New faculty infuse department with big data expertise

August 29, 2013

Seven new faculty members, each with experience in business analytics, joined the W. P. Carey School’s Department of Information Systems this semester, adding depth to an already strong faculty lineup in the emerging field.

“All of our new hires are attuned to the latest developments in this area,” said Department Chairman Michael Goul. “We have been able to get a real infusion of exactly what we need.”

Business analytics is a relatively new discipline that is opening up the potential of “Big Data”—the massive amounts of information that large organizations now generate. Business analytics uncovers ways to make use of this data to improve business performance. This semester, the departments of Information Systems and Supply Chain Management jointly launched a Master’s of Science in Business Analytics degree.

Two of the new faculty, Pei-yu Chen and Shin-yi Wu, were hired as tenured associate professors and both are coming to the W. P. Carey School from Temple University’s Fox School of Business.

“To hire two new associate professors is very exciting,” Goul said. “These are people with proven track records.”

Adjusting to new jobs

Chen, who received her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in 2002, worked six years as an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University and five years as an associate professor at Temple.

Wu, a 2004 Wharton School Ph.D., had worked at Temple since 2011. Earlier, he had been an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the University of California, Irvine.

The other new faculty members are Michael Zhan Shi, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012; Robert Hornyak, who received his doctorate from Georgia State University last year; Elva Lin, who received her Ph.D. from Arizona State University in Computer Information Systems in 1993 and has spent nearly two decades working in industry; Joseph Clark, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California last year; and Aaron Read, who received his doctorate from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in early August.

For the past month, the new faculty members have been busy preparing syllabuses, fine tuning lectures, and getting to know colleagues and students, all the while finding places to live and adapting to summer in Arizona.

“It has been a crazy time, getting adjusted and working on your teaching assignments, and you still have your research schedule that you have to maintain,” Hornyak said.

Wu said he has been busy house hunting and getting settled. He doesn’t start teaching until the spring semester. “I’ve been here for orientation and the department retreat, and everyone is so friendly to me. It’s like a big family,” he said.

Clark, who is originally from Maine, spent the last academic year working as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. Of living in the desert, he said, “I’m adjusting. It’s interesting to be sure.”

Innovation across the globe

In her research, Chen has explored how firms use information technology and increasingly available information to generate value for the organization. “Gathering and analyzing data from both within the organization and across the marketplaces from all affected parties and consumers has become increasingly critical for companies,” she said.

One of the areas Chen is focusing on now is what has become known as open innovation, a relatively new research and development process in which firms use advanced information technologies to tap widely dispersed knowledge.

“Because of technology, firms can access a lot of worldwide talent very quickly,” Chen said. “A lot of firms use the open innovation platforms to do innovation projects more cheaply and to be sure they have solutions before incurring costs.”

Chen will start her teaching duties in the spring semester with a seminar for Ph.D. candidates, as well as two online courses in emerging technologies for master’s students.

Wu’s research focus is on the pricing of information goods and services. He has examined how information providers, such as mobile phone companies and online game companies, package and price their offerings. He is trying to determine what approaches are likely to yield the most benefits.

“In a typical menu, consumers may have three or four different choices,” Wu said. “The question is, ‘what kind of choices should the information services provider offer? How many choices and at what price?’”

Next semester, Wu expects to teach a master’s level course in data mining, as well two introductory courses in information systems to undergraduates.

Looking inside the supply chain

Shi’s doctoral research spanned economic theory and econometrics. He analyzed data from various social networks—including Twitter and Foursquare, and Facebook—to understand user behavior in these networks.

“This research helps us to understand how users interact on these platforms and how businesses can harness the power of online platforms to improve their operations,” Shi said.

Shi is teaching an introduction to analytics course in the fall semester to students in the Master of Science in Business Analytics program. He expects to teach an undergraduate computer network course in the spring.

In his research, Hornyak studies how knowledge workers innovate using information technology. For his doctoral dissertation, Hornyak spent 18 months embedded in a paper products-related manufacturing firm, observing how individuals in the company used a new sourcing tool designed to improve purchasing decisions.

“I try to look inside the supply chain, to see how IT is used to source goods and services and to manage relationships,” Hornyak said.

This semester, Hornyak is teaching classes in information technology services and project management.

Preparing students for jobs

After receiving master’s and doctoral degrees in Computer Information Systems at Arizona State University, Lin worked for several Fortune 500 companies, including General Dynamics and Motorola. She said she hopes to bring a business perspective to her teaching assignments and is focused on preparing students for the job market.

“I tell my students in class that when they want to say something, they should act as if they are in a conference room, sharing information with co-workers,” Lin said.

Lin is teaching an introductory course in Computer Information Systems as well as a database course this semester. She plans to do research in how mobile applications can be used in information systems.

In his doctoral and post-doctoral research, Clark has studied how individuals and organizations make decisions in conditions of uncertainty or rapid change.

“I use computer simulations to model uncertain environments and adaptive strategy,” Clark said. “Then I look at the impact different forms of business analytics have on the decisions and strategies that would be made in these environments.”

Clark said he is skeptical of the staying power of the Big Data concept. He said he would rather see a focus on data science.

“I think what we call Big Data now we will call medium-sized data in a few years, and a few years later, we’ll call it ordinary data. The important thing is to train data scientists.”

Clark is teaching a database systems course for undergraduates this semester, as well as the capstone project course for graduating seniors.

In an experiment, Read asked two groups—one in which individuals worked alone and another in which individuals collaborate—to devise the requirements for a website that would allow students to exchange textbooks. Individuals working alone were more effective, he found.

“Those who were collaborating would start to look at the ideas of other people and they would forget their train of thought and feel less confident that they had the same understanding of the envisioned website.”

“I want to continue working in this area so that we can understand what the ideal scenarios are in which a collaborating group can be more effective than a set of individuals,” Read said.

Read is teaching an honors course in Computer Information Systems this semester, an introductory course which surveys the concepts, technologies and applications of the information systems field.

Capitalizing on opportunities

The newest members of the Information Systems faculty said they are happy to be part of the W. P. Carey and Arizona State families.

 

“This is an extremely collegial, friendly environment,” said Chen. “The department chair, the dean, and the president have great vision to further enhance the research reputation of the school and are very supportive of faculty. The whole school cares deeply about the student welfare and takes the faculty seriously."

Said Read, “The students I’ve met so far are really enthusiastic. I’m looking forward to working with them.”

Hornyak said he has been most impressed at how the department adapts to prepare students for the challenges of the profession.

“We’re in a constantly changing field,” Hornyak said. “The department is so innovative in how it responds to change and capitalizes on opportunities.”

Hornyak said that coming from Georgia, adapting to Arizona’s climate has not been difficult.

“This is probably the worst time of year to be here,” he said. “But there’s a reason why even under these extreme weather conditions, people gravitate to the Phoenix area. People are super friendly, and there is definitely a better pace of living here.”