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Operations & Data Science

CUBE researchers co-organize webinar series on the Digital Economy 

With in-person seminars on hold throughout institutions across the world, a group of researchers who focus on the Digital Economy, including CATÓLICA-LISBON’s Miguel Godinho de Matos and Christian Peukert, have come together to organize a series of webinars on the subject which are open to all.
The Virtual Digital Economy Seminar, or VIDE, started on April 9th and already has sessions booked all the way up until mid-June.

The presenters of these seminars come from institutions all over the world, including MIT, Yale, New York University, Stanford or London Business School. The topics range from machine learning to digital markets, from the impact of reviews online to the role the internet has played in the initial stages of the response to Covid-19.

The live-streamed seminars, which always take place on Thursdays at 4PM Lisbon time, last for an hour, including 15 minutes of moderated discussion among the participants.

To follow along, visit the website of the VIDE seminar here.

Can robots help make education more inclusive? Find resources here

Pedro Encarnação 

The integration of children who have communicative and manipulative disabilities in classroom activities can sometimes pose a significant challenge to educators. Even though there are some technologies that can help children manipulate objects, they are often not integrated with the technology and software that children use to communicate, creating a barrier to use by students with concurrent disabilities.

That is the challenge that the UARPIE project, spearheaded from 2013 by CATÓLICA-LISBON's Pedro Encarnação, was put together to face. Researchers from five partner institutions developed a physical and a virtual Integrated Augmentative Manipulation and Communication Assistive Technology (IAMCAT) that these children could use to manipulate educational items while still allowing for the use of their augmentative and alternative communication system. 

The results of the project showed that the robotic systems were considered a useful resource by teachers, and had a positive impact on children with disabilities’ level of participation, communication and manipulation of educational items. Both teachers and parents found the children’s accomplishments surprisingly good. The use of these robotic systems in a classroom setting also alerted classmates to the difficulties that children with disabilities were facing. 

Find out more about the UARPIE project here, where all of the resources needed to experiment with the robotic systems can be found, as well as examples on how to use these in the classroom. 

“The next wave of digital technological change and the cultural industries”

Christian Peukert

What are important questions that research in cultural economics should target in the future? Christian Peukert has put together what intends to be “a thought-provoking call for research” in the form of a literature review where he explores what still needs to be studied and answered.

This paper, accepted for publication at the Journal of Cultural Economics, can serve as a roadmap that lays out many routes to be travelled. What is the economic welfare impact of fans putting up cover versions of songs on sharing websites? It may be more positive than you would think at first glance. How will big data and algorithms help firms to determine what you like and to engineer personalized content for you? Who will own the copyright when Artificial Intelligence technology starts to write books, sing songs and produce films?

Christian Peukert has written the following short summary of his paper.

"In this paper, I try to look into the future and discuss how the increased adoption of data-driven technologies and artificial intelligence may affect the cultural industries, i.e. books, music and film. The paper is intended as a proposal for research looking into the economic effects of digital technological change, with regard to market structure, concentration and innovation policy.

I argue that automated licensing of user-generated content, which has reached massive scale in systems like YouTube’s ContentID, has paved the way for hundreds of thousands of individual contributors to create content that is enjoyed by large global audiences. Original creators can easily decide whether they want to take down content that infringes on their copyright (e.g. remakes and cover versions of songs), or whether they want to leave it online and receive a share of advertising revenues. Because the existing literature does not take such individual-level cultural participation into account when trying to quantify the welfare benefits of digital technology and internet-enabled platforms, we are very likely to underestimate the welfare benefits and therefore do not properly value the importance of digital platforms in cultural policy. I go on to discuss the potential pitfalls of relying on advertising revenues to fund culture.

While digital platforms are already creating, collecting and analyzing usage data to feed into statistical models that predict individual preferences and accordingly recommend content, I go on to argue that we are likely only seeing the tip of the iceberg yet. I describe the circumstances under which consumption data cannot only be used for marketing of existing products, but also for the engineering of new products. With more and better data about consumer preferences, we will see more cultural products in the future that are specifically tailored to small groups of consumers or individuals.

Connected to this, I speculate about the economic implications of artificial intelligence that complements, or perhaps substitutes for human creativity with regards to the creation of new content. When creative machines become authors, composers, singers, actors and directors, I argue that it will be important to specify who holds the intellectual property rights for such creations. Nobody? The creator of the machine? The owner of the dataset that was used to train the machine? The owner of the hardware on which the AI system is running? The person that pressed a button to initiate the machine’s creative process? Or the AI itself? Answers to those questions have wide-spread implications for the type of business models that will occur from the use of creative machines in the cultural industries and therefore for the incentives to continue to produce content that consumers deem worth buying."

Peukert, C. (2018). The next wave of digital technological change and the cultural industries. European Journal of Information Systems.

Determinants and Heterogeneity of Switching Costs in IT Outsourcing: Estimates from Firm-Level Data

Christian Peukert

Firms across a wide range of sectors increasingly rely on the outsourcing of information technology (IT) services, mostly to save on costs and therefore enhance productivity. Because not all firms are equal, of course, outsourced IT services are usually not completely standardized and require customization. Hence, IT services cannot be bought on a spot market, but require the negotiation of individual contracts, often involving just a few parties. A long tradition of research suggests that contracts are doomed to be incomplete, because nobody can perfectly foresee all contingencies, which in some cases can invite opportunistic behavior of the involved parties.

