Researcher of the Month; Charismatic Academic Dr. Acosta on Technology Strategy
Dr. Freddie Acosta can easily be described as a charismatic risk-taker, an excellent academician, a man big on technology as well as, a man who is passionate in transforming organizations and society.
Though he was born and raised in the Philippines, Dr. Acosta moved to Kenya in 2004 to pursue his teaching career and is now a senior lecturer in Technology and Innovation Management at Strathmore Business School, and a consultant on IT Strategy Formulation and Implementation.
Who is Dr. Acosta?
I come from a family of teachers; my parents are both public school teachers and out of my six siblings, three of us are teachers. Having said that, I consider my wife to be the real academician in my family as she studied education from undergraduate to PhD level and is now working as Academic Registrar of a University College in Nairobi. My wife and I married at a very young age and are gifted with 7 children (sons).
I believe that I am a risk taker; coming to Kenya was one of the biggest risks Ive ever taken, yet it has produced a lot of growth in me. I love technology but my passion for business and entrepreneurship picked up. I was initially hired as a senior lecturer for information systems where I taught computer programming, databases, operating system concepts, etc. However, due to my growing interest for business I became a business technology lecturer. (He jokingly says he vukad into the business world).
What is your Education Background?
The last two decades of the 20th century marked the dawn of Information Technology. This was brought about by massive adoption of IT in almost all sectors including the government. The growth could partly be attributed to high demand of IT professionals due to the deregulation of telecommunication, dot-com boom, and the millennium bug scare.
So in 1988, I went to Manila and registered for the Computer Engineering degree program at Mapua Institute of Technology, our very own MIT in the Philippines. Out of the 1,500 institutions of higher learning in the Philippines, I would say that my Alma Mater produced almost 20% of all Engineers and Architects in the country. It was a very competitive program as the attrition rate was more than 50%. I designed an infrared heater and Particle Sensing Device for my final project. I used two sensors that collect analog data, convert this signals to digital, compare them with stored data in the memory and give corresponding output using Light Emitting Diodes. I programmed my 8088 microprocessor based-system using Assembly Language.
Just after graduation, I worked as a Computer Programmer and System Network Engineer for a few years and in 1995, an opportunity came to start my own computer business that offered rentals, printing, Internet, tutorials, sales and services. It is because of this venture that I got motivated to register for an MBA specializing in Business Technologies.
As fate would have it I was drawn to academia, and since I didnt have a teaching qualification I registered in another graduate program; Master in Business Education (MBE). This enabled me to broaden my scope in now three areas: IT, Business and Education. Immediately I finished, I registered for a PhD in Development Education specializing in Management Information Systems. I graduated in March 2004, a few months before arriving in Kenya to start my teaching career at Strathmore University.
What was your PhD research on?
Combining my previous training and experience on IT, Business and Education, I formed the basis of my PhD research which was titled; IT Strategic Plan of Olivarez College.
Due to the high population in the Philippines and the number of colleges and universities present there was a lot of competition in the education sector especially in; attracting local and international students, faculty members, performance in the national board exams, and obtaining research grants. It was perceived that IT was an enabler in achieving organizational strategic objectives. Sadly, there were no IT related strategies at the time in local universities, something that was available only in developed countries.
My research on Olivarez College therefore, was to come up with an IT Strategy for the institution. I came across two philosophies of technology namely determinism and instrumentalism that served as my theoretical basis. In the technological deterministic view, IT is viewed as an autonomous force that shapes society. Whereas in instrumentalism, IT is simply a human-controlled instrument, tool or function. This is significant because information technologies/systems and organizations influence one another, serving the interests of the organizations. The interaction between IT and organizations is complex and is influenced by many mediating factors, e.g. business process, culture, structure, people, etc.
Based on these two philosophies, I identified technological innovations and included them in my plan hoping that they could impact the colleges strategy and operations. I submitted a 500-paged PhD document for my dissertation.
I was happy that my IT strategic plan was adopted by the college. The same framework I now use to advise other universities and businesses in Kenya.
What challenges did you face while doing your research?
Time management was my biggest challenge. I had to work full-time to support my growing family, pay my school fees and finance my research. Balancing my time between family, work and studies was a difficult challenge.
My area of research was relatively new in the country, hence finding local literature to benchmark my study was difficult. The ICT resources and infrastructure that were available in the country at that time were not as advanced and sophisticated. Therefore coming up with a useful IT plan suited for local situations posed as a challenge.
Lastly, finding a suitable supervisor that understood the synergy among the three disciplines I was putting together was also challenging.
Why did you relocate to Kenya?
After a disappointing application to New Zealand, I decided to explore other countries. I saw an advert on the Internet in 2003 where Strathmore University was looking for lecturers. I applied and was successful. But I could only join the university after finishing my PhD in 2004. Coming to Kenya was a blessing in disguise, although at that time, most of my colleagues, family and friends discouraged me to come to Africa. Ten years later, I proved them wrong for Africa is indeed a continent of opportunities.
What drives you to achieve greater heights?
The fact that I want to give glory to God and to serve humanity. I also enjoy finding practical solutions to problems and teach the society at large.
What are you currently researching on?
Japanese EM Technology. The application of this technology is wide and cuts across many industries including Agriculture, Manufacturing, Health, Environment, Construction, and Education among others. I am very excited and passionate in this emerging research area.
What is your next 5-10 year plan?
- I am currently supervising 2 PhD students. I am working to get promoted to Associate and consequently Full Professor.
- I also want to travel around the continent teaching and consulting on EM Technology.
- And finally I want to write more cases and win in international competitions.
Advise to aspiring PhD students
Pick a topic that interests you and work on problems that will benefit society. Academicians have the moral obligation to find solutions to problems that afflict people. Manage your time so that none of your responsibilities and commitments would suffer.
Outside of research what do you do?
I am passionate about farming and juicing. I have a small piggery farm and a vermibit (vermiculture + rabbit farm). I also enjoy outdoor activities like climbing mountains and fishing in lakes and rivers.