Dr. Angappa Gunasekaran is a Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Decision and Information Sciences at the Charlton College of Business, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, where he is also the Director of the Business Innovation Research Centre. Having held academic positions at Brunel University (UK), Monash University (Australia), the University of Vaasa (Finland), the University of Madras (India), the University of Toronto, Laval University, and Concordia University (Canada), he now teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in operations management and management science. He has published over 180 articles in 40 different peer-reviewed journals, serves on the Editorial Board of over 20 research journals and received an Outstanding Paper Award from Managerial Auditing Journal for the year 2002. His current research interests include researching benchmarking, agile manufacturing, management information systems, e-commerce (B2B), information technology/systems evaluation, performance measures and metrics in new economies, technology management, logistics, supply chain management and total quality management.
Benchmarking: An International Journal (BIJ) is the first journal devoted to this topic, which is about measuring business processes against best practice. As a management tool benchmarking has attracted considerable interest; BIJ provides case studies of the techniques, practical guidance and context so that companies can make an informed decision not only as to the type of benchmarking, but whether benchmarking is right for them. The journal is peer reviewed with a distinguished editorial board, and is aimed at those working at a senior level in quality assurance.
Can you tell us a bit about your own background and say how you came to be interested in benchmarking?
When I was working at the University of Vaasa (Finland) in the early 1990s, I taught advanced managerial accounting including performance measures and metrics. After my tenure in Finland and Australia, I joined Brunel University in 1995 where I actively pursued my research in the areas of performance measures, metrics and cost management systems. During my tenure at Brunel, I also advised many graduate dissertations involving performance measures and metrics and costing systems. Subsequently, I worked on several research projects in the areas of IT/IS investment justification and projects evaluation. Nevertheless, my experience and interest in these areas [for over ten years] have led me to realize the importance of benchmarking and best practices in managing organizational resources productively for global competitiveness: performance measures and metrics are the key managerial tools for managers; without these, improvement in performance can hardly be achieved! Since I have become the Editor of BIJ, I found that the subject has generated tremendous interest among researchers and practitioners. This could be seen from the quality of the articles that appear in BIJ and also in the number of websites dedicated to research and practice of benchmarking.
You have been prolific in your research – in 2002 alone you published ten articles just in Emerald journals – and have also received awards for teaching. In practice many academics can find that it is very hard to be proficient at both. How do you manage it?
I feel that my success in the classroom is in many ways a by-product of my research projects and results. By disseminating research to the world community, both academic researchers and practitioners benefit; in turn, students benefit from the exposure to cutting edge perspectives of operations management and information technology and systems. Also, I regularly use many of my case study research results in classes and students work on those cases to further their understanding of real life business practices. Students appreciate my efforts to bring current business practices and international perspectives to the classroom. My students have published their research (case studies/empirical analysis) as a part of their course work in peer-reviewed national and international journals.
You won an outstanding paper award in 2002. What were the qualities in this paper that helped you gain this award?
I was really honoured (jointly with Professor Mostaque Hussain) to have received that award. This particular paper deals with the implications of non-financial performance measures in the financial services industry. First of all, the paper presents a comprehensive review of the institutional perspective of non-financial management accounting measures in the financial services industry. But it wasn't just another conventional review paper – it also justified the need for non-financial performance measures in financial services industries such as banks, critically analysed the existing literature on the subject, and developed a framework for non-financial performance measures in banks/financial institutions and important research propositions. The main qualities of the paper were the uniqueness or novelty of the contents, the currency and the relevance of the subject area, the structure, writing style and presentation of the paper, and the extent of contribution to advances in theory and applications in management accounting measures, particularly in financial services industry.
In a nutshell, what is benchmarking and why is it important?
Benchmarking is the method of determining best practices. Simply put, best practices from successful companies will provide a guideline for other companies to follow. Best practices of productivity and quality contribute to overall organizational competitiveness. For example, the best practice of supply chain management from Dell Computers can be useful to companies in other industries not necessarily within the computer industry. Toyota’s just-in-time technique has been popular in almost all types of industry.
The journal is 13 years old. How has it changed in that time?
BIJ has gone through several changes over this period. Since information technology has had tremendous influence on the application of benchmarking techniques and practices, we have regularly published the Internet Editorials by Professor Ronald McGaughey of the University of Central Arkansas. In addition, we have had some interesting special issues published in the past five years on a variety of important topics that include:
We have also added book reviews on benchmarking and related topics.
The average acceptance rate has decreased dramatically over the years and now stands at about 22 per cent. There has been a marked increase in the submissions from North America and Australasia. Lastly, we have been regularly publishing editorial notes on emerging theory and practices of benchmarking.
What are your current key objectives for the journal?
Currently they are:
Your audience includes academics, students, and managers in quality assurance. What are the primary needs of each audience, do they overlap, and how do you manage to satisfy each audience?
