Professor Champions Businesses as Emerging Tech Disrupts Status Quo

image of illustrated people interactign with a variety of technology.

Emerging technology has fundamentally changed the way many corporations conduct business, and those new challenges intrigue OPIM professor Shu He.

Most companies need to reframe and reorganize their business approaches to embrace the new environment with social media, e-commerce, the availability and insight of complex data analysis, and concerns about cybersecurity and privacy, He said.

“My ultimate goal is to help companies, and other researchers, better understand business practices in this new era,” she said. “The business environment has changed corporate strategies, opportunities, and threats. This is such a new and exciting phenomenon, and it offers a wealth of topics to explore.”

Q: In general, how are companies adjusting to the new, fast-paced customer demands created by social media?

This is a complicated problem for many companies as they seek the best ways to handle online customer complaints. For example, consultants have told marketers to try to divert a complaining customer offline to discuss a grievance in private.

One of our research projects found that this approach is only moderately successful. The customers often continue to complain in the public forum, while they may shift to the private channel for more neutral conversations. Overall the online sentiments are, on average, more negative.

For many companies, this dilemma requires new and robust strategies to protect the corporate image and reputation. In this new era of disruptive technologies, we believe the only way for firms to harness social media customer service is to embrace the new level of openness and transparency that is enabled by technologies, and not look back.

OPIM Professor Shu He. (Nathan Oldham / UConn School of Business)
OPIM Professor Shu He. (Nathan Oldham / UConn School of Business)

Q: Are there other e-commerce business discoveries that you can share?

The other two projects I’m working on involve helping companies attract attention from customers in crowded online platforms. There are often so many choices that consumers suffer from severe information overload.

In the first project, we apply deep-learning models to process a large number of images posted by various companies to evaluate which pictures are more popular on social media. The old saying ‘a picture is worth 1,000 words’ has never been more true than today. We found that consumers prefer concise pictures, because they require less cognitive effort as customers are so rushed that they don’t really want to spend more time evaluating different products.

In the second project, we utilize a new marketing scheme on the app market to investigate how companies can target their potential customers. Interesting, we find both variety-seeking and consistency-seeking from customers’ behavior. While people prefer to download apps that are different from old apps that they were using, they spend more time on new apps that are similar to existing apps.

The results of both studies help companies have a better understanding of consumers’ preferences and further adjust their business strategies.

Q: How much of a ‘game changer’ is Big Data in corporate America today?

There is little doubt that big data is revolutionizing business, and will greatly change how most companies make decisions, if it hasn’t already. The key point, however, is how to convert the reams of data available into useful information to guide executive decisions appropriately.

There are many statistical and machine-learning models available to implement this process. On the other hand, I believe that theories also play an important role in understanding the data. In my research, I’m especially interested in pinning down the underlying mechanisms or reasons for the phenomenon observed from the business data. This way, the results can have more generalized applications and can be applied to other companies or even a variety of industries.

Q: I know you’re also interested in corporate privacy and security. What are your goals in that area?

This is a topic that really interests me and startles me as well. It is a consensus among researchers that many companies are not strongly motivated to invest in privacy and security protection for their clients; or do not have a full understanding of cybersecurity risks. If there is a security breech, customers often suffer tremendously. Meanwhile, companies may only pay part of the cost while the society will undertake the rest. As a result, companies are not fully incentivized to invest enough resources on security protection.

In our study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, we try to explore solutions and to propose policy improvements to enhance companies’ security protection.