F. Robert Jacobs is a professor of operations management, Indiana University Bloomington. His research, in the production area, involves studying different types of manufacturing systems using both simulation and mathematical models.
Sreenivas Kamma is an associate professor of finance, Indiana University Bloomington. His research addresses corporate organizations and the ways in which they finance themselves.
David Mackay is a professor of marketing, Indiana University Bloomington. His research is concerned with visualizing complex decision-making environments to facilitate better decision-making by managers.
Ashok Soni is an associate professor of decision and information systems and director of technology applications in the School of Business, Indiana University Bloomington.
Joseph Valacich is an assistant professor of decision and information systems, Indiana University Bloomington. He researches how communication technologies such as videoconferencing affect the processes and outcomes of individuals for distance learning, information sharing, brainstorming, and decision-making tasks.
Munirpallam Venkataramanan is an associate professor of decision and information systems, Indiana University Bloomington. His research areas are supercomputing and parallel processing.
Moderator: Allison Block
RCA: How is technology utilized in the School of Business or in your individual areas?
Soni: Technology has made a big impact in both our research and teaching missions. The school has always been at the forefront in the use of computing and technology for research. As technology has advanced, so have the applications. For example, in the area of securities trading, as recently as ten years ago, information on trades was only available on a day-by-day basis. Now this information is tracked and stored on a minute-by-minute basis. This has enabled our accounting and finance researchers to develop very sophisticated techniques to model trades. Another example is in production. Technology has enabled us to simulate manufacturing and factory operations, both analytically and graphically. These models, particularly the graphical simulations, have made it much easier to analyze some very complex decisions in manufacturing. A third example is in the area of visualization of complex decisions. Models here are based on the theory of mathematical psychology and provide visual displays of cognitive space as a result of the advance in the graphical capabilities and computational intensities of high-end workstations.
In the instructional area, increasing use is being made of technology. These applications range from simple displays of computer images, to sophisticated multimedia applications, to interactive computer instruction.
Brown: In studying the behavior of asset prices and traders in asset markets, there's a growing need for storage and processing of financial data. Technology has enabled the availability of financial information. For example, we have access to the Dow Jones News Retrieval Service and Bridge Information Service. This takes the student to the financial world from Bloomington by allowing him or her to see the trading in real time as it occurs. Students can see the prices, the transactions, the records of volume, how volatile they are, and how quiescent they are.
Kamma: It is no accident that the tremendous increase in computing power has coincided with the explosive use of dynamic hedging strategies and derivative securities--those whose value depends on the value of other securities. Without technology, it's very hard to capture the value of these securities and monitor their day-to-day value. Computer-aided design of complex financial strategies is becoming a big rage--so far it has been used to design cars and planes. Now it's being used to design and monitor exotic financial instruments.
Mackay: It's fairly obvious that we're heading towards a world which is wireless, infinitely connected, and multimedia. What interests me most about technology is how it changes the paradigms we use to think of things. In computing and in parallel computing, there is something called distributing, where you've got all these little processes doing their own things. That paradigm is being taken up by people in psychology who are saying, "Hey, I bet the mind works the same way."
Let's say I want to figure out how a customer processes the information in an advertisement. If I try to answer that in a parallel distributing computing kind of paradigm, I get incredibly different answers than if I consider it in an antiquated technology type of paradigm. The fantastic thing about technology is not just what it does for classrooms, but what it does for how we conceptualize things.
Venkataramanan: When I first saw the book Parallel Distributed Processing, by David Runelhart, James L. McClelland, and the PDP Research Group [MIT Press, 1986], I thought, oh, I know about parallel processing, so it should be very simple. Then I realized, they don't even talk about computers except in the introduction. It discusses the processes by which we can learn about technology by learning how the human brain works. There is research that maps the human memory with parallel machines. Strides definitely have been made in psychology and cognitive science through the use of parallel processing.
RCA: How has your attitude about technology changed over the past ten years? How has technology affected you, positively or negatively?
Jacobs: I don't see anything negative about technology. Students and faculty can develop mathematical models, perform analyses, and reach solutions in minutes with current technology, such as spreadsheets and the new types of graphical simulation languages. Ten years ago, it would have taken months to develop models and validate them, and then weeks to run on a computer. Now, you can teach students how to do all of this in a couple of class sessions. The students can then run these models in seconds on their own computers. To me, the downside may be that graduates with these capabilities go into the workplace able to do
things that people who graduated ten years ago just can't do. They have tools, ideas, and knowledge that make them very powerful. There's a tremendous amount of displacement; one person comes in and takes the place of five analysts.
Kamma: The increasing use of technology, especially in teaching, increases the risk that students lose theoretical intuition. If you give them a simple black box which does the analysis for them, students will tend to focus on the package rather than what's underlying the model. There has to be a balance between keeping the theoretical concepts that go into the models and packaging it all together with technology so it's easy to use.
Brown: I see one danger in that there's so much technology available now to enhance presentation in the classroom. As a result, a lot of time may be spent worrying about style and appearance rather than substance. Not that that's going to happen or has to happen, but there is always the temptation. It makes a difference in the students' minds if your presentations are in color as opposed to black and white.
