Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS)


Interviews by Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., DF/NPA, CNP, MVP

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 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.

Index and links to Questions
Q1   As the leading authority in eBusiness, can you profile four challenges, how you solved them, and the lessons learned?
Q2   What are the three biggest issues facing business in 2006, and in 2007? How can they be addressed through technology and business process?
Q3   What are the four biggest issues IT executives today and what are your recommendations for meeting these challenges?
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?
Q5   What more do you wish to accomplish with MeRC and how will you do this?
Q6   Can you profile the expected outcomes from your work with ORNEC?
Q7   What will be the key issues and their possible solutions at the next “annual symposium on supply change management”?
Q8   How do you see your research work evolving into the future and why?
Q9   Provide your five predictions of future trends, their implications and business opportunities?
Q10   For the future, which specific new internet technologies do you find will have the greatest impact on history?
Q11   Can you talk about the challenges around compliance?
Q12   Which are your top five recommended resources?
Q13   Provide commentary on two topics of your choosing.


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. Thank you!

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.

Solution:  Approach the field with an open and enquiring mind, with the intent to continue soaking up as much as possible on all aspects of eBusiness.


  1. 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 every day.
  2. This is an ongoing process.
  3. No matter how much time you spend on these activities, there are always new problems and potential solutions that continue to arise.

Challenge two:

A major 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 future employers.

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.

Challenge three:

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 approaches.

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.

Challenge four:

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 business process?


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 the industry.

Q3: What are the four biggest issues IT executives today and what are your recommendations for meeting these challenges?


  1. Interoperability:
    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.

  2. Security:
    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.

  3. Outsourcing:
    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. 

  4. 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 concern.

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?


  1. 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 diseases.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 engineering.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 future.

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 to expand.

Implication: If Canada is to continue growing as a trading nation, we need to make use of advanced information technology to support trade activities.

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.

  1. Provide technology to improve the speed and accuracy with which the necessary paperwork is cleared, so it eliminates this bottleneck from the trade equation.

  2. 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.

  3. Teach language, marketing, sales, and negotiation skills to Canadian businesses so we can relate better to foreign customers and suppliers.

  4. 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 patients.

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 zones.

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 cards.

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?


  1. For the more academically inclined, the Association for Information Systems’ Web site provides a wide range of information, ranging from contact information for colleagues in related fields, to research, scholarship, and teaching, to professional activities.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

Topic 2:
It 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!