Importance of Timely Business Research Today

Business Research Process

The Importance of Timely Business Research Today

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In the Age of Information, business research would appear to be a fairly straightforward enterprise, but some observers have equated the experience today to drinking from a firehouse because of the enormous amount of information available. Nevertheless, understanding the environment in which a company competes is a fundamental aspect of good business management practices, and managers are on the constant lookout for business research methods that will help them in their decision-making processes. The purpose of Part I of this paper is to provide an overview of current business research practices, why the business research process is necessary to assist managers in the decision-making process and how such research is typically conducted. A discussion and assessment of the relative the strengths and weaknesses of the various parts of the business research process is followed by an analysis of why this research is important to companies seeking to maintain and expand their market share in an increasingly globalized marketplace. Part II of the paper provides a business research proposal to collect relevant primary data concerning the importance of business research in the decision-making process and how manages are using such resources today. A summary of the research and salient findings are presented in the conclusion.

Part I: Purpose of Business Research

Overview of Current Business Research Practices.

Generally speaking, all business research methods share some commonalities, including obtaining and analyzing data in order to answer questions, solving problems or testing hypotheses and therefore contributing to the understanding and knowledge of the larger environment in which companies compete (Thomas, 2004). According to Thomas, “Although there are many different ways to do research, and although different fields have their preferred research styles, all research does share certain features:

Research is empirical; it involves studying the world outside ourselves.

Research adopts systematic and explicit methods; it is essentially a public endeavor in which it is possible, in principle, for others to repeat investigations and check on their accuracy (p. 3).

Current business research practices vary according to industry and need, but the concept involves much more than simply asking a question and trying to answer it. According to Thomas (2004), “Sometimes research methodology is portrayed as if it were simply a set of tools and techniques used to solve research problems. But this is far from being the case…. There is no one best way to do research” (p. 3). Even though there may be no single best approach to conducting business research, the importance of timely business research to the decision-making process in helping managers accomplish their organizational goals is well established and these issues are discussed further below.

The Importance of Business Research in the Decision-Making Process.

Good managers are able to accomplish a great deal in virtually any environment based on an intuitive sense of what is needed to accomplish organizational goals, but this “seat-of-the-pants” management style will only take a company so far. In truth, timely information about a company’s performance as well as its competitors’ performance, the environment in which it competes, and current economic trends are just part of the vast array of information that business managers need to remain competitive today. Moreover, there is always the risk of relying on the wrong information or even the right information for the wrong purposes. Because humans are involved, there is also the fundamental issue of the highly subjective nature of the interpretation and application of research data as well. In this regard, Vernon (2002) emphasizes that, “The literature on decision making is vast, since the subject is regarded as a critical management activity, though fraught with danger. All stress the importance of gathering information prior to decision making, being aware of factors that have a bearing upon the process itself, and identifying ways of dealing with the uncertainty that is at the nub of the problem” (p. 55).

Strengths and Weaknesses of Current Business Research Practices.

While the term “business research” is an umbrella terms that encompasses virtually every research endeavor by a company to better understand the environment in which it competes, there have been some popular business research models developed in recent years that reflect current practices. For instance, Cooper and Robertson (1990) described four types of decision making in relation to the environments in which they are most appropriate, described further below together with an analysis of their respective strengths and weaknesses, in Table 1 below.

Table 1.

Types of current decision-making techniques.

Decision-Making Model

Description/Strengths/Weaknesses

The neo-rational model

This model takes note of the cognitive insights which suggest that decision making involves rational and non-rational processes; however, because it tries to account for intangible factors such as feelings, it tends to be suited to situations in which only a few decision makers are involved, such as top management.

Open ended model

This approach takes note of the uncertainty that surrounds decision making, preferring a number of small reactive decisions to be taken in order to best shape the overall outcome to real circumstances. The emphasis on flexibility suits innovative organizations.

