Dr. Norm Archer: Professor Emeritus in
the Management Science and Information Systems Area of the DeGroote
School of Business, McMaster University
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, has an exclusive interview with Dr. Norm Archer, a leading
international authority on eBusiness.
Dr. Norm Archer is Professor Emeritus in the Management Science and Information Systems Area of the DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, Canada. He is also Special Advisor to the McMaster eBusiness Research Centre (MeRC), which he founded in 1999 as its first director. From
December 2000 to his retirement in July 2002 as a Full Professor, he held the
Wayne C. Fox Chair in Business Innovation. He is currently involved in a
variety of activities in research, consulting, teaching, and supervising
graduate student research on eBusiness topics. He plays a key role as the
coordinator of eCommerce research in the Ontario Research Network for
Electronic Commerce (ORNEC) where MeRC is an important member. He has been
responsible for organizing an annual symposium on supply chain management,
jointly sponsored by MeRC, ORNEC, and the Purchasing Management Association of
Canada. This highly successful two-day symposium has been offered three times
under Dr. Archer’s leadership, and it will be offered for a fourth time on
October 4-6 2006, this time under the leadership of Dr. Elkafi Hassini.
Dr. Archer has published more than 70 papers in refereed journals and conferences,
and has given many invited talks on eCommerce/eBusiness at universities and
conferences around the world. In his research he is active, along with his
graduate students and colleagues, in the study of organizational problems
relating to the implementation of eBusiness approaches, particularly pertaining
to mobile applications in business, health, and government organizations, and
the resulting impacts on processes, employees, customers, and suppliers. Current
research projects involve various aspects of mobile eHealth, mobile government,
identity theft, supply chain management, knowledge transfer and management in
network organizations, and change management in organizations.
The latest blog on the interview can be found on the week of May 15 to May 19, 2006 in the Canadian IT Managers (CIM) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
Opening Comment: Norm, you have a long history of considerable
contribution and we very much value the time you are taking to do this interview.
A: Thank you for taking an interest in my work.
Q1: As the leading authority in eBusiness, can you profile four challenges, how you solved them, and the lessons learned?
Challenge one [most significant]:
I have found that the greatest challenge in working in the eBusiness field is to
understand the broad range of issues that impact eBusiness; ranging across the
spectrum from the technology to the systems evolving to support eBusiness, to
its affect on business and on people.
the field with an open and enquiring mind, with the intent to continue soaking
up as much as possible on all aspects of eBusiness.
- There are a combination of ways
to learn about and understand the issues, including constantly reviewing
the research literature, and spending as much time as possible with the
businesses, government institutions, and people who face these challenges
- This is an ongoing process.
- No matter how much time you
spend on these activities, there are always new problems and potential
solutions that continue to arise.
challenge in working in an academic environment is ensuring that what we learn about
eBusiness is made available to the people who are looking for solutions for the
problems they face.
Solutions: Our approach is to interact with potential
users as much as possible. This allows them to take advantage of what you have
learned, but at the same time it acquaints you with other potential problems
that can be researched. This is what universities and governments call
technology transfer, since it enables knowledge and ideas to be transferred to
potential users. One way we have been doing this at MeRC is through our annual
symposia and conferences, including the McMaster World Congress on eBusiness, the
Supply Chain Symposium, and more recently the eRetailing Symposium, in
collaboration with the Canadian Institute of Retailing and Services
(CIRAS) at the University of Alberta.All of these conferences and symposia include presentations by both
researchers and practitioners, and they provide fertile ground for knowledge
exchange. We also have many invited speakers for classes and seminars from
business and government as well as other academic disciplines. These presentations
are open to the public, and we often make presentations at professional
gatherings and events. An additional major channel for technology transfer is by
training graduate and undergraduate students through understanding and
researching eBusiness problems, gaining knowledge that they take with them to
Lesson: Although government programs about technology transfer are of value, making it happen by working with potential users and promoting exchange of knowledge is what really counts.
eBusiness projects almost invariably cross disciplinary boundaries so that, in any
particular industry, solutions require knowledgeable input from researchers in
multiple disciplines. For example, supply chain solutions may require a background
and experience in computer science, engineering, and business. Healthcare may
require medical, nursing, legal, business, and computer science knowledge. In a
study of identity theft, (in which I am involved), there are multiple aspects
that can be addressed from legal, business, engineering, and computer science
Solution: How do you solve such problems? Clearly, the
only approach that works well is to create teams with expertise in each of the
disciplines and to work together with them to come up with solutions to the
issues. I have found this to be a highly satisfying experience, since my greatest
motivation has always come from creating or learning something new. And when
working with people in other disciplines there is always something new.