In this paper, I study how firms decide whether to continue an existing relationship or switch the vendor of outsourced services. It has been widely acknowledged that there might be potentially high costs associated with switching. Cases studied in the literature suggest that switching costs are “large”, “high”, “extremely high”, “massive” or “the single most threatening aspect of IT outsourcing”. However, precisely measuring switching costs has been difficult for a number of practical reasons. One of those reasons is that these costs are hidden, very much like the well-known concept of opportunity cost, and not reported in the internal or external accounting of firms. The methodological contribution of my paper is that I develop a statistical model to deal with such issues.

In the context of US community banks that outsource information technology, my estimates suggest that average switching costs account for about 30% of the average annual expenditure on professional services. For some firms the switching costs are even higher. In fact, high enough to prevent them from switching after all. I estimate that this so-called "lock-in effect" is equivalent to about 70%.

A second contribution of this paper is the decomposition of switching costs into market-specific, firm-specific and relationship-specific determinants. Our results show that the largest portion of switching costs is due to relationship- and firm-specific factors, while market-specific variables are much less important.

However, this is not all bad news. My results also imply that firms can have substantial discretion in affecting the size of switching costs. In fact, about 80 percent of switching costs can at least partially be affected by the firm. I show that firms can lower switching costs disproportionately by investing in vendor search and evaluation. On top of that, experience effects and scale economies reduce switching costs. The largest portion of switching costs is driven by relationship-specific variables such as relationship duration.

The paper is therefore not only a statistical measurement exercise, but the findings provide important implications for the management of switching costs, both from a firm- and vendor-perspective.

Peukert, C. (2018). Determinants and Heterogeneity of Switching Costs in IT Outsourcing: Estimates from Firm-Level Data. European Journal of Information Systems.

Demand variation, strategic flexibility and market entry: Evidence from the U.S. airline industry

Christian Peukert

Changing demand levels are a key strategic challenge for firms, as they must adapt their capacity either downward to maintain high levels of resource utilization or upward to avoid missing earning opportunities due to capacity constraints. Reasons for demand variation are manifold and can range from predictable seasonal changes in consumption to unexpected macroeconomic shocks.

In this paper, we study a strategic safeguard against market turbulence: We ask if, and under which circumstances, flexible production processes can help firms to enter markets that are characterized by fluctuations in demand.

We develop hypotheses regarding the role of demand variation and flexibility in market entry decisions. Specifically, we hypothesize that demand variation leads to less market entry, that flexibility is associated with a higher probability of entry in new markets, and that this relationship is stronger with higher levels of demand variation. We go on to argue that the benefits of flexibility are greater when variation in demand is less predictable, further increasing the likelihood of entry.

We take these hypotheses to the data in the context of the airline industry.

In this industry, markets can be clearly defined by city pairs and entry happens frequently. We observe the entry decisions of 75 airlines into 2,065 domestic markets in a sample of more than 11 million observations between 1995 and 2013. Industry institutions are standardized across markets and stable over time. We measure flexibility as the number of different aircraft types that are at the disposal of an airline.

Our results show that airlines that choose strategic flexibility over operational efficiency are more likely to enter volatile markets, especially when this variation is difficult to predict.

Given that flexibility is a strategic choice that comes at a cost, our study has implications that are of vital practical importance. We argue that flexibility requires organizational and operational structures that are not easily created. Managers must weigh the benefits of efficiency against the merits of flexibility. In settings where it is difficult to predict future demand with historical data, our findings may also imply that strategic flexibility can complement investment in business analytics, helping managers to react to environmental change that is difficult to foresee.

Claussen, J., Essling, C. & Peukert, C. (2018). Demand Variation, Strategic Flexibility and Market Entry: Evidence from the U.S. Airline Industry. Strategic Management Journal.

Catch Me if You Can: Effectiveness and Consequences of Online Copyright Enforcement

Christian Peukert

We evaluate the takedown of, a major platform for unlicensed video streaming in the German market. We compare how the web behavior of a large number of users in Germany has changed compared to users in three other European countries. We find that the intervention was not very effective in reducing unlicensed consumption or encouraging licensed consumption, mainly because users quickly switch to alternative unlicensed sites. To the contrary, we find that press coverage of the takedown operation allows consumers to learn about the existence and legal status of unlicensed video streaming, causing some users to become pirates.

Our findings may perhaps translate into other contexts, where aggregate behaviour has seemingly not changed quite as intended, despite law enforcement efforts, e.g. in the so-called war on drugs. In such cases, the design of alternative policies seems to need to be informed by empirical evidence of the underlying mechanisms. Managers in the movie industry, as well as legislative bodies that are confronted with the challenges of digitization and the design of private and public law enforcement policy, are most likely to be impacted by our research.

Peukert, C., Aguiar, L. & Claussen, J. (2018). Catch Me if You Can: Effectiveness and Consequences of Online Copyright Enforcement. Information Systems Research.