Two Boston University faculty members were honored internationally last week for their work with information technology.
Chris Dellarocas and Marshall Van Alstyne of the Questrom School of Business received awards from the INFORMS Information Systems Society. ISS serves as a professional forum for academics in the field to interact, as well as seeks to circulate research on the role of information technology in organizations.
Dellarocas, associate provost for Digital Learning and Innovation, accepted the ISS Distinguished Fellow Award, the highest honor bestowed by the professional society. He said the award recognizes his most important research in online reputation systems — which rate businesses, services and products on digital platforms.
Van Alstyne, an information systems professor, received the ISS Practical Impacts Award for his impact on and leadership in the industry. He studies the evolution and growth of digital platforms such as Google and Amazon.
Questrom Dean Susan Fournier said Dellarocas and Van Alstyne’s skills, combined with their character made them prime candidates for their respective awards. The two do “research that matters,” she said, about the challenges businesses face.
“They understand the problems [companies] need to solve,” Fournier said. “They understand what kind of research is needed to help them address those questions.”
Fournier said both men are pragmatic, hardworking and an asset to their fields.
“They’re going to bring state-of-the-art research techniques,” Fournier said, “and incredibly deep theoretical knowledge to those problems.”
Dellarocas joined the department in 2009, after having researched online reputation systems since 2000. He said these rating systems can be found anywhere, from eBay to Airbnb, but the design process behind them is more complex than it would seem.
“Do we have a star rating or should we have a number?” Dellarocas said. “Should the star rating be an average of all the transactions or just the recent transactions? Does it make sense if it’s a binary rating which is good, bad? Or if it’s a rating on a scale from one to five?”
The way the systems interact with users, he added, is as important as how they function.
“They have fundamentally changed the way in which vendors interact with customers in the digital economy,” Dellarocas said.
Bin Gu, chair of Questrom Information Systems, called Dellarocas a “pioneer in online reviews” and said he was among the first scholars to recognize the value of social media, particularly for user-generated content.
“The online user-generated content, online social media and the online platforms,” Gu said, “these are really the key factors in today’s economy.”
Nachiketa Sahoo, an associate professor in Information Systems, said it appears Dellarocas is as passionate about research as he is about education.
“[He] always looks at a new course with a fresh pair of eyes,” Sahoo said, “and [is] always asking, ‘What is actually going to help the students?’”
Gu said Van Alstyne’s work is also well-known in his field, and both he and Dellarocas are deserving of their honors.
Van Alstyne said he is currently interested in what he called the “fundamental transition” to modern, global internet firms. He likened the rise of internet firms such as Microsoft to the rise of industry.
Geoff Parker, a professor at Dartmouth College who has done research with Van Alstyne, said he “very much” would like to continue working with Alstyne throughout the remainder of his career.
“You work with people you want to work with,” Parker said. “You do it because it’s productive and because it’s fun.”
Van Alstyne received similar praise from former doctoral student Tushar Shanker, who called the professor one of the “guiding lights” in his life.
“I saw this a long time coming,” Shanker said. “He is one of the most deserving people to have won this award.”