Lesson: Effective inter-disciplinary teams don’t just materialize as they are
needed. Creating contacts by getting to know people in different disciplines
comes from informal meetings, attending relevant conferences and workshops, and
presenting interesting results. Leadership of such teams requires a great deal
of skill in organizing and managing the work, with communications being the
most important aspect. A not insignificant task is attracting the funding that
is needed to support the work.
I know a number of very intelligent entrepreneurs, all of whom have come up with
innovative products or services that relate to eBusiness and other business
areas. From my observations, I have seen that it is often very difficult for startup
companies with untried eBusiness solutions to break into the marketplace. These
often result from very smart entrepreneurs developing solutions that seem to
solve existing problems very well, and that ultimately provide competitive
advantage to those companies that use them.
Solution: At this point in a product development cycle,
marketing must become the major focus, but even if the startup company has this
focus, it is often difficult to get a new product or service introduced to the
marketplace. Problems they may have include developing a suitable business
model, pricing, or in adapting their product to be a better match with customer
needs. In particular, if this is a new software package or other type of
eBusiness application, potential users must see it as easy to install and link
to their existing systems. They have enough trouble managing an existing
potpourri of incompatible systems that they may have had to modify in order to
integrate with their internal systems, let alone work with the systems and
networks that link to their business partners.
Lesson: eBusiness has resulted in the development of many innovative solutions,
but getting companies to adopt these solutions requires a major amount of
effort until they have been proven to be effective at demonstration sites. But
crossing the chasm from innovative solution to demonstrated success is a step
that requires much advance planning, receptive companies willing to try the
solution, and more than a little luck.
Q2: What are the three biggest issues facing
business in 2006, and in 2007? How can they be addressed through technology and
- Canada has the eighth largest economy in the world, but a major issue that we have is industrial productivity. Our macro productivity measures tell us what is happening in the economy as a
whole and they tell us we are lagging behind many other countries.
Certainly in the face of foreign competition from countries with low
labour rates, we must focus on this issue. How can this be addressed? eBusiness
is certainly one road toward improved corporate operating efficiency. But
the cost of acquiring and implementing systems, along with the change
management required to mesh with existing operations, are major challenges.
One way is by educating business in better ways to do things, which results
in productivity increases. Companies that invest in carefully thought out eBusiness
strategies will gain on their competitors in the long run. But these
strategies have to be innovative for real gains to occur. The payoffs may
be short or long term, but it is a constant battle to persuade business of
the benefits to be gained, even when they have been amply demonstrated
elsewhere. eBusiness has many possibilities available to help businesses
to do their work more efficiently, and it is our responsibility to keep
these in front of business.
- Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the engines that drive innovation in
Canada. Most SMEs have Web sites, but
most of these are for product and contact information only, and often they
are not updated on a regular basis. SMEs must also treat these sites as
complementary rather than competitive with their other marketing channels.
SMEs have also on average been slow to adopt the use of eBusiness for B2B
interactions, except where they have been required to do so by larger
business partners in supply chain situations. Government programs and
educational and technical support may help SMEs with eCommerce solutions,
but before such solutions are attractive to small businesses, they must be
inexpensive, easy to install and use and provide a quick payoff. One
difficulty is that the complex high tech solutions developed for big
business are difficult if not impossible to scale down so they work for
SMEs. What are needed are solutions that work well within existing SME environments.
SME management are often highly imaginative in adopting bits and pieces of
Internet solutions, but they are often too busy operating the business to
take a lot of time to educate themselves and adopt potential solutions
that could help.
- Healthcare is an issue that
affects everyone. While we have a generally thriving economy, everyone
feels that our healthcare system is letting us down. Governments have
tried throwing money at it, but the money seems to disappear without any
visible improvement in the system. This is an issue for our entire
society, and businesses should be interested in helping to solve it, by
working together to come up with innovative solutions. Many such solutions
have been developed and there is a significant amount of experimentation
with new ideas. Canada Health Infoway is a federal government initiative
that will help support the implementation of IT projects, through
collaboration with provincial agencies. This is where business can help
the healthcare system; by developing and testing systems and moving them
to a higher level through this type of support structure. Also, ITAC has
committees that are addressing related issues for the Canadian IT industry
as well as being an excellent source of information and contacts within
Q3: What are the four biggest issues IT executives
today and what are your recommendations for meeting these challenges?
