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IU Bloomington professor is third-most-active in information systems discipline

Jan. 11, 2017

You might say Kelley School of Business professor Alan Dennis is connected.

A newly created measure of academic output in the information systems discipline named Dennis, the John T. Chambers Chair of Internet Systems in the Kelley School, as the third-most-active “broker of knowledge transfer within the network.”

Alan Dennis

Alan Dennis | PHOTO BY INDIANA UNIVERSITY

The measure is similar to the concept of "Six Degrees of Separation," which suggests that all living things and everything else in the world is six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of "a friend of a friend" statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. You might also know it as the "Kevin Bacon" game.

The new academic version is modeled after another that details connections to the late Paul Erdős, an itinerant Hungarian mathematician who is credited with publishing more papers than anyone else in history. He published more than 1,500 mathematical papers and had more than 500 different collaborators.

So when a Baylor University information systems scholar looked into who would be his discipline's "Paul Erdős," Dennis ranked high.

In an academic paper presented last month at the 37th International Conference on Information Systems in Dublin, Dennis, a fellow of the Association for Information Systems, was found to be the third-most-active "broker of knowledge transfer within the network."

Dennis follows Kalle Lyytinen, a faculty member at Case Western Reserve University, who was found to be information systems' equivalent of Erdős. The other is Izak Benbasat, a professor at the University of British Columbia and one of the people who helped conceive information systems as a discipline in the mid-1970s.

"I have to admit that it is an honor to be on the same list with these giants in our field," said Dennis, who also is considered one of the top five scholars by the Association for Information Systems, in terms of his amount of published research. "It's pretty amazing."

In his paper, Wallace Chipidza, a doctoral candidate at Baylor, measured the scholars' influence on their field through authorship and collaboration with others.

"One of the things that I've take a lot of pride in doing is working with doctoral students and junior scholars, to try and help grow them," Dennis said. "My position on the list is a reflection of those activities, which makes it especially fulfilling."

Ironically, Dennis was unable to attend the conference session where Chipidza's paper was presented. He serves as Vice President of Conferences for the Association for Information Systems and had to attend another meeting. But a few friends came up to him afterward to congratulate him.

Dennis will be attending another major conference this month and will be looking forward to seeing if his colleagues begin being referred to as "Lyytinen Ones," or "Lyytinen Twos."

"I don't think I've written a paper with Kalle … I should seek him out and see if I can write a paper with him," Dennis said with a laugh. "I may have written something with one of his coauthors, so I should check on that."

"The humorous thing is I actually have an Erdős Number of 'three,'" he added. "One of my coauthors is quite proud of the fact that he is an 'Erdős Two," which would make me an 'Erdős Three."

A native of Prince Edward Island in Canada, Dennis was drawn to his field when, as a sixth-grader, he was selected to participate in a government program to help students understand computers.

"That may not sound like much or very innovative today, but that was back in 1972 and we programmed on punch cards," he said. "It got me hooked and I found I enjoyed working with technology. Fast forward to my high school days, my high school was one of the first to get a computer terminal connected to a local university, so I taught myself how to program on that.

He entered a computer science program at Acadia University in Nova Scotia and became a "gun for hire," doing programming for several area companies. While working on his MBA at Queens University in Ontario, he continued working toward becoming a computer consultant when a professor directed him toward academia.

"He started twisting my arm to become a professor right away. In fact he mentioned it to the rest of the faculty and everyone who had me in a class -- and the dean -- came by to say, 'Look, you really should look to doing this now,'" Dennis said. "They hired me as a lecturer at Queens right after I finished my MBA and it was very clear to me within a couple of months that this was the right career path for me.

"I never looked back," he added. "That was where my career took a clear change in direction."

He came to the Kelley School of Business in 2000 after teaching at the University of Georgia for nine years. His Ph.D. is from the University of Arizona.

Looking back, Dennis said he appreciates the recognition because it is an indication of how much he loves doing research and working with doctoral students.

"Where else can you pick a puzzle to solve, solve it and then tell all your colleagues what you did," he said. "The other thing I really enjoy is teaching, both undergraduate and master's teaching, but especially the one-on-one mentoring of doctoral students.

"I am proud of the number of people that I've written papers with and helped to develop."

Alan Dennis's success aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a celebration of a vibrant community of scholars and catalyzing research.

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