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May 19, 2014

On the Lookout | A Bold Faced Blog Series … Meet Jon Turner

Posted 4 years 277 days ago by Alison Harrison

Ashton212 is lucky to have access to some really big business brains—our Lookout Team. This month, we introduce Dr. Jon Turner.

Jon is an expert at the intersection of business strategy and technology and in the design and implementation of technology systems. He has published more than seventy-five journal articles, books and chapters, been involved in many government and privately funded research projects, and several National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council studies. Jon is also Professor Emeritus of Information Systems in the Department of Information, Operations and Management Science at NYU’s Stern School of Business. We caught up with him recently to find out more about his long career and fascinating research.


We describe you as an expert at the intersection of business strategy and technology. What does that really mean?

It’s about the intersection of technology, people and organizations. Engineers build technology artifacts out of hardware and software. These devices are then used by people for the most part, and in order to design them properly, you need an understanding of psychology and physiology. People have both physical limitations in, for example, how fast they can move, and cognitive limitations in how many things they can do at one time and the way they process information. When people are embedded within organizations, there are further guides and limitations on their behavior. If you’re going to talk intelligently about how people use technology, you need to understand all three parts and how they interact.


I started out as a bench engineer designing circuitry. Then I moved into systems engineering where I became responsible for the overall system, and I started to ask why we were designing systems that didn’t fit with the way people behaved. From there, I got into the Human Computer Interaction field at a pretty early stage because I was frustrated that people had trouble using the tools that we were building.


Tell us about some career highlights

Early in my career, I did a series of studies of social security clerks processing claims. The system as it was designed was creating stress and health problems for the clerks so I was trying to understand the causes of these problems. It turned out they were related to aspects of the system design and the way that the clerk’s work activities were organized. In another study with one of my students, we became interested in what happened when a clerk made an error and how best to design the computer system to respond. The research led to better ways to notify operators about errors which were less disruptive and stressful. I worked for several years in the mid 80’s on National Academy of Sciences study groups, including one to help the Navy understand how technology could be used to improve their battle readiness. At that time a lot of the logistics and information processing work that supports, for instance a battle group in the Arabian Sea was done manually. Working over a number of years, we were able to help them improve the performance of their logistics systems.

I also spent four years in Washington DC on the White House staff, helping to redesign the technical infrastructure for the Office of the President. I was also involved in a study of decision making in the White House and how information flowed to the President with an economist from Princeton and a political scientist from Harvard. That was probably more useful as an educational experience for me than our ability to change much!


What do you think the main challenge facing businesses is today?

I think that businesses have to decide where technology fits into their strategy and to what extent those strategies are dependent on technology. Upper management needs to become engaged and understand the issues and appoint qualified individuals to lead on technology. The problem in most firms is that management teams see technology as a detail thing that should be left to the IT folks, but there needs to be a clear and complete understanding of the issues at the top level if technology is going to be properly applied.


A regular tennis player and keen sailor, Jon has permanently relocated from New York to Alameda, and we’re delighted that he’s close at hand to share his enthusiasm and experience with Ashton212. We’re even more honored that he allowed us to borrow the name of his wonderful dog, Ashton, who serves as our Chief of Security.


Tags: Lookout Team

Categories: categoryAdvisory Board

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