News & Press: InSider

Executive Director’s Message: 20th Anniversary Special

Monday, March 17, 2014  

AIS 'A Heretical Idea at That Time'

I have had the pleasure of serving as your executive director since 2007.  Being an association executive has been my lifelong profession.  Serving the members of AIS during this tremendous period of growth and development is gratifying. 

In recognition of our 20th anniversary, I am devoting my InSider columns for the next two months to recognizing the first two executive directors of the association, Bill King, University of Pittsburgh, and Ephraim McLean, Georgia State University.  I have asked them each to give us an idea of what it was like being at the forefront of starting and developing an organization that has sustained itself for the past 20 years.  I hope you will enjoy these perspectives from two leaders and visionaries whose contributions helped form a strong administrative foundation to assure our future growth.  

Tinsley: What years were you executive director?

King: I served as de facto executive director during the formative period of AIS; then, I was formally appointed to that post by the Organizing Committee in 1993, and again by the first AIS Council in 1994.

Tinsley: What accomplishments are you most proud of from your term?

King: Successfully creating a new IS professional society in the face of random-sample survey evidence that showed that there was not strong support for one. I realized that the success of such an organization would not be determined by a random set of members, but rather by the field's leaders, who the rest would follow. So, when I was asked to study the matter, I phoned about 40 of the leading IS academics to get their ideas. I found that all but one or two saw the need and indicated that they would enthusiastically support an IS professional organization. With such strong support, I concluded that further study was unnecessary and formed an Organizing Committee consisting of leaders from around the globe. The Organizing Committee designed the organization using e-mail, dealing issue-by-issue on a 48-hour cyclical basis.  I traveled to numerous conferences where I held ad hoc informational meetings in which I told attendees what we were doing and solicited their ideas. The meetings were very well attended. Six months after the formal start of AIS, we had over 1800 Charter Members and about 3000 within a year.

Tinsley: What was the biggest challenge you faced in your first year as executive director?

King: Overcoming the commonly-held belief that since most IS academics had been trained in other fields such as management science and computer science and already had allegiances to existing professional organizations, they would not support a new IS society.  Since I was a prime example of this, having been trained in OR and having served as the elected president of the Institute of Management Sciences (now INFORMS), I didn't believe this. Only one person in my phone survey of leaders cited this as a problem, thus giving me some empirical evidence confirming my belief.

Tinsley: What has changed the most in the IS discipline since you were executive director?

King: In 1968, I gave a lecture to my business school colleagues emphasizing that communications, computer and information technologies would be rapidly converging as would some traditional business fields. This was a heretical idea at that time, but it happened even faster that I had imagined. Of course, the former has been happening continuously since then and the latter is exemplified by fields like behavioral economics, behavioral accounting and IS itself (which didn't even exist then). These convergences continue to require us to adapt our thinking to new realities and opportunities.

A threat to IS is posed by the commonly-held belief that IT-led, enhanced productivity is costing jobs around the world. This will continue to be a public relations problem which needs to be addressed with communications strategies based on empirical research evidence.

Tinsley: What do you think is the biggest challenge for IS in the next 5 years? 

King: The success of IS has sown the seeds of its potential destruction. Since technology is now imbedded in all fields, IS will need to continue to develop a stream of distinctive competencies that will justify its existence.

Tinsley: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your years as executive director?

King: I am very grateful to all of those who helped in creating AIS, including my assistant and doctoral students,  who worked many uncompensated hours, the field's leaders who supported us and gave us ideas and the many IS academics who made a risky bet by joining an unproven organization.

I am now retired in Florida and I have published a book, SCHOOL DAYS: Coming of Age in the Mid-20th Century (available at online booksellers), that I believe may be of interest to some AIS members.

Tinsley: Thank you, Bill, for sharing that with us and thank you for your contributions during the early years of AIS.  Next month we will feature Eph McLean who will relate the ‘rest of the story’ of AIS’ formative years.    



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