Ten Questions with Al Hevner
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Posted by: Brook Pritchett
This month, the AIS InSider features Alan R. Hevner, a Distinguished University Professor and Eminent Scholar in the Information Systems and Decision Sciences department in the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida, Tampa. Professor Hevner conducts research in areas related to design science, software engineering, distributed database systems, healthcare information systems, IoT computing, and NeuroIS, has published over 200 papers, and has consulted with various companies from the Fortune 500. In this feature, he answers questions about the impact of design science, sheds light on the emerging area of NeuroIS, and discusses other important research domains in IS.
You can learn more about Professor Hevner from his faculty website: http://www.usf.edu/business/contacts/hevner-alan.aspx
1. You are well known as a thought leader in Design Science Research (DSR). Why do you believe DSR is becoming a more central research approach for the IS discipline?
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this interview and share some of my thoughts on the current state of design science research (DSR) as well as discuss my current research interests. I am pleased with how DSR is being appropriately and effectively used in IS research projects and, as a result, more accepted as a rigorous research approach in our top journals and conferences. It is great to see more mature debates as to the roles of IT and IS artifacts and the growth of design theories around the use of these artifacts in important application contexts. As IS researchers, we stand at a critical intersection between the rapid advances of innovative technologies and the scientific understanding of how to apply these technologies in effective and sustainable ways in complex environments. DSR provides an essential research paradigm and rigorous set of methods to successfully navigate these wicked intersections.
2. In your career, you have published papers in a number of interesting and diverse research areas. Have you found DSR to be appropriate and applicable to many research topics?
Yes, I believe that DSR should be part of the planning for most research projects. I began my academic career in the field of computer science designing optimization algorithms for distributed query processing applications. Along with many researchers in CS and engineering disciplines, we were doing DSR without giving it that title. Over the years, I worked on research projects in the fields of database systems and software engineering straddling the academic disciplines of IS and CS along the way. With this background, I found myself to be in a good place to play a small role in helping to define and to guide the use of DSR in the field of IS. With the key contributions of many insightful colleagues, I see DSR being effectively applied in many exciting multi-disciplinary research projects throughout the world.
3. NeuroIS is perceived as a relatively new and novel research area for the IS discipline. How did you become interested in this area and how do you think this area will develop in the future? How is DSR applied in NeuroIS research?
Over the past decade, I have participated in the annual NeuroIS retreats in Austria (visit http://www.neurois.org/ for more information) with a goal of better understanding the synergies of DSR and NeuroIS. I am convinced that these fields can come together to identify and frame fundamental questions about the relationships among creativity, reasoning, design, technology, science, innovation, and human well-being. The goals of such studies would include the development of new neuroscience models of creativity, new paradigms for designing IT/IS artifacts, new approaches for education to optimize creative design thinking, and the development of creativity-enhancing tools for specific application domains. I have found NeuroIS to provide a rich knowledge source for understanding and applying the cognitive and affective functions required in the building and evaluation activities of DSR. I am actively collaborating with several colleagues to study these issues.
4. With the emergence of artificial intelligence and data analytics approaches to knowledge discovery and model building, what is the role of design in Data Science research?
Data science and big data analytics are critical research areas in which DSR methods can play a key role. Fundamental challenges in all data science projects involve the capture of knowledge from the data and the use of that knowledge to build decision models for real-world problems. These activities are at essence design activities requiring rigorous methods of building and evaluating data artifacts as essential project deliverables. My experiences in both data science and design science projects have highlighted the central role of data artifacts in both the inductive reasoning from data to theory development (e.g. patterns and models) and the deductive reasoning from theories to data (e.g. analytic algorithms and decision simulations). I am participating in a citizen data scientist training program for industry that has achieved outstanding results via application of DSR methods in data science projects.
5. What do you consider the most important research questions (or research domains) of the next five years?
In addition to the research domains of NeuroIS and data science, I am also excited about new research directions in the areas of cybersecurity, digital innovation, human-computer interaction, and agile controls in software development. The IS research community has the potential to make exciting and even disruptive technological and scientific contributions to all of these fields. My collaborations with researchers in these areas validate to me the important role of DSR to bring novel technologies together with new prescriptive and descriptive theories surrounding their use.
6. What have you observed to be a major determinant of the productivity and research quality of doctoral students?
In my career and in my observation of others’ careers, I find the greatest predictors of success are having the opportunities to work with great mentors and excellent colleagues. I have been very fortunate to have had several outstanding mentors and many smart and productive colleagues. Doctoral students need supportive guidance to produce the levels of research quality and quantity for success in academia. In return, they must provide the intellectual curiosity, capacity, and persistence to make the mentor-student relationship Win-Win. As a young faculty, finding research colleagues who are smart, productive, generous, and enjoyable is imperative for success. Again, in return, you must be a smart, productive, generous, and enjoyable colleague.
7. With respect to your career, if you were to do it all over again, what would you have done differently? Why?
At the beginning of my career, I was very lucky to have been at the right place at the right time. I started graduate school at Purdue University as the wave of computer science and information technology was beginning to really burst out. Over my career, I have participated in research projects in different topics (e.g. databases, software systems) and across multiple disciplines (e.g. IS, CS). The opportunities to work on new topics were always available and appealing. If I were to do anything differently, I wish I would have been more aggressive and persistent in some of my earlier research projects to produce more visible and lasting research contributions before moving to the next exciting project.
8. What communities have visibly influenced your career? How can doctoral students and other IS researchers participate in these communities?
The importance of networking with fellow researchers in different communities cannot be overstated. I belong to five professional societies – AAAS, AIS, ACM, IEEE Computer Society, and INFORMS. Each society has its own strengths, and I find value in the various digital libraries, conferences, and membership resources. Student memberships are quite inexpensive and I would recommend that students become members in a select set of societies early in their studies. In particular, the opportunities to network with faculty and student peers at regional, national, and international conferences are essential for sharing research ideas and becoming an active and valued member of the profession.
9. What is your most rewarding service activity? And why?
The most rewarding service activity has been my participation in doctoral consortia at conferences including ICIS, AMCIS, ECIS, WITS, and DESRIST. I enjoy getting to know the students and learning from them the exciting research problems they are solving. By exposing them to the latest ideas on DSR, I hope to open their thinking to the design of innovative artifacts that can provide both better solutions for and improved theoretical understanding of their problem spaces.
10. What is your advice for staying sane in the turbulent and, often, politicized world of academia?
Work on problems that are important and that challenge your settled ways of thinking; keep an open mind for diverse ideas; travel and explore different cultures; collaborate with colleagues who you respect and enjoy; maintain a positive and forward focus (avoid distractions); reserve valued time for family and friends; and have fun.
Polina Durneva, Florida International University, Miami. To suggest individuals who you would like to see interviewed, view more information about the column, and see a list of past features, please visit: http://bit.ly/ais10questions