BIJ publishes articles on theory and applications of benchmarking, best practices and quality assurance. The primary needs of each audience are to understand the concepts, techniques and applications of the benchmarking processes and then identify suitable best practices. BIJ is a platform for disseminating new developments and applications of benchmarking techniques and tools. The functions of academics, students and managers overlap each other by the very nature of the tasks. They have to work or interact together as a team in order to advance the theory and practice of benchmarking. There are several ways in which they come together to work on projects and to learn from each other.
Academics need to learn the latest developments in the areas of benchmarking theory and applications and see through the needs of companies with reference to the techniques and tools of benchmarking in the emerging global market. BIJ exists for this purpose and can help with their learning.
BIJ is a source of information for students on benchmarking and provides a strong background for students while conducting research in the areas of benchmarking. Nevertheless, students will be part of either future academic or managerial community and in turn knowledge transfer to industries through students and academics.
Practising managers are looking for new ideas regarding benchmarking techniques and tools, as well as a framework for identifying best practices which would contribute to their organizational productivity and in turn competitiveness. Managers are constantly looking for new ideas of benchmarking and the interaction with academics and students will facilitate affordable access and help with benchmarking applications.
What are the main current trends in benchmarking which you would hope to capture in the journal?
One area of emerging interest in benchmarking is the development of Internet-enabled techniques and practices for benchmarking. Other trends include benchmarking in emerging enterprise environments such as supply chain, virtual enterprise, e-commerce, IT/IS investment justification and evaluation, technology management, physically distributed enterprise environment, outsourcing, and build-to-order supply chain, just to name a few.
In one Call for Papers (on benchmarking and partnerships) you stated that "Theory-building and empirical-testing papers are welcomed as well as case studies and best-practice experiences. Papers that generalize methods from the best practices of specific partnerships are of particular interest". Does this encapsulate your editorial philosophy generally?
My answer to this question is YES. At least two BIJ editorial board reviewers will review each paper, making sure the papers are grounded upon a sound theory and followed by empirical testing with the help of real-life data. Generalization of the results and findings as well as managerial implications is of paramount importance, and these have been embedded into the editorial scope and review processes of BIJ.
What qualities do you look for in a case study?
A publishable case study should clearly spell out the objectives of the research and the background for the research, citing current literature; the case study must include a justification for the research methodology and provide sufficient information about the case company, highlighting the changes the company has gone through in terms of strategies, techniques and tools, the identification of critical success factors, as well as provide a generalization of results and findings.
What plans for the journal do you have for the next 18 months?
Update the editorial board of BIJ, solicit special issue proposals on benchmarking theory and practices in emerging enterprise environments, and organize a conference to promote BIJ. Also, encourage young researchers (new faculty, post-doctoral researchers and PhD students) to publish and develop a team to assist them with the help of EB. Expand the Editorial Review Board in order to expedite the review process and hence reduce the overall lead-time for the publication of submitted articles. We are also planning to introduce a separate section in BIJ for industrial papers that is papers from practitioners on benchmarking. The new and expanded editorial board membership will be from industries and public sector institutions and non-profit organizations.
Your Editorial Board has roughly half its members from the USA. Does this reflect the focus of the journal in terms of coverage, authorship, etc.?
It reflects the volume of ongoing activity in that country and also the number of submissions on benchmarking research as well performance measures and metrics.
What is the role of the Editorial Director, and why do you have an editor specifically for the Asia Pacific region?
The Editorial Director (Professor Mohamed Zairi) advises the Editor and Editorial Board of BIJ on the development of the journal from time to time concentrating particularly on the scope, contents and objectives. The Asia-Pacific region is one of the most dynamic and promising world economies, with extensive activity in manufacturing and other industries. This makes it important to disseminate benchmarking theory and practices, including best practices. This realization and the desire to encourage further research and applications, has led to the appointment of a regional editor (Professor Amrik Sohal) for the Asia-Pacific Region.
Your preferred length for an article is 2,500 words. In practice, many journals go for 5,000. What is the thinking behind short articles and how would you advise an author who might find it difficult to condense a piece of empirical research into that length?
I see your point about the length of the articles published. I would suggest eliminating a detailed introduction, obvious definitions and reducing the length of the literature review by removing references to outdated articles and focusing on research methodology, hypotheses, results, and applications.
How many articles do you aim to publish in any one issue, and how many issues per year?
We aim to publish six to eight articles per issue and six issues per year.
Do you find (especially in the USA) a lack of willingness to publish anywhere except in what are perceived as "A" journals?
I have to disagree with this view. I have been receiving a good number of quality articles from the USA on a regular basis. There are universities in the USA, which have different research focus (such as theory-building, applied research) and many of them would be interested in publishing journals like BIJ.
Many of your articles carry a lot of graphic and tabular material. Can you advise authors on the best use of this?
My suggestion is to provide only the summary of data and not the intermediate results, and avoid duplication of information presented between tables and figures, and to enhance the focus as well as readability of the article.
Dr Angappa Gunasekaran was interviewed in July 2006.
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