Excellence in Research
Professor of Decision Sciences
Whittemore School of Business and Economics
Right: "Venky" Venkatachalam in the atrium of Morse Hall.
"Once he asked me a question and went away and thought about it for a year. And when I heard from him again, he had come up with a solution."
Last June during the World Cup playoffs, fans of the Brazilian team packed shoulder to shoulder in German stadiums and crowded around TV sets worldwide to see if their team of soccer demigods, billed as the best, would rise to the occasion.
But A.R. “Venky” Venkatachalam, professor of information systems, was more interested in catching a televised glimpse of the Brazilian coach. “I always try to learn from him,” Venkatachalam says of Carlos Parreira, known as a master tactician and an expert in managing people. “He has the same problem as high-tech companies: How do you manage superstars making $ 30 million? It’s the same with many global companies where the design team is in London, manufacturing is in China, management is in the United States, and they’re all hotshots. How do you make them collaborate?”
It’s not the first time that Venkatachalam has drawn a connection between seemingly unrelated subjects. In 1995, Bill Wetzel, now professor emeritus of business administration, invited him to listen in on a meeting of U.S. Small Business Administration officials. The subject was how to create a national network that would help small businesses get access to venture capital.
As he listened, Venkatachalam thought of the Internet, which was then an e-mail tool for academics. He had just installed an early—and ornery—browser, Mosaic, and despite his exasperation, he sensed the possibilities. “I told them, ‘Perhaps this new network of computers could be used,’” he recalls.
The resulting system, ACE-Net (Angel Capital Electronic Network), built with UNH’s Research Computing Center (RCC), is in use today in 45 states. It was the first of a string of innovative projects with a common theme: take complex subjects with massive amounts of data and figure out ways for people to access that information in a useful way.
Two years later, the U.S. Small Business Administration, having spent $ 10 million in an unsuccessful attempt to build a procurement network, turned to Venkatachalam. For less than $ 150,000, he designed and built—again with RCC—the Internet-based PRO-Net system that lets users look for businesses that have been approved to work for the government. In June 1997, at a White House ceremony, Vice President Al Gore congratulated Venkatachalam for his work.
A native of India, Venkatachalam earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. His graduate degrees—an M.B.A. and Ph.D.—are in business management. Patrick Messer, RCC’s associate director, admires Venkatachalam’s ability to bridge the normally dissimilar fields of business and information technology. “He’ll come to us and ask, ‘Can we do this?’ And if I explain why it can’t be done a certain way, he’ll think for a while, and then he’ll say, ‘OK, can we do it this way?’
“Once he asked me a question and went away and thought about it for a year,” says Messer. “And when I heard from him again, he had come up with a solution.”
Like pots simmering on a busy stove, Venkatachalam’s research projects coexist with his teaching load, department chair duties, publications, and editorial responsibilities. Recently, to give some structure to his far-flung interests, Venkatachalam created the Enterprise Integration Research Center, where his newest venture is percolating.
The project, currently a pilot involving several New England states, would help high-tech companies get funding for intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, and copyrights. He can’t say very much, he notes apologetically: the University is looking into patenting the concept and possibly launching a spin-off.
In March, Venkatachalam received $ 990,000 for the project—the largest grant in the Whittemore School’s history—from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If a patent is granted and he is given the go-ahead to build a nationwide network, he may find himself in the pleasant, if ironic, position of watching investors use his patented system to assess the economic potential of his system’s patented idea.