Ten Questions Featuring Claudia Loebbecke
Friday, August 5, 2016
Posted by: Brook Pritchett
This month, we feature a conversation with Prof. Dr. Claudia Loebbecke, the Chair of Media and Technology Management at the University of Cologne, Germany. She has published extensively in IS journals, held several senior editorial roles and served as the President of the Association for Information Systems (AIS) from 2005-2006. In this feature, she discusses the commoditization of IT and the importance of cross-regional perspectives to building the IS field. You can learn more about her from www.mtm.uni-koeln.de
1. When Nicholas Carr provocatively wrote “IT Doesn’t Matter” in the Harvard Business Review in 2003, it was met with an uproar. In your recent co-authored opinion paper in the MISQ special issue on Digital Business Strategy, you suggest that commoditization of processes (as embedded within certain IT) may in fact be an inevitable cost of achieving greater efficiency and flexibility within business communities. You hint that the strategic competitive advantage from customized technology in the enterprise is being eroded and that this is not necessarily bad. Is it time to revisit the “IT Doesn’t Matter” debate?
Well, to me it is clear that IT matters, but IT does not make much of a difference and hence barely leads to a competitive advantage any longer. Clever use of IT is a competitive necessity. As every company needs to master some accounting, it must master IT. This thinking shapes my ideas for research and teaching.
With respect to research, the time windows for many IS research topics seem much shorter as global IT roll-out gets faster and faster. Nevertheless, I think we (IS researchers) should stick to our roles as IS/IT-focused thought and research leaders, rather than escape too much into other fields such as organizational behavior, ethics, psychology, philosophy and the like where we may publish, but can’t be thought leaders. If the members of the IS community do not see the point of truly IS focused research, why should department heads, school administrators and other colleagues support IS research when in competition with other fields?
With regards to teaching, I think we should not teach only the newest of the new – it may already be old before our students graduate. Our students often know better than we do about the latest technologies, especially those in graduate degree programs. As faculty, we need to teach the basics and the core concepts and make sure that students learn what they can apply five years after graduation in the face of the new technologies of that time. For instance, the teaching of sport and music starts with small exercises, in strategic management today every student studies Porter and in marketing they read Kotler. However, in IS we dropped programming and database courses and instead we started to teach whatever was hot at the time. This may be fun in the short term, but I think this is risky for us and for the students in the long term.
2. In the past, you have remarked on how different academic systems shape different elements of research practice in IS, e.g. design science. Is this still a major challenge in IS? In what ways can the IS community achieve greater coherence across multiple perspectives (e.g. European and North American perspectives, among others)?
The IS community achieves increasingly greater coherence across multiple geographic perspectives as one more streamlined and hence narrow incentive system applies across regions; e.g., one set of "counting" journals, methodologies, topics, cooperations – whatever it may be). IS community members are rather fast in hunting after a precisely defined goal. However, I do not appreciate this "greater coherence" at all. Rather the community should take advantage of cross-regional perspectives and truly appreciate "different" contributions. This, unfortunately, would require different incentive scales "at home". If all are getting degrees, "better positions", and awards based on publishing in the same outlets (which drives homogenization of work), little wonder that IS researchers in all regions and perspectives get trained for and play the same game right now.
3. The design science research community appears to be growing and gaining traction within IS. How can doctoral students and other IS researchers become part of this community?
Funny question. I think it is very easy to become part of the DS community – the true question is whether one would want to … In my eyes, today's IS Design Science does not have much in common with the kind of IS design work many continental European researchers did before the global publication mania. As soon as North-Americans (and Australians) opened up DS as decent research stream by placing "DS cooking recipes" in top journals, "we" Europeans had to and have adapted to the DS research path carved out on the other side of the pond. Talk about incentive systems!
4. What do you consider the most important / promising research questions (or research domains) of the next five years?
The following are very important IS research domains: First, preparing for true roll-out of digital goods & processes – independent of public money or donations. Second, the combination of neuroscience / biology and IS and investigating emotions. This includes advanced "Big Data" stuff, regardless of the inflationary use of the term. With respect to research areas that are promising for the careers of IS researchers, I’d say "more of the same". As long as journal publications remain the holy grail (even if we do not admit it), focus will remain on IS & ethics, trust, privacy, social impact, unemployment and other topics theoretically well-grounded in neighboring disciplines – even if almost impact-free in the real world.
5. Currently, what is your favorite class to teach? And why?
I particularly like teaching Media and Technology Management Research and Publications. In this class, I make students aware what distinguishes findings in academic journals from what they read in the trade press outlets like the Economist and the like.
6. What have you observed to be a major determinant of the productivity and research quality of doctoral students?
Perceiving competition in the field and having role models within one's research group or at conferences is very important. Also, having clearly identified and communicated career goals, e.g. focus on publications versus focus on findings.
7. Can you share one of your favorite sayings or quotes with our readers?
Same as in "the old" life applies in the digital social media world: "There is no free lunch!"
8. With respect to your career, if you were to do it all over again, what would you have done differently? Why?
Be more patient and learn more basics early on. Read more academic papers from A to Z, even if this meant screening and citing less papers in total.
9. What is your favorite memory at an AIS event (ICIS / AMCIS) or affiliated conference (ECIS / PACIS / etc.)?
For my very first ECIS presentation in 1995 I had spent at least ten hours with the drawing of one slide, struggling with PowerPoint that was rather new to me at that time. And then, a very senior professor who attended my presentation talked to me afterwards and mentioned THAT slide. Communication beats content. A lesson that seems to apply throughout the academic world – greetings from the non-native English speaker …
10. What is your most rewarding service activity? And why?
Well, my AIS presidency was a very rewarding eye-opener to me! And more generally, it is rewarding being a faculty member at a PhD or junior faculty consortium.
Finally, who would you like to see answer these questions next? And what would you like to see her / his thoughts on?
I’d like Lynne Markus to answer the following questions:
1) How do you assess the role and impact of your respective home institutions with regard to your research impact and your overall contribution over the years?
2) Top author publications in top journals do very well in research impact factor rankings (big shot authors that almost everyone has to cite). However, due to time to publish and the lengthy methodological and theoretical groundings, these articles barely get attention outside the IS research community. In other words, from a discipline perspective, the best IS authors seem to hide in their comfort zone behind the community's academic doors, away from mass media, politics, and consulting. Why is this so? Is this because of the luxury of being a community star or is it because of the separation between academic communities and real world organizations with two separate incentive schemes? The IS community should benefit from its best colleagues to represent the field and the discipline beyond its own boundaries, wouldn’t you agree? Why or why not?
David Agogo, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
For questions about this series or suggestions of who you would like to see interviewed, please contact David Agogo. Also, view more information about the column, a list of past features and links to the full interviews here.