In this day of globalization, interoperability is a huge issue in supply
chains and in healthcare, (among other industries), and the existence of
information silos often gets in the way of adopting effective eBusiness
solutions. Inter-organizational flows of information are increasingly
important to all the functions of a firm, and distributed information
systems are increasingly the norm within geographically distributed
organizations and among businesses that work together regularly. We need
answers that meet this issue head on. Standards seem to hold part of the
answer, but getting agreement and moving on with acceptable standards
seems to take a long time. Associated with this concern is getting vendors
to adopt and promote system interface standards so their customers don’t
have to provide custom solutions to every system they adopt – not only when
it is necessary to interface incompatible systems within the business, but
even more so when trying to link to incompatible systems their business
partners are using. Having to modify systems to suit the business also creates
serious problems when it comes time to upgrade to the next version offered
by the vendor. One answer is, of course, adopting open systems, but that
comes with a significant cost in terms of conversion and the lack of a
broad range of applications that run on these systems. Solving this
problem is a major concern of the IT industry, and I believe that ITAC among
other organizations is devoting resources to just this area.
As networks proliferate and our reliance on external links increases,
security has become a high priority. Companies and other institutions that
do not implement and manage highly secure systems will almost certainly
suffer severe consequences from a long list of threats, including hackers,
spam, disgruntled employees, natural disasters, and other problems that
may not yet have been invented.
More and more companies are outsourcing certain parts of their operations
to other companies that specialize in these types of operations. This often
involves foreign linkages. This is nothing new toCanada, which is the home of many branch
plants of foreign firms. We also have some small, very innovative firms that
thrive on such outsourcing. I know of at least one Canadian firm that
designs its own electronic components, but relies on other firms, both
overseas and in Canada, to fabricate the silicon wafer, assemble and
package it, test it, and finally to market it to the end customers. This
is one end of the outsourcing spectrum, which can also involve outsourcing
call centre operations, IT operations, and many other services. Outsourcing
is clearly a major concern of IT executives, since they must ensure the
smooth flow of transactions and collaboration information with their
business partners and customers.
- Cross border issues:
The United States is the source for many of the IT hardware and software
products we use and which can help improve our productivity. It is also a
destination for many of our products. It is important to maintain the flow
of products and services across that border. The preoccupation of the U.S. with security considerations has led to ever tighter border security restrictions. Ensuring the smooth
flow of goods and services across that border, as well as with our other
trading partners, depends extensively on the support for electronic
transaction information. For any company that relies on foreign trade, the
operation of cross border links to suppliers and customers is a major
Q4: Can you profile your current research projects
and provide an early glimpse into your conclusions and the impact they will
have on businesses/organizations?
- Mobile healthcare:
In the Canadian healthcare industry there is much to do before IT will have
a major impact on reducing costs and improving productivity, thus
improving quality of life for Canadian society. We are currently doing a
significant amount of work through an Ontario project that involves
introducing wireless mobile applications for home healthcare nurses;
working with a home healthcare agency, a community care access centre, and
a company that specializes in wireless handheld solutions. Researchers
from business, computer science, and health sciences are all involved in
various aspects of this project. The prospects for improvement over the
existing paper-based system are excellent, and we have been able to derive
a strong business case for this approach. In addition, there are numerous related
research issues to be explored that in many cases can be applied in other
sectors of healthcare. For example, we are studying the system interoperability
issues that plague the healthcare industry, and researching the
application of reengineering approaches to healthcare, supply chains that
support nursing care in the home, and usability and adoption issues with
handheld solutions. When we have an operational system in place, we will
be exploring its potential for online decision support for nurses, and the
use of wireless support for improving adherence of patients with chronic
- Mobile government:
There is clearly a role for wireless and/or mobile systems in government,
and the current excitement over municipal WiFi is a partial reflection of
this role. The services that appear to have the most current potential
include G2E (Government to Employee) applications such as emergency
services, smart metering, inspection, etc., and G2C (Government to Citizen)
- providing citizen access to information and services, and
permitting citizen transactions such as paying fees or fines, processing
applications, and obtaining licenses and permits. Also included in this
category is online democracy, where citizens can communicate with
government representatives, collaborate on committees, or vote during
elections. The latter will, in my estimation, take a long time to implement, due to
security and privacy requirements in addition to preventing the inevitable
attempts to corrupt or circumvent the system.