The bureaucratic model

This model is characteristic of large corporations where decision making is inevitably complex and involves many participants. The emphasis on rigor brings a thoroughness to the process, although at the expense of time taken to reach a conclusion.

Arena model of decision making

This model is typically used in organizations where responsibility is widely distributed. Generally speaking, different interest groups will make representations to the organization as a whole in the hope that a consensus can be reached as to the course that should be followed. This model is necessary to hold certain kinds of organization together, although it suits those that are least sensitive to compromise.

Source: Cooper & Robertson, p. 101.

Based on the foregoing, it is clear that the highly subjective nature of the business research process itself is clearly a constraint, then, but the importance of the enterprise is sufficiently compelling to require companies of all types to engage in business research on an ongoing basis, and these issues are discussed further below.

Importance of Research Topic.

Aristotle Onassis once suggested that, “The secret of business is to know something nobody else knows.” Because resources are by definition scarce, though, “knowing something nobody else knows” requires some careful management of a company’s existing resources to ensure it receives the most “bang from its research buck.” Therefore, identifying which business research methods are most appropriate for a given company based on its day-to-day operations and long-term strategic needs represents a timely and important endeavor. To this end, Part II below provides a business research proposal that will help identify what research methods are currently being used by business managers and for what purposes, as well as their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Part II: Business Research Proposal

Background.

While the type of information a company will need to make it short- and long-term decisions will vary according to the industry in which it competes and its particular organizational goals, it may be possible to discern some current best practices by surveying business managers from various industries concerning their preferred methods of conducting business research, and what types of information they rely upon to make their short- and long-term decisions.

Research Objective.

The research objectives of the proposed study are to answer the following three research questions:

What are the most common business research methods currently in use?

What types of business research methods are best suited for companies competing in different countries?

How are business research methods being used to help managers make their decisions?

Methodology.

The proposed research project will use a mixed methodology to accomplish the above-stated research objective. The first part of the methodology will consist of a critical review of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature to identify secondary sources concerning current business research methods and their applications, and their relative strengths and weaknesses, followed by a survey of current business managers to provide primary data concerning what business research methods they use and for what purposes, as well as their perceptions of their effectiveness of their approaches in accomplishing their organizational goals. This approach is highly congruent with a number of social and educational researchers. For example, Fraenkel and Wallen (2001) advise, “Researchers usually dig into the literature to find out what has already been written about the topic they are interested in investigating. Both the opinions of experts in the field and other research studies are of interest. Such reading is referred to as a review of the literature” (p. 48). Likewise, as Dennis and Harris point out, “Primary data are information that is being collected for the first time in order to address a specific research problem. This means that it is likely to be directly relevant to the research, unlike secondary data, which may be out of date or collected for a totally different purpose. Ideally, an effective research project should incorporate both primary and secondary data” (emphasis added) (p. 39).

Preliminary Literature Review.

One business research method that has been used to good effect by some companies is the data envelope analysis methodology developed by Charnes and his colleague (1978, cited in Marcoulides at p. 122). According to Marcoulides (1998), “This method is used to evaluate the relative efficiency of a set of decision-making units (DMUs)” (p. 122). The term “decision making unit” was coined by Charnes and his associates to describe a set of homogeneous units, each of which uses a common set of inputs to produce a common set of outputs as shown in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2. Graphical illustration of a set of DMUs each using a common set of inputs {1, 2,…, I} to produce a common set of outputs {1, 2,…, R}.

Source: Marcoulides, p. 123.

Some examples of decision-making units include the collection of similar firms, departments, or other organizational units and typical DMUs can be comprised of group of schools, hospitals, bank branches and like units (Marcoulides). Based on the mathematical formula developed for this model, business managers can choose those weights that maximize the efficiency of each DMU, subject to the constraint that no other DMU using the same set of weights can achieve an efficiency rating of higher than 1; a rating of 1 indicates that the DMU is efficient compared to the rest of the DMUs in the group (Marcoulides). According to this author, “As a result, management can use DEA not only to identify relatively inefficient units and measure the magnitude of their inefficiencies, but also to provide guidelines for improvement” (Marcoulides, p. 125).