Valacich: In my research, because we are constantly at the cutting edge in terms of what we're exposing students to (videoconferencing, for example), their expectations are very high. They don't understand why technologies aren't widely available. In a project I'm working on with IU M.B.A. students and M.B.A. students from the University of Maryland, I had more than 200 students interested, but could only accommodate forty. One of the things I spend my time doing is explaining to them why we can't deliver to everyone. The technologies we are using for these projects are those that will be commonly available in two to four years.
RCA: A lot of you talked about how technology is making the world smaller and increasing access to everything. Is there a certain human element that's lost in all of this?
Soni: Yes, there may be certain compromises on the human dimension as advances in technology take place. For example, we are discussing the use of videoconferencing for interviews in the Business Placement Office. When you're interviewing someone face to face, you pick up certain cues, such as whether the person is nervous or sweating. You do lose these personal cues on video. I think video interviews will be used, but only as a first-round cutoff device based on content; that is, if somebody's way out in left field, they'll be eliminated.
We're also interested in videoconferencing capabilities within classrooms. We'd like to bring in outside speakers through this technology. It may be easier to convince a CEO of a major corporation to spare a half-hour to go to a TV studio and talk to us instead of taking a whole day to physically come to a classroom. In such instances any loss in physical presence is minimal compared to no access at all or access at a very high cost.
Valacich: One of the things I've noticed that technology has done to society is to blur the line between personal life and work. It increases expectations for response. The easiest way to explain to students about the Internet and the information superhighway is that you can get any piece of information, contact anyone, anytime, anyplace, anywhere. The students have picked up on this, at least in terms of using e-mail. That may not be a superhighway, but it's a well-traveled dirt road.
Students have realized that there's no excuse anymore; the expectation is that you, as a professor, are reachable. There's talk now of everyone having their own cellular personal communication device with their own cellular number. The downside is that we're not distinguishing between work time and personal time.
Mackay: It's politically correct to think of technology as the great dehumanizer. I think it's going to be just the opposite. Think of a businessman in the U.S. who's communicating with a businessman in Shanghai. Many years ago, they would have never met, never have heard each other's voice. All they would have had were some messages going back and forth on ships that reached each other every four months. Now they can communicate by telephone, by e-mail. In fifteen years, it's going to be face to face with simultaneous translation. That's going to dramatically increase the personal dimension of communication.
Jacobs: Connectivity is incredible, too. I was sending a message to a colleague in Cleveland, and fifteen minutes later the message came back from New Zealand.
RCA: How will the information superhighway affect your discipline in the years to come?
Kamma: The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) has a pilot program called EDGAR, an electronic filing system for companies who have to file documents with the SEC. In a pilot program, it has made these filings available to the public at large--through the Internet. For example, all documents that have been filed with the SEC, starting January 1, 1994, are available on the Internet. That's a way the information superhighway can really have a tremendous effect on research in corporate finance. It makes it easier to gain access to detailed information about corporate decisions.
Jacobs: Because of increasing information availability, I bet five years from now I'll be teaching material that relates to the things companies can do using technology that they simply cannot do right now. I know it's going to be different.
Soni: The business world has not yet tuned into the Internet in a big way, but it will soon. Right now, there's a lot of uncertainty about it. On CNN recently, they were talking about security issues on the Internet. That makes businesses very nervous. They think they're going to get on the Internet, and some hacker is going to get into their trade secrets or hack away at their computers.
Mackay: The commercial potential of this information superhighway is fantastic. You think of the ability of the superhighway for home shopping. In a few years, people should be able to go through a catalog of anything and perhaps even have their own 3-D models of themselves built into their television screen. They'll be able to see what clothes look like on them on their television screen. Prototypes for this type of system already exist. There's such high potential payoff. Businesses are going to be making bundles, using all kinds of creative customized communication.
Valacich: The Internet right now has about ten percent increase in users per month. That's somewhat separate from the superhighway, because the Internet doesn't have the bandwidth to do the kinds of things we're looking at in the current AT&T commercials, for example.
A professor at MIT, Tom Malone, is currently conducting research on smart e-mail filters with an expert system that will put certain messages in high priority hoppers with agents notifying you or reminding you of a particular message from a particular person.
Mackay: You talk about technology baiting opposite interests. For example, it helps people who are doing direct marketing find all the right people to send all this information to, but it also gives customers greater ability to select what messages they want to receive.
Valacich: In the history of technology, there are always very interesting public policy issues that have to evolve to keep pace with the technology. One particular issue in the news recently was "what will be considered a wire-tap when we are all on the superhighway?" Data is data. If they're wiretapping for voice communication, they also can simultaneously tap into your buying patterns on your home shopping network, your medical records, or who you're communicating with in other ways. Some interesting public policy issues need to be resolved involving this dual process of greater connectivity and the protection of individual rights.
Soni: Even as recently as the mid-80s, a lot of people thought the PC was it--the frontier of technology. The pace of technology has changed all that. The next major shift will be through networks. I think the development of the information superhighway will significantly affect businesses. It's going to be really interesting to see what happens between now and the year 2000. The next five years are going to far exceed our expectations, as the last five years have.