- Identity theft:
Identity theft is a major problem that threatens the future of eBusiness as
well as causing major headaches for individual consumers and businesses. The
Ontario Research Network for Electronic Commerce (ORNEC), in which MeRC plays
a major role, is currently involved in a research program on identity
theft that involves four major projects. This work is funded by several
Canadian banks and certain government agencies, with matching funds from
the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund (ORDCF). One of the
projects, led by my colleague Dr. Yufei Yuan, addresses management approaches
to combating identity theft. I am heading another project concerned with
defining and measuring identity theft in Canada. Two other aspects of identify
theft are underway at the University of Ottawa in the same program: legal and
policy approaches to identity theft, and technical tools to address
identity theft. This program will continue through 2007, and already
significant progress is being made on several fronts. For example, there
is much confusion over what aspects of identity theft and fraud are
actually being measured in various surveys. We are trying to come up with
an appropriate definition of both theft and related fraudulent activities,
and will undertake a Canada-wide consumer survey this year to determine
the size and nature of the problem. We are also looking at the impact of
identity theft on business, and how managers can best cope with it. Our
studies involve a multi-disciplinary approach, and we are working closely
with colleagues in business, law, government, computer science, and
- Supply chain management:
This is an area of great interest to my colleagues and myself. In
collaboration with our graduate students, we have done a significant
amount of relevant research in supply chain management over the past few
years. Some of this research carries over into the healthcare sector, as
indicated above. In fact, we are currently developing a business case that
contrasts the “As-Is” paper-based system currently used for supplies
ordering and management in home healthcare with the “To-Be” system, where
nurses utilize handheld devices to link to a central system for retrieving
and entering supplies orders. Our projections are that the new system will
more than pay for itself in reduced supply chain costs, but we are
evaluating the before and after case to make sure that this will in fact,
happen. We have another more general effort to advance awareness and to
generate innovative solutions to supply chains through, (in collaboration
with the Purchasing Management Association of Canada), an annual supply
chain symposium. This two day event attracts academics and practitioners
from around the world to share knowledge and experience. The fourth supply
chain symposium is being organized and chaired by a colleague, Dr. Elkafi
Hassini, and will take place October 4 – 6 2006.
- Knowledge transfer and management in network organizations:
We are now in an age where business partners pool complementary expertise
by collaborating to develop and manufacture innovative products and
services. This involves sharing and managing knowledge so it will benefit
all the partners through the collaborative process. The semi-permanent
organization that links these partners throughout this process is called a
network organization. Clearly, this can be an uneasy partnership, where
intellectual property ownership is always at risk unless there are
well-crafted ownership agreements and organizations to manage the
necessary knowledge transfer. While networks of firms developing new
products experience problems, network organizations that develop and
provide new services are often more likely to be at ease sharing
information, even with their competitors. I have had the privilege of
observing this sharing of knowledge among networks of both manufacturing
and service firms. There is always a key firm that sets the tone, and it
can be a firm that is much smaller than the others. That key firm has to
work very hard to manage the process and the knowledge transfer, but if it
is done well, the end result is likely to be highly satisfactory, and far
better than any one of the firms could do on its own.
- Change management in organizations:
Change management is a necessary function for any organization that is adopting
innovative solutions. eBusiness applications almost invariably involve
changing some aspect of operations, such as customer support, supply
management, etc. In making changes within the firm, it is important that
everyone affected is involved from the beginning. There have been any
number of papers and books written on this topic, but it really has to be
experienced to notice what a difference it makes. For example, one of our
current projects in eHealth involves replacing a paper based system with a
wireless solution for visiting nurses in homecare. Nurses and
administrative staff were involved in mapping the existing process flow,
choosing and testing the handheld devices and field testing the
applications to be used. In addition, they are debriefed after each
significant test, so by the time the system is in place, they will be not
only familiar with the system, but able to help their colleagues with the
eventual rollout of the production system. In effect, the users will feel
that they own the system, which will greatly increase its chances of
successful adoption. At every step in this process, my appreciation and
regard for the work that these employees do to support the home healthcare
process has increased. This has been a tremendous learning experience for
all of the people involved – developers, researchers, and end-users alike.
