?
  • Do you have a mature or innovative product?
  • Do your people rely on explicit or tacit knowledge to solve problems?

Standardized and mature products benefit from a codification approach to KM, by leveraging reuse. Customized or innovative products, on the other hand, benefit more from personalization strategies.

Isolation

Knowledge management is considered isolated when it takes place in a business unit rather than part of a coordinated effort on the part of HR, IT, and the corporate strategy with CEO leadership. The authors argue that “only strong leadership can provide the direction a company needs to choose, implement, and overcome resistance to a new knowledge management strategy” (Hansen 116).

Critique

Although the article itself has several interesting points, it seems to suffer overall from an implied emphasis on top-down decision making, which is not wholly surprising in an article from Harvard Business Review. Although virtually all of the articles we’ve reviewed thus far have agreed that CEO-level support is required for knowledge management initiatives to succeed, a great many of them have as well pointed out that top-down design in KM projects leads to failure. This article seems to be written partially with the intent to “sell” the concept of knowledge management to C-level executives, and as a result there are areas where one can argue too much emphasis is placed upon executive leadership vs executive support. In particular, the section on “Isolation” with the quote given above, suggests that KM needs to be something that is guided by the CEO, as opposed to something that is designed from the bottom up with CEO support.

In addition, the section on Corporate Strategy is too limited and focused mainly upon bottom-line short term results. There are several other corporate strategies that could be major drivers for KM initiatives; for example, a company may want to establish an industry position as an innovator, or they may want to establish themselves as an industry leader in quality. It could be argued that these fall under the same strategic vision as “creating value for customers” or “turning a profit”, but there is a subtle difference in emphasis that can lead to a major difference in corporate tactical decision making in the short run.

Finally, there is little in the way of discussing the practical methods of KM adoption. As we’ve seen in other articles, knowledge management can succeed quite well on the small, business-unit or community of practice scale, which in turn can lead to an atmosphere of acceptance of KM principles organizationally. Here, however, there is a quite vivid and stark stance that KM’s best value is at the organizational level. While true, this discounts the process of adaptation and acceptance, and focuses entirely on the end state of a knowledge-enabled organization.

Posted April 25, 2007 by padraic2112 in is371, management, msis