David Upton holds the American Standard Companies Chair in Operations Management. He is a leading expert on the integration of information technology and operations management to provide competitive advantage.
David’s current work in India and other countries focuses on growing new competitive capabilities, lean systems for knowledge-based industries, and the development of rural digital enterprises. His joint work on improving competitiveness in knowledge-based industries (such as software and banking) won the prestigious 2012 Shingo Prize for research in Operational Excellence. This work has broad application for a range of organisations, such as law firms, architectural practices and medical operations. Other research has focused on the implementation of large IT systems and the integration of IT and Operations.
David’s work in Information Technology has focused on how to avoid the pitfalls of developing large IT systems in companies, 30%-60% of which typically fail, involving multi-million dollar failures and cost over-runs. Part of his approach is to decompose projects and ensure an incremental-value-based method, drawing on test-beds developed at the Harvard Business School and with Shinsei Bank in Tokyo. It has been used at a wide range of organisations, including the Pentagon, as well as companies in a broad range of sectors.
David’s work on Operations Strategy and Improvement adapts lean principles to knowledge organisations where they have not previously been seen to apply, such as architecture, law, medicine, software and innovation. This work has been rolled out across a number of organisations, much of which has included a “teach the teacher” approach to facilitate access to as many people as possible throughout the organisation.
Current projects include an Oxford-led multi-university collaboration, funded by the Centre for the Protection of the National Infrastructure. This work looks at the risks of insider cyber-attack, focussing on prevention, detection and education concerning this growing hazard for companies and their boards.
David joined Saïd Business School in 2010, having previously been Albert J Weatherhead III Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, where he was on the faculty from 1989-2009.
He had previously undertaken research in Artificial Intelligence at the Engineering Research Center for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems at Purdue University (1986-88) and on Flexibility in Operations at the Cambridge University Manufacturing Engineering Group (1984-85).
He has a PhD in exploring Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing from the School of Industrial Engineering, Purdue University, has a Masters in Engineering (MEng) and MA (Hons), both from Cambridge University, and was an undergraduate apprentice with Tube Investments in multiple service and manufacturing operations.
He is a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a Professional European Engineer and a Chartered Engineer.
Main areas of expertise:
David’s research is primarily field-based and empirical; it is carried out internationally, with a particular focus on India, South America and the USA.
He recently won a research grant for insider cyber-threats with Sadie Creese, Professor of Cybersecurity at the University of Oxford’s Department of Computer Science.
David is the author of around 50 Harvard Business School cases, all of which are developed based on the problems faced by real companies and the relevant field research always involves significant interaction with the companies, boards and managers.
David was winner of the 2012 Shingo Prize for Research with Brad Staats and David Brunner for their work on the application of lean principles to Knowledge-work.
His work encompasses the following themes:
Building Competitive Advantage through Operations
Operations has long been considered the tail-on-the-dog of business – something that just needs to be done adequately enough to keep money coming through the door. However, many recent examples have shown that companies can create a significant competitive advantage by, for example, offering rapid response to customer orders, building error-free service operations, or simply by being able to make things that no-one else can. This research looks at the ways in which operations, and their continuous improvement, can deliver lasting competitive advantage – without the danger of simply outsourcing the problem of operations to others.
New Approaches to Managing Information Technology
Information Technology is now an integral part of any operation. However, a range of studies shows that large IT projects have failure rates 25-70% (depending on how you define failure). Part of this is due to the perception that organisational IT demands a discrete “installation” model, in which much work is done specifying the system before it starts, the project stumbles along, until it is goes live, is thrust on its users and delivers a poor solution to how the business looked three years previously. David and his colleagues advocate a “path-based” approach: this is not simply the application of agile programming, but rather one of building information systems that provide an organisational platform for ongoing improvement for years to come. The approach is being implemented by companies across a range of sectors and has been used for major projects at Harvard Business School.
Rapid Improvement of Operations in Knowledge Work
Approaches to operations improvement like those embodied in the Toyota Production System have delivered important advantages to many manufacturing companies: relentless attention to detail, a commitment to data-driven experimentation and the idea of managers as support staff for those doing the work are often characterised by the generic term “lean” – and deliver rapid, ongoing improvement. Attempts to apply these ideas to knowledge-work, however, have proved frustratingly difficult: groups of experts with immense tacit knowledge, trying to deliver outstanding service seem to be in a different category than repetitive manufacturing. A bank officer deciding whether to make a loan, a doctor deciding how to diagnose, or an architect designing a building all appear to be part of a very different world. David’s research looks at how lean techniques can have a significant impact in knowledge-based arenas, such as law or government, without disempowering the experts, but nevertheless having a significant impact on their effectiveness. These ideas are already being embraced by businesses involved in software development and banking; meanwhile David and colleagues are writing a book on the topic, with an additional volume on the application of lean methods specifically to government.
The Operations for Social Impact
In many developing countries, the infrastructure necessary to grow, build, deliver and distribute goods is woefully inadequate. However, even with these constraints, effective operations strategies can make a big difference. This work has looked, for example, at the distribution of lunchtime school meals into rural parts of India to encourage attendance among children that are generally under-nourished. It has also investigated more efficient and profitable supply chains for agricultural goods. Future research will expand these ideas and seek opportunities to use the power of effective operations strategies to make a significant impact on the quality of life for thousands, if not millions of people.
