Business Research

International Partners: Passport to Knowledge

When it comes to knowing what the business world needs, Baylor researchers gain a big-picture perspective from their work with scholars in other countries. Their projects include research in such areas as sales, information technology and ethics, and the benefits reach far beyond the borders of the Hankamer School of Business.

"This research is informing our teaching, and we are involving our students in it," said Jeff Tanner, associate dean for faculty development and research. One of his students who worked in Monterrey, Mexico, as an intern will be involved in some of Baylor's joint research with a Mexican university.

Dorothy Leidner, The Randall W. and Sandra Ferguson Professor of Information Systems and director of the Center for Knowledge Management, is working with Shan Pan of the national University of Singapore to find a method of sharing, through an international library, best practices, solutions, problems and proposals outside of a small work group.

Leidner's international experience includes serving as an associate professor at INSEAD in Fontainbleau, France, which hosts a variety of students, faculty, and business executives from all over the world. Fluent in both French and German, Leidner has also taught several courses at the University of Caen in France and at the University of Mannheim in Germany, in addition to an MBA course at ITESM in Monterrey, Mexico and a doctoral seminar in Finland. Teaching in other countries offers rich experience and makes you more aware of the rest of the world, she said. "That's a real benefit to faculty and it ripples down to students."

Another benefit is the exposure of international students and faculty to Baylor faculty, Leidner said. Those participating in the Finland seminars got exposure to Baylor that they otherwise would not have benefited from, she said.

One of Tanner's international partners is Jorge Wise at the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, or ITESM. The two researchers are involving their students in joint research. While the students prepare papers in concert, Tanner and Wise will have the opportunity to see how they manage virtual teams. "We believe if our students can develop research skills of their own, they will have lifelong learning skills they would not have otherwise, and at the same time develop some of the collaborative skills they will need to be more effective in the global environment they're going to be facing," he said.

Tanner has done sales research with scholars in both France and Mexico. He also has a colleague at INSEAD's regional research center in Israel. INSEAD, which bills itself as "the Business School for the World," is a leading graduate business school with campuses in Singapore and France and the new research center in Israel.

While on the faculty at INSEAD, Leidner wrote a case study on a large French electronics' firm. The case study involved the company's marketing group debating whether or not to permit the creation of intranets for all of its divisions in 32 countries. "I always wanted to do a research project in a different language," Leidner said. She wrote the case study for INSEAD by tape recording everything and transcribing her tapes.

On another project, she collaborated with researchers from both Sweden and Mexico. The team looked at the use of information systems at about 10 companies in each country, which melded with research that Leidner already had done in the United States. Their goal was to discover whether the systems had the same impact in different countries or whether people modified the information to suit cultural tendencies. The latter proved true, Leidner said. Americans tried to use the technology to help them make faster decisions, while the Swedes focused using the same technology to help them conduct more thorough analysis of decision options, and the Mexican managers used the technology to project a shared view of the organization. "Though the systems were all similar in terms of features and functionalities, the purpose of their use varied considerably across the three countries," she said.

Getting research samples from foreign companies is difficult, Tanner said, so researchers study anyone who permits it. "It's probably even more difficult in sales than some areas because to them, time is money. They want to be out in front of customers. They don't want to answer questionnaires," Tanner said.

He's successful when he can offer the organization a research "carrot" in an area it might be interested in, such as ethics, or turnover in the sales force. Then he gets permission to conduct the research he's interested in, puts everything together, and gives the company a report. Such international collaboration is important because companies are operating globally, Tanner said.

International collaboration takes many forms. In addition to conducting joint research projects, faculty may serve on the dissertation committees of students from different universities. Leidner's partnership with Pan, the Singapore researcher, came about because she was an external examiner on Pan's doctoral thesis, which he finished in England in 1999. He asked her to help him publish the results.

On a more recent project, Pan supervised a PhD student, and Leidner again was asked to be an external examiner and to help interpret their data. The researchers studied three different information technology companies in India. They are putting together the data, which focused on how culture motivates or demotivates people to use international library systems and pull information from them.

Leidner noted that it's difficult for Europeans to publish their research in well-known North American journals to gain an international reputation. That changes if they can partner with a research-savvy American who has experience with the journals and can help them obtain the experience and the skills they need.

Although it's a challenge for scholars in these countries to manage their time, they've got "a relatively young, PhD-qualified faculty. They are very hungry to do research but don't have the senior faculty to show them how. That's where we come in," Tanner said.

He finds collaboration much easier with today's technology. He contacts his research partners through an online, voice-over-internet service, and the phone call costs nothing. "Or I can instant message," Tanner said. "Sharing documents by email costs nothing. We've really become a global research community."

For Leidner, email is the most important technology in sharing information. The International Conference of Information Systems is important, too, she said. ICIS, which will meet in Montreal in 2007 and Paris in 2008, draws faculty worldwide to its consortiums and helps them learn how to prepare dissertations and how to position them for success, she said. "You also learn about what's coming up and what students are studying. It gives me a way to know what's current."

Dr. Jeff Tanner and Dr. Dorothy Leidner
Jeff Tanner and Dorothy Leidner
Baylor University