Q5: What more do you wish to accomplish with MeRC and how will you do this?
A: MeRC is now being directed by Dr. Khaled Hassanein, a colleague in the DeGroote School
of Business. However, I continue to work as a Special Advisor to MeRC, and do
research on eBusiness projects. MeRC continues to play a major administrative,
promotional, and funding role for both myself and a number of fellow faculty
members, researchers and graduate students. As with many research centres,
raising funds to support research initiatives and the necessary administrative support
is an important issue. We have been fortunate in being able to attract both
private and public matching funds to continue with a number of important
research initiatives. I believe that MeRC will continue to foster eBusiness
research through partnerships with the business community for many years in the
Q6: Can you profile the expected outcomes from your work with ORNEC?
A: MeRC is one of the key members of ORNEC (Ontario Research Network for Electronic
Commerce), which is a consortium of McMaster University, University of Ottawa, Carleton University, and Queen’s University. ORNEC has supported a number of the research initiatives
I have already mentioned, including eHealth and identity theft. It has also
supported a number of other projects including (at McMaster) hiring additional
faculty members to improve our research ability in eBusiness. One of the key outcomes
from ORNEC is that it brings together faculty members from different
disciplines from the universities involved (business, engineering, law,
medicine), to work on projects where we have common interests. eBusiness knows
no boundaries, and ORNEC has helped us, as researchers, to break down
geographic and disciplinary boundaries as we develop the understanding that
comes from working together in diversified teams.
Q7: What will be the key issues and their possible solutions at the next “annual symposium on supply change management”?
A: Dr. Elkafi Hassini at McMaster University is organizing this year’s annual
symposium, and its theme is “Optimizing the Supply Chain: Competitive Advantage through Information Technology”. It will be held on October 4-6 2006. We are looking for academic and practitioner papers that address this issue in a number of areas including: auctions and eMarketplaces, dynamic pricing, demand management, intelligent agents, network design, reverse logistics, risk management, supply
chain coordination, supply chain security, supplier management, and supply chain software.
Q8: How do you see your research work evolving into the future and why?
A: I get a great deal of pleasure in working
with colleagues, both at McMaster and other universities as well as with
graduate students. I certainly plan to continue research in eHealth for some
time in the future, in collaboration with researchers in health sciences,
engineering, and computer science. This field is replete with eBusiness issues
that must be resolved in order to enable overworked and understaffed healthcare
staff to spend more productive time working with patients. In healthcare, there
is a broad range of issues extending from the very technical to the softer
human and societal issues. A broad perspective is helpful in recognizing problems
and potential solutions. In addition, I plan to continue work in other areas
such as identity theft – a growing problem that is having a negative impact on
the more widespread use of eCommerce in Canada, and other issues affecting the
future of eBusiness.
Q9: Provide your five predictions of future trends, their implications and business opportunities?
A: Trend 1: International business activity will continue
Implication: If Canada is to continue growing as a trading
nation, we need to make use of advanced information technology to support trade
Business Opportunity: There are many business opportunities over and above the obvious advantages of selling and buying competitive goods and services in and from other countries.
- Provide technology to improve
the speed and accuracy with which the necessary paperwork is cleared, so
it eliminates this bottleneck from the trade equation.
- Provide innovative
infrastructure that enables worldwide communication among business
partners, thus reducing the costs associated with international travel. This
is not to say that international business travel is not important, but it
is important to eliminate the costs that are not justified in building
relationships with business partners.
- Teach language, marketing,
sales, and negotiation skills to Canadian businesses so we can relate
better to foreign customers and suppliers.
- Teach skills at managing the cross-border issues that complicate international trade.
Trend 2: Increased use of information technology and related services in healthcare.
Implication: Canada is in continuing crisis in being
unable to fund the level of healthcare our citizens require to maintain a
healthy and productive existence. Information technology is one part of the answer to this problem, so
there will be a growing demand for well-designed systems that link with
existing systems and perform valuable services for both providers and their
Business Opportunity: There are many business opportunities in this
area, as governments strain to find IT solutions that will reduce costs and
waiting times, without jeopardizing the quality of care that patients receive.