While it is broadly understood that cyber attacks represent a real and increasing threat to business, many of these attacks are not launched by seasoned hackers across the globe looking for new challenges. What happens when the danger comes from within the business itself? Or from trusted partners or suppliers? Or indeed from external organisations or governments acting in illegal partnership with insiders? Cyber-based threats can be the actions of disgruntled, corrupt or just poorly-trained employees, deliberately or accidentally harming crucial data or digital infrastructure. They can involve many people and malicious software, exploiting vulnerabilities in business systems and processes. Yet, despite the size of the risk, insider attacks receive comparatively little attention from the cyber security community and company leaders charged with managing corporate risk. This research aims to assess and provide early warning of insider cyber attacks as well as provide education to business leaders on the steps they can take to minimise this increasingly serious risk.
He is also part of the core research team at Oxford's Global Centre for Cyber Capacity Building
Other research projects have included:
1995-2000 Harvard University
Study of the role of computers in flexibility improvement strategies, involving 90 plants worldwide. Industrial collaborators include Pacific Dunlop, Daewoo, Samsung and Cabot Corporation.
1989-1995 Harvard University
Factory-level study of flexibility in the global fine-paper industry. The objective was to determine the reasons for the large disparity in flexibility observed across comparably equipped factories. This study involved industrial collaboration with over half of the US fine-paper industry.
1986-1989 Purdue University, Engineering Research Center for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems
Conducted research on the control of automated factories using artificial intelligence (AT) techniques. Research involved the design of intelligent products that could negotiate their own manufacture in the system using implanted microprocessor and radio-networking devices.
1984-1986 Cambridge University, Manufacturing Engineering Group
Research on the application of Information Theory to the control and design of manufacturing systems. Development of artificial intelligence platform for a self-teaching robot, which learned through assisted discovery of its environment.
David's CV can be read here.
David is playing a major role in the development of IT at Saïd Business School, replicating a role he played as architect and manager of a major information technology initiative at Harvard Business School. The goal is to have a unified school-wide system for administration, teaching and research, including self-serve video streaming and editing, on-line multimedia cases.
At HBS, David was architect and manager of implementation of an $11m Information Technology initiative: he developed a unified school-wide system for administration, teaching and research including self-serve video streaming and editing, on-line multimedia cases, employing integrated Unix/Microsoft environment. He also developed HBS’s first multimedia case at (Pacific Dunlop Beijing).
David has acted as a consultant on Information Technology and/or Operations for companies including Detroit Edison, Unilever, Fidelity Investments, AT&T, General Electric, ITC (India), Saint-Gobain (France), Allied Signal, Ralston-Purina, Wells Fargo Bank, Cabot Corporation and Wipro (India). He has also developed and delivered programmes on managing operations and innovation for senior managers in banking and on manufacturing for plant managers in a global fast-moving consumer products company.
He holds/has held the following board positions:
Tech Data Inc (TECD), a Fortune 100 distributor of computer systems and information technology based products (1997– ). He has served on Audit, Compensation and Governance Committees.
HK Systems Inc, a manufacturer and installer of automated materials handling systems (1995–2000).
Professional and Academic Associations
At Saïd Business School, David teaches on the core Operations Management programme for MBA and EMBA students. He also teaches on a number of Executive Education programmes, including programmes in other countries for EMBA students and external clients. His method of teaching uses the case method and has an inductive style. He likes to be as eclectic and inclusive as possible, selecting a teaching approach appropriate for the class or the company.
David is also experimenting with a new system for distant teaching based on the case method. This draws on technology from the gaming industry. Students and teachers appear as Avatars. The advantage is that, wherever they are in the world, students only need a web browser to pick up a discussion and participate. If these experiments are successful, the method will be used for follow up or additional classes, for example, for Executive Education and School alumni.
At Harvard Business School, David was Course Head for the required first-year MBA Technology and Operations Management course; developed Designing, Managing and Improving Operations, a second year MBA elective on information technology and operations, and a second-year MBA course on Operations Strategy. He was faculty chair for a number of Harvard Executive Education programmes on topics relating to E-Commerce, Information Technology and Operations, including the long-running executive course, Building Competitive Advantage through Operations. He taught on the Managing Global Opportunities programme for international managers, delivered in China and developed custom programmes in Building Competitive Operations for over 20 global companies including General Electric, AT&T, IBM and Unilever.
He is the author or co-author of around 50 Harvard Business School cases, used by business schools around the world. Cases cover companies including McDonald’s, Fidelity, Daewoo, Deloitte & Touche Consulting, Shinsei and Wirpro Technologies, as well as Indian charity Akshaya Patra.
Teaching awardsRanked 'Most Effective Instructor' in all MBA and Executive operations courses taught at HBS since 19951997: Agpar Award for Innovation in Teaching1989: The Magoon Award for Excellence in Teaching in Engineering
Saïd Business School
University of Oxford
Park End Street