Many business managers also use decision trees to help them in the decision-making process. This technique provides a graphical representation of the decision-making process and are designed to clearly establish the alternatives available to a decision maker, and to provide some indication of the various outcomes that could result (Vernon). According to this author, “Decision trees are in the form of probability diagrams. Each branch of the tree represents an outcome that follows from the premise to which it is attached. For example, two common outcomes are success or failure, and a probability can be assigned to these to provide a quantitative measure of the likelihood of each” (Vernon, p. 45). Conversely, decision trees can also be used to identify associated costs, with each branch representing an amount that that choice represents; using this approach allows managers to take a large decision and break it down into more manageable pieces, summarizing the impact of various options as the decision tree progresses. In this regard, Vernon notes that, “If, for example, the overall success of a decision depends upon the success of several smaller steps, then an overall probability of success can be calculated” (p. 56).

A sample decision tree used to evaluate the economic impact of hiring a consultant for a given application is show in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Sample decision tree.

Source: Merrick School of Business, University of Baltimore, 2008, http://home.ubalt.edu/ntsbarsh/opre640a/tree.gif.

Even business research methods that employ decision trees have their advantages and disadvantages, though. While these graphic representations can be highly useful in certain settings (e.g., the decision under consideration is comparable to decisions that have been taken in the past, then the quantitative aspect of their analysis is likely to be accurate, since probabilities can be derived from that experience), for the same reason, decision trees are subject to a much wider range of variables if they involve strategic rather than routine decisions (Vernon). According to this author, “Strategic decisions are by definition steps into the unknown. Decision trees are also subject to prejudices of the decision maker who might, for example, make a more desirable outcome appear more probable. They are also prone to conceal qualitative aspects of decision making, especially human factors, which can be as important to success” (emphasis added) (Vernon, p. 56).

Data-Gathering Method and Sources of Data.

For the literature review, a variety of sources will be consulted including university and public libraries, online resources such as EBSCO and Questia, as well as online organizational resources from companies to identify any salient business research practices. For the survey, a convenience sample of business managers concerning their current business research methods will be used. For this purpose, a custom survey consisting of a series of Likert-scaled questions ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” was created (see copy at Appendix a) and will be posted on SurveyMonkey.com, a free online survey service, with invitations emailed to business managers in various industries identified online or personally known to the author with a goal of collecting at least 50 responses. These initial questions may be replaced with others or modified based on the findings of the final literature review and face validity reports from colleagues, co-workers, family members, and others. Statistical analysis of the aggregated survey data will be accomplished using SPSS Version 11.0 (Student Version), with the results reported in tabular and graphic form, as well as being interpolated with the findings of the literature review in the concluding chapter.

References

Cooper, C.L. & Robertson, I.T. (eds.). (1990). International review of industrial psychology. Chichester: John Wiley.

Dennis, C., & Harris, L. (2002). Marketing the e-business. London: Routledge.

Fraenkel, J.R. & Wallen, N.E. (2001). Educational research: A guide to the process. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Marcoulides, G.A. (1998). Modern methods for business research. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Thomas, a.B. (2004). Research skills for management studies. London: Routledge.

Vernon, M. (2002). Business: The key concepts. New York: Routledge.

Appendix a Sample Survey of Business Managers and Their Preferred Business Research Methods

1. We have used the data envelope analysis methodology in our business research in the past.

2. It just makes good business sense to outsource our business research needs.

3. Our company mostly relies on tried-and-true business research methods such as customer surveys, quality assurance measures and so forth.

4. We are conducting more of our own business research online now.

5. We have too much information to make good sense out of it.

6. We can always find what we need to know without consulting others.

7. We use decision-trees all of the time.

8. Our company has decision-making software to help with the decision-making process.

9. We receive management reports in time to use the information to good effect.

10. We need more, not less, business research to help us accomplish our organizational goals.


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