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Productivity is Focus of New Initiative at Sloan

A new program, PROFIT (Productivity from Information Technology), has been established at Sloan to define new processes required to gain greater productivity from information technology (IT) in both the private and public sectors. The goal will be to "enhance productivity in areas ranging from finance to transportation, and from manufacturing to telecommunications."

MIT President Charles Vest and Provost Mark Wrighton announced the new PROFIT Program on October 23 when PROFIT welcomed its first charter sponsor, Bull HN Information Systems, Inc. Axel J. Leblois, president and chief executive officer of the sponsor company, was present at this occasion. Senior Research Scientist Amar Gupta and Stuart Madnick, John Norris Maguire Professor of Information Technology, are the co-directors of the program.

PROFIT developed from a conversation Dr. Gupta had last year with Dr. Vest about establishing a research program at MIT that would relate to the IT industry in much the way the Leaders for Manufacturing Program relates to the manufacturing industry. Just as LFM sponsoring organizations benefit from their association with the program, PROFIT sponsors will attend seminars and symposia, serve as study or test sites for research activities, use knowledge gained from the program, and have access to material developed by the research teams. Ultimately PROFIT expects to involve about 10 sponsors drawn from a wide range of industries, including finance, transportation, manufacturing, and telecommunications.

According to Dr. Gupta, four themes are driving PROFIT to make data the truly valuable corporate resource it has long promised to be. Research teams will work to integrate disparate information systems, to lift information automatically from paper, to measure IT productivity, and to redesign business processes so that they derive more benefit from their computer-generated information processing than they are presently doing.

"In spite of all the technological advances that have occurred during this century," Gupta says, "white collar workers still spend a large amount of their time retrieving information from various sources in order to perform their jobs. Some information resides on computers of different makes and types, some exists on paper and other traditional media, and some must be accessed through personal interactions. The overhead involved in managing and integrating these relevant pieces of information is a major barrier to enhancing productivity."

"Previous research at MIT shows that the likelihood of success in using technology to increase prodictivity is a function of several technical and non-technical factors," Professor Madnick added. "The three essential prerequisites are a careful detemination of strategic applications, an intelligent selection of technologies and an ability to incorporate appropriate changes in the organizational structure. The PROFIT program will define new business processes required for gaining productivity from information and key technologies for the support of these business processes, making data a truly valuable corporate resource."

In addition to co-directors Madnick and Gupta, PROFIT has an Advisory Committee consisting of Professors William Pounds, Arnoldo Hax, Michael Scott Morton, Thomas Allen, and Gabriel Bitran. The associate director is Michael Siegel. One of PROFIT's first activities will be to work with Bull and MIT to host Enterprise `93, a forum on current business issues and IT as a strategic business tool that will take place June 16-18 at the World Trade Center in Boston.

A version of this article appeared in the November 4, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 37, Number 12).

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