Output & Impact: Information and Decision Sciences

Monday, May 23, 2016

In the nearly 100 years of the Carlson School's existence, its faculty has produced an unending stream of groundbreaking research, pushing against  boundaries in both academia and in the business world at large. Discover notable examples from the Information and Decision Sciences Department

Crafting a new discipline

In 1961, Remington Rand Univac gave the Carlson School a Univac 80, a solid state business-oriented computer powerful at the time, but with a small memory and slow speed compared to today’s computers.

Emeritus Professor Gordon Davis, who joined the school that same year, was named the director of the Computing Center that housed the new machine. In the next several years, Professors Gary Dickson and Tom Hoffman joined the faculty and the three of them began to plan a formal program in the organizational use of computing—Management Information Systems.

Gordon Davis was a key player in the formation of Management Information Systems as its own discipline.

“In the mid-1960s, every major business school had one or two faculty members interested in the use of computers for improved management of the organization, but they lacked textbooks, course materials, research support, and a community of like-minded scholars,” he says. “Minnesota pioneered the development of a new academic discipline for a new organization function to build and manage computer-based information systems. We were able to be an early innovator and leader because we had three innovative faculty, support from the dean, and support from the rest of the faculty in the business school.

“The three of us wanted solid support from information systems professionals in the Twin Cities. We believed they would play a key role in curriculum development and applied research. The link between faculty and the business world would be the Management Information Systems Research Center (MISRC).”

So, Davis, Hoffman, Dickson, and then Dean Paul Grambsch visited 30 companies in the Twin Cities metro area to present their vision. The businesses were enthusiastic about the idea, and in the summer of 1968, the MISRC came into being. Davis served as its first director.

The academic MIS program, part of the Carlson School’s Management Sciences Department, began in the fall of 1968 with 12 graduate-level courses. Ten master’s and eight PhD students enrolled in the first year. The program continued to grow and, with the reorganization of the department in 1988, merged with Decision Sciences faculty to form the Department of Information and Decision Sciences.

Nurturing the new field

Throughout its history, the department has made huge contributions to pedagogy in the field, producing more than 45 textbooks, including Davis’ seminal work, Management Information Systems: Conceptual Foundations, Structure, and Development (1974), which is a textbook that truly deserves to be called a classic. Dickson developed and managed a summer program to retrain existing faculty in other disciplines to teach and research information systems. Many important scholars in the field were graduates of this program. Janice DeGross, a long-term staff member supporting MIS, is well known in the field for preparing and editing numerous publications, including articles, books, conference proceedings, and directories of MIS faculty.

The department has nurtured research in the field through its journal, the MIS Quarterly, regularly ranked as the most prestigious journal in the field. Dickson was the first editor-in-chief. As an example of impact, in 2003, it published “User Acceptance of Information Technology: Toward a Unified View.” Co-authored by Viswanath Venkatesh, Michael Morris, Fred Davis, and Gordon Davis, this work, although only 13 years old, has been cited more than 13,000 times by other researchers.

Minnesota was one of the leaders in forming a new community of scholars with conferences devoted to information systems in organizations. Dickson was the co-chair of the first Conference on Information Systems (now called the International Conference on Information Systems). Gordon Davis was part of the development and publication of model curricula for information systems. He also helped form a new international faculty organization, The Association for Information Systems, and served as its fourth president. Davis became the United States representative to Technical Committee 8 (Information Systems) of an international organization, the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP). This helped Minnesota build an international network and positioning it as a leader at the international level.

The Minnesota experiments

To examine the significance of various information systems characteristics on decision making, what was known as the Minnesota Experiments were conducted between early 1970 through 1975. A number of professors, including Gary Dickson, Norman Chervany, and Roger Schroeder, were active in this research. Initially, the research was funded by the Office of Naval Research.

“Using this funding, Dickson and I built a computer-based manufacturing experimental environment—The Production Simulator,” says Emeritus Professor Norman Chervany. “This environment gave us the ability to manipulate the information that people used to make a series of forecasting, production, and inventory decisions.”

The first of these experiments studied the effects of information overload by comparing the decision-making results of people who had raw, non-summarized data versus people who had statistically summarized data. The study was published in Management Science in 1974 (“An Experimental Evaluation of Information Overload in a Production Environment”) and a paper summarizing this stream of research was published in the same journal in 1977 (“Research in Management Information Systems: The Minnesota Experiments”).

“This stream of research was some of the first experimental research that examined the interaction between the characteristics of actual decision makers and variations in the information to which they had access,” Chervany says.

Regional energy information system

Chervany also was involved in the Regional Energy Information System (REIS) project, funded by the Upper Great Lakes Regional Commission as a state-oriented response to the Mideast oil embargo in the late 1970s. He, with Associate Professor Dave Naumann, worked with the newly formed Minnesota Energy Agency on the project. Their research focused on the supply, distribution, and consumption of all forms of energy in the state, particularly in the Upper Great Lakes region. REIS processed energy data and directed energy conservation efforts based on that data, proving to be of significant value in managing Minnesota’s 1977 energy crisis.

Pioneering beyond the MIS field

The Minnesota faculty members in MIS have had a significant impact on the process of defining and doing a doctoral dissertation that was helpful in many disciplines in a university. Professors Sal March and Gerald Smith defined and explained an approach to research termed Design Science that has been adopted widely in many fields. Gordon Davis wrote a short monograph on the process of researching and writing the doctoral dissertation that has been used by over 70,000 doctoral students worldwide in many fields and is now in a third edition.

Discover the impact of research taking place across the Carlson School:

Output & Impact: Accounting 
Output & Impact: Finance
Output & Impact: Marketing 
Output & Impact: Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship
Output & Impact: Supply Chain and Operations
Output & Impact: Work and Organizations