News & Press: InSider

10 Questions with Heikki Topi

Tuesday, November 4, 2014  

Welcome to the sixth installment of our monthly section. For this edition, we are pleased to interview Heikki Topi, a leader in IS education, and a professor of computer information systems at Bentley University.


Q: What is your most rewarding service activity? And why?

A: I have had an opportunity to serve on ACM’s Education Board and Council since 2006 and in that role, I have been involved in a number of interesting and important projects. Right now I am truly enthusiastic about my role as co-chair of the task force that is responsible for revising MSIS 2006, the joint AIS/ACM master’s level IS curriculum recommendation. This gives me a chance to work with great colleagues from around the world and learn something new every day.

Q: Currently, what is your favorite class to teach? And why?

A; Right now, I enjoy teaching Bentley’s CS605 Data Management and Systems Modeling course, which brings together students from several of our specialized master’s programs, including but not limited to MSIT and analytics. It is a course that builds a strong conceptual foundation and at the same time offers practical skills that the students can put to work immediately.

Q: What is your favorite saying or quote?

A: “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” –Mark Van Doren

Q: What's one trend that you are excited about?

A: The growing realization that intelligence and innovative use of information technology can be a real force for radical positive transformation everywhere in the world, enabling sustainable development and individual learning.

Q: What is one habit that makes you more productive at work?

A: I wish there were more of them… When possible, using the early hours of the day to catch some uninterrupted work time.

Q: If you were to do it all over again, what would you have done differently?

A: Stay better focused on fewer types of projects at a time, say “no” a bit more frequently, and listen more carefully to those who are wiser and more experienced.

Q: Who has influenced your career?

A: Far too many to name, but I still want to mention three. My doctoral co-advisers and now great friends Jeff Hoffer and Joe Valacich have had an very strong and positive impact on everything I’ve done in academia. Amazingly, they continue to work with me even though I’ve made over the years many unconventional decisions; I am very grateful to them. The third and most important person is, of course, my wife Anne-Louise Klaus. It is an understatement to say that she has influenced my career – she continues to enable it every day in a number of ways and helps me remember what is truly important in life. Huge thanks to her!

Q: What is your favorite memory at an AIS event (ICIS/AMCIS) or affiliated conference (ECIS/PACIS/etc.)?

A: ECIS 2010 in Pretoria gave me an opportunity to visit South Africa again and experience in a brief amount of time a number of dimensions of this vast continent.

Q: What is something very few people know about you?

A long time ago, I used to play the balalaika in a Finnish balalaika band Siperian Muulit (The Siberian Mules).

Q: Who would you like to see answer these questions next? And what would you like to see his thoughts on? 

I would like to ask Joe Valacich to discuss his thoughts regarding the way smart use of online technologies is transforming higher education.

Bonus question from Andrew Burton-Jones: I would ask Heikki Topi what he sees as the major trends in IS curricula. 

A: Many thanks, Andrew! Let me try to be brief in addressing this broad and important question:

  • A stronger focus on defining what the core expectations and learning outcomes for an IS graduate are both at undergraduate and graduate levels while simultaneously recognizing the local needs to specialize.
  • Moving to truly global processes in curriculum development while recognizing significant regional differences.
  • Communicating the identity of IS programs better to various external audiences.
  • Repositioning of curricula to recognize the significant long-term opportunities we have in the core of Gartner’s Nexus of Forces (mobile, social, cloud and information/analytics) and the way agile and virtualization have drastically changed the practice of IS development, deployment, and operations.
  • Continuing debate regarding the role of computing, computational thinking, and application development in the IS curricula.

For more information about Heikki please visit:

Prepared by the AIS Membership Subcommittee on Doctoral Studies

Ryan Wright, University of Massachusetts
Geoffrey Dick, Georgia Southern University
Arturo Castellanos, Florida International University

For questions about this series or suggestions of who you would like to see interviewed, please contact Ryan Wright (

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