This includes innovative solutions in many areas, including supply chain
management, better communications access for healthcare providers, better
support for the chronically ill and the aged that will reduce their visits to
emergency rooms, etc.
Trend 3: Wireless technologies will continue to expand and affect our everyday lives both in business and personal activities.
Implication: People, especially younger ones, will be in
constant communication with their business and personal associates, no matter
where they are, and will take this for granted. There is a downside to this –
for example, just recently I was at an important presentation by a visiting
expert, to an audience of about 250, and there were no fewer than four
interruptions from cellphones ringing during the presentation. This is as
unpleasant as spam, and we will have to find a way to deal with it effectively.
Business Opportunity: The possible innovations growing out of this trend are virtually endless. Anything that we do that is location independent will ultimately be transferred to
mobile platforms. This includes interaction with customers and clients,
business associates, government organizations, and friends, and remote access
to information sources in the course of our work.
Trend 4: Virtual work and collaboration will continue to expand as we develop into more of an international economy.
Implication: Business travel, rather than being normal,
will be used primarily just to get to know new clients. This will improve
productivity by reducing costs, travel fatigue, and increasing the time spent
on productive work.
Business Opportunity: Systems with video, audio and computer links among collaborative groups will be used much more extensively. In fact, this is a trend that has already developed
significantly. In particular, there are real opportunities for innovative
approaches to handling the time shifting that occurs across multiple time
Trend 5: Development and implementation of standards are
the key to growth in eBusiness applications
Implication: We need to solve the problems that business
has with multiple information silos. Big businesses and governments have mainly
attacked this problem internally by implementing ERP systems, but there are
many firms that cannot afford the complexity and cost of such systems.
Business Opportunity: Develop applications that pay attention to
interface standards (e.g. Web services in general, HL7 in healthcare, etc.), so
they can be linked to other systems and interchange records and other information
with little difficulty. This will be imperative for market acceptance of such
systems. Since most Canadian firms believe that systems they develop should in
the long run be exportable to the U.S., it is important to think of this
market as a driving force. For example, in healthcare systems, the
U.S. federal government has standards and interoperability as an overarching theme, focusing on partnerships between public and private organizations to set standards so healthcare
providers can share information. Their infrastructure would be made up of
regional health information networks built on an open architecture and utilizing
national standards, but with the possibility of local differences.
Q10: For the future, which specific new internet
technologies do you find will have the greatest impact on history?
A: At this point, I believe that mobile Internet technologies will continue to grow in importance over the coming years. They will not cause the large scale abandonment of landline technologies anytime soon for normally stationary applications in Canada. However, in other less advanced countries, wireless technologies can leapfrog large scale investments in landline technology. In the more developed countries, the growth in the mobile workforce and in leisure activities is a major driver in the development of new mobile applications that support mobile, location-sensitive, and time-critical activities. These applications will continue to evolve rapidly as the cost of wireless communications continues to drop and as innovative applications are adopted throughout the business community.
Q11: Can you talk about the challenges around compliance?
A: I’m not too knowledgeable about regulatory
compliance, of the type that involves Sarbanes-Oxley regulations. Although
these are U.S. regulations, they clearly are having a major impact in Canada and on the rules that govern
Canadian businesses. They can create business problems because they cost money
and time to be compliant. However, it seems to me that some of these
regulations just make good business sense. If they help avoid the white collar
criminal excesses that have destroyed business value and sometimes entire
companies, then they are well worth the investment.
I am more knowledgeable about privacy compliance, which affects every business,
individual, and institution in Canada in one way or another. Some of my colleagues
who are associated with MeRC have generated a number of papers on privacy in
eCommerce. My own experience has been with the healthcare system. As a provincial responsibility, for example, Ontario has implemented PHIPA (Personal Health Information Protection Act) rules to govern privacy in healthcare. In healthcare, privacy of the individual is of paramount importance, with which I
have no disagreement. But Canada has taken a direction in
maintaining privacy that differs from many other countries. A major problem
with our healthcare system (which of course is a provincial responsibility) is
the lack of an accepted standard definition of an electronic healthcare record
(EHR). Although we may have the benefit of such a definition in the foreseeable
future, this is an extremely complex topic. Implementing such a definition is
another matter entirely.
