INFORMS ONLINE

New editor needs to focus on content

By ManMohan S. Sodhi

One thing I learned in my Silicon Valley days is that every organization needs to change its CEO when it moves on to its next stage: one CEO to start it up, a different one to grow it and yet another one to build it into a stable organization. The organization, too, has to change with the CEO. INFORMS and INFORMS Online (IOL) can be considered in this light.

IOL has gone through different stages with different editors-in-chief: Mike Trick was the entrepreneurial one, Matt Saltzman harnessed a plethora of still-evolving technologies, and I have overseen the development of a new technology platform to take us into the social networking world of 2.0. Now we need someone who will build on this technology platform with content. Likewise, INFORMS must change organizationally; it needs to move the editor-in-chief from being part of the Technology team to its Publications team, just like the editors-in-chief of its other content platforms, the journals.

What the Next E-in-C Needs to Do

The new Web site, up since November 2009, is member-centric in its focus on making information more easily available to members, such as bringing different aspects of INFORMS such as the “From Our Publications” to the fore. We also have blogs creating content.

The next E-in-C has to make IOL community-centric, and not just in a faddishly social-networked sense. The reality is we exist in networks, and within INFORMS we belong to different formal and informal networks. On a day-to-day basis, INFORMS is too large an umbrella; people want to communicate and connect with other people who share their interests. More importantly, communities are intertwined with content: communities create content, content creates communities. (To find help in creating your own community in IOL, go to www.informs.org, and find “Participate in communities,” then “Community resources” and finally “Web support”).

How could IOL become community-centric? The boring answer is we could use social networking sites like LinkedIn or Yahoo! groups. The interesting answer is IOL already has the technology for communities within INFORMS to set up their Web sites and do many of things they would like to do or even currently do, but at a much lower cost than they could outside of IOL. I outlined these ideas in previous columns (October 2009, December 2009 and April 2010).

What we need now is an E-in-C who is networked broadly within formal and informal INFORMS communities and can assure these communities that IOL is the right technology solution for them. These communities could then use IOL’s platform to support their needs, thus enriching INFORMS and IOL’s content, and their own editor would become part of the E-in-C’s editorial team.

Organizational Change Required

Thus, the key idea concerning communities and content is to have community sites in the new IOL system so that community volunteers provide and manage content without requiring long-reaching approval processes. However, IOL also serves as the official Web site for INFORMS, so it needs dedicated staff responsible for the missions and business processes within INFORMS as an organization.

Up to this point in time, volunteers’ and dedicated staff’s problems centered mostly around technology issues, so the IOL team – comprising the E-in-C, staff and volunteers – has been part of Technology within INFORMS. But now we have the possibility of supporting communities, and we need volunteers to create and maintain content while letting the dedicated staff continue with the core business functions. So it is important to delineate responsibilities, with dedicated staff being responsible for the IOL core, and volunteers, including the E-in-C, being responsible for communities.

The IOL core includes the business and marketing aspects run by full-time staff and involves maintaining the technology and ensuring that the INFORMS brand is site-wide, with a uniform look and feel for all sub-sites (by providing templates, for example). The core also involves providing content that emerges from formal meetings and marketing initiatives, along with announcements and links to appropriate content sub-sites (see below).

Content would be the focus of community sub-sites (or in some cases, hosted sites) created and managed by volunteers. Some of the information on these sites may be duplicated from the core site (and/or have appropriate links), but most content would be quite detailed and specific to the sub-site. Science of Better and the Roundtable, for instance, could host sites if the volunteers running those Web sites want to leverage the IOL technology without giving up their separate identities or URLs. The volunteers on these sites would have a formal administrative role for approving content on their site, with an editor being part of the IOL editorial team.

With volunteers focusing on content, the INFORMS Board should make the IOL E-in-C part of the Publications team. After all, IOL is an important source of content for INFORMS, just like the journals, and is no longer a technology issue.

Parting Words

Leading a $500,000 project and wading through organizational complexity has been a good experience. Now, as my term as editor-in-chief of IOL comes to an end, I can say with confidence that IOL is ready to take INFORMS into the next decade with content.

ManMohan S. Sodhi (m.sodhi@city.ac.uk), the editor-in-chief of INFORMS Online (IOL), heads the operations and supply chain management group at Cass Business School, City University London.