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Software expert Otago’s new Professor of Information Science

Monday 14 October 2013

Software expert Otago’s new Professor of Information Science

A leading information systems and software engineering researcher has joined the University of Otago as Professor of Information Science within the Otago Business School.

Professor Stephen MacDonell was previously Director of AUT University’s Software Engineering Research Laboratory.

His research interests sit at the intersection of the sub-disciplines of information systems and software engineering and deal with questions relating to how and why software systems are developed, managed, used and maintained.

University Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says she is pleased that Professor MacDonell, who is both an Otago graduate and former staff member, has returned to his home institution to share the considerable knowledge and skills he has built up in his field of research and teaching.

After gaining BCom (Hons) and Master of Commerce degrees from Otago, Professor MacDonell undertook a PhD in software engineering at the University of Cambridge.

Following the completion of his studies at the end of 1992, he joined Otago’s Department of Information Science as a postdoctoral fellow and rose to Associate Professor by the time he left to join AUT University in 2002.

There he took up the role of foundation Head of the School of Information Technology and two years later was appointed Director of AUT’s Software Engineering Research Laboratory.

Professor MacDonell has published several book chapters, dozens of refereed journal articles and is on the editorial board of the international journal Information and Software Technology. As well as developing a number of national and international research collaborations with colleagues in the United Kingdom, Canada and South America, he has also carried out applied research and development work for major organisations in New Zealand and abroad.

He was a co-principal investigator in a recent five-year, multi-million dollar Foundation of Research Science and Technology project on software process and product improvement.

As part of his new role in the Department of Information Science, Professor MacDonell is building a research group focused on understanding how to turn challenged software systems projects into successes.

“All projects have risks and challenges — but it is how those risks and challenges are managed that determines their outcome,” he says.

“While we have a general sense of what leads software systems projects to fail, we don’t have a corresponding step-by-step recipe that can guarantee they succeed.

“We know that people are key; they are influential at every point from project concept through development to delivery and use. They are also sometimes irrational, and there are often political and financial drivers that mean a ‘recipe’ approach simply will not work.”

Professor MacDonell says that understanding how and why software systems succeed requires placing at least as much emphasis on the people and social structures that exist around systems as is put on the technologies and tools involved.

“Software systems need to be seen not as fixed, engineered objects that can be tightly controlled; but as evolving, complex, interactive, and highly contextual – basically they should be thought of as information ecosystems.”

Professor MacDonell says one of Otago’s great assets is its extended network of former students, many of whom are now driving business innovations locally, nationally and internationally.

“These alumni sit on both sides of the software/system ‘divide’: those developing and deploying systems; and those using them. In my view this represents a tremendous resource, one that can add real value to our research and our teaching.

“One of my key goals is to engage with them and their colleagues, to learn from them about the challenges they face and the needs they have, and to contribute positively to their future software systems projects through both our research and the graduates we produce.”


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