Another barrier to EHR standardization is that we still have no accepted unique
identifier that can be used with medical/health records. This is hard to
believe, but it is true. All Canadian employees and many others have individual
social insurance numbers, in Ontario everyone has an Ontario Health
Insurance Plan (OHIP) number, people with passports have passport numbers,
drivers have driver’s license numbers, etc. But no accepted unique identifier
we can use for electronic health records. As far as I can tell, this is because
there is a desperate fear that a unique identifier would invade someone’s
privacy, an example of political correctness carried so far that it prevents
the development of systems that are more effective in providing healthcare
(reducing errors, eliminating duplicate tests, speeding treatment in
institutions where the individual has not previously been registered, etc.). Swedenhas used unique personal identifiers since 1947, and it appears on all individual health records,
electronic or otherwise. Among other countries, Germany and China both have unique national identity
This is not to say that national identifiers for health records would solve all the problems
associated with IT advances in healthcare, but at least it would help in
organizing individual health records so they would be easy to access or
transfer as individuals move among the many healthcare institutions that may
provide service to them. Of course, any such records would have to have secure
privacy safeguards so that only healthcare providers with a need to know could
access the records.
Q12: Which are your top five recommended resources?
- For the more academically
inclined, the Association for Information Systems’ Web site http://www.isworld.org/ provides a wide
range of information, ranging from contact information for colleagues in
related fields, to research, scholarship, and teaching, to professional
- Professional organizations such
as the Canadian Information Processing Society, the Purchasing Management
Association of Canada, the Society of Internet Professionals, and the
Project Management Institute are examples of groups that help advance the
state of eBusiness and management knowledge, and its diffusion throughout
business, government, and non-profit organizations.
- Library resources are high on
my list. There has been a major revolution in Canadian libraries over the
past ten years, in making so many information resources available online. Most
of this impact has been through online journals, but many more books are
now starting to become available, and there are some major initiatives in
the U.S. that will accelerate this process. This has had a tremendous impact on the rate of diffusion of
knowledge to researchers, students, and the general public.
- The Web is, of course, a highly
useful resource that can be used with caution. While there are billions of
Web pages available, not all of these have more than just opinions that
are not based on fact. In eHealth, to pick one example, Web site
reputation, along with a seal of approval such as HON (Health On the Net),
can be quite helpful in reassuring users. Other examples are the Web sites
of well-known hospitals or medical research institutions throughout the
world, as well as professional healthcare organizations that provide
substantial amounts of useful and valid information on a wide variety of
healthcare issues to the community.
- An important and critical
resource is meeting and talking to the people who are on the frontlines of
making business work, and finding out what their problems and solutions
are. This is the source of our most interesting and productive research,
since it gets academics thinking about problems and applying their
background and experience to the development of solutions.
Q13: Provide commentary on two topics of your choosing.
A: Topic 1:
There is a great need for academics to interact with business, government, and
non-profit institutions, since this exposes us to new and interesting problems
that may require solutions ranging all the way from the straightforward to the elegant.
The nature of the academic professions is that we have time to think about
problems and don’t suffer the usual everyday distractions that face other
employees and managers. Although we have teaching and some administrative
responsibilities, academic freedom gives an academic the right and the time to
pursue, analyze, model, and propose solutions to interesting problems. This is
why an academic environment is highly valued by those of us who have the
privilege of working in it, and it gives us an opportunity to make
contributions to society in many different ways. I strongly encourage both
academics and management from the real world to work on bridging the gap that has
developed between us over the years; in fact, not that many years ago academics
were shunned as being too much enclosed in their ivory towers. That is no
longer true for most academics, and we are ready to work together and develop innovative
approaches to improving our society.
is important to encourage interactions with colleagues from other disciplines
and industries and in other countries, to gather knowledge and experience from
others. For example, we see a lot in the media about the transformation of China, but a trip to China and discussions with Chinese researchers,
students and managers helps to put everything that we thought we knew into
context. It is new ideas that help to provide motivation and impetus to progress
on eBusiness solutions. It is a truism that problems and solutions seen in one
industry or discipline are much the same as those in other industries and
disciplines. Even if the nomenclature is different, once the similarity is
recognized, solutions may be quite transportable with relatively little effort.
Closing Comment: Dr. Archer, you continue to make lasting
contributions to our profession and industry. We will follow your work with
interest. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. We wish you
continued success for the future.
A: You are most welcome!