Cillo: focused, innovative, applicable. The challenge for research in the time of big data

Conversations with SDA Bocconi new managers


What is the role of research in an era of information overload, when data have become commodities and the web is the huge territory to harvest them at no cost? This question is often underlying discussions about research on companies and management. But it is precisely in such a borderless universe that shaping row information into knowledge becomes mandatory. Focused, relevant, innovative and readily applicable – this is how research should be according to Paola Cillo, “Claudio Dematté” Corporate & Financial Institutions Research Division’s new director. We have spoken with her about the perspectives and priorities of her tenure.

Which are the main new directions of research activities relating to the corporate world and their implications for managerial education?

“I think change is having a three-fold impact: on the type of research, on content and methods. A common denominator is the digital transformation that has marked the last 15 years and has further accelerated following the health emergency in the past year. As to the type of research, it needs to be more and more specialized and tailor-made for companies.” And here is where you make the difference between quantity and quality. Cillo is cut-clear: “a surplus of more or less accurate and complete research and data are available online, and companies tap on that for decision-making. But even if they can help you figure out key phenomena, a lot of these are not systematic or detailed. And it is exactly this abundance of information that makes it necessary for companies to revert to research that is tailor-made on their most specific needs. At Claudio Dematté we aim at providing companies and financial institutions with customized and relevant support in line with their own strategies and decision-making processes, going deep into existing issues, exploring new phenomena and identifying paths for future growth.”

This approach affects research methods, which need to combine two requirements: rigor and innovation. Here again, technology is key: “digital platforms and big data offer a unique opportunity to go deep in detail into phenomena you could only observe on the surface before. To do that, you need to adapt existing, established research methods to the new scenario or else create new ones being just as robust and reliable. Which makes another serious challenge.”

Last but not least, content: “today, we can observe that some points have become key to all companies and can no longer be overlooked,” says the new director. “I’m thinking about sustainability in its various meanings, inclusivity, the new ways of marketing products, process digitalization and the use of artificial intelligence in routine or non-routine corporate activities. All of these aspects are going to become increasingly important in global business dynamics.”

But the Division’s job does not end here. The following step is empowering companies. “Our task is taking companies to own their research methods and content. We do this through tutorship and/or training so that the outcome directly impacts day-by-day activities and processes.”

In taking up your new role, what is the point you envisage as a priority?

“My goal is to further enhance two distinguishing features of our research which are powerful competitive drivers: our faculty’s close relationship with companies and financial institutions, the result of 50 years of managerial education. This works a sort of a radar allowing us to anticipate critical phenomena and significant change. The second driver comes from SDA Bocconi being the School of Management of Bocconi University, where research has always been the beating heart of all activities. The two factors infuse research with scientific rigor and practical relevance.”

And what do you think your personal contribution is going to be?

“First of all, I am building on the legacy of my predecessor at the head of Claudio Dematté RD and I want to continue his extremely good job at developing the Division. My job will be to increase integration between research activities at SDA Bocconi and Bocconi University, and to let excellence in research increasingly speak the language of business and have a meaningful impact on companies. In line with the School’s 2021-2025 Strategic Plan, I want to expand the footprint of international research, without losing touch with the priorities of Italian companies.” We could define this process as a circle where companies and financial institutions are the alpha and omega of research activities, their source and at the same time their beneficiaries.

SDA Bocconi School of Management 

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