Dr. Robert Briggs
Management Information Systems
When Dr. Robert Briggs graduated from high school, he aspired to become a master furniture maker. He apprenticed to a Hungarian master craftsman in Santa Fe, New Mexico from whom he learned "the art and the mystery of the craft."
Briggs, who grew up in the Rancho Santa Fe area of San Diego County, set up his own shop in San Diego in the 1970’s where he designed and built fine hand-crafted wooden furniture for clients, and did conservation work on museum pieces.
Unfortunately, he discovered he was 100 years too late for the market. "For centuries, people spent lavishly on furniture to establish their social standing," he explained. "Now they spend that money on automobiles, so if I wanted to make a living as a craftsman, I would have to build custom automobiles. I didn’t want to do that, so I had to find a new challenge. And it had to be a challenge that paid well enough to raise a family."
Pursuing Plan B
Luckily for Briggs, his other passion was the relatively new field of computers. He noted, “It was fascinating and a career in computers would pay a lot better.” Armed with a new professional focus, he redefined his life’s path.
While still operating his fine furniture shop, Briggs continued his education by taking one or two classes per semester at Palomar Community College and SDSU. But with his renewed focus on pursuing a career in computer technology, he accelerated his education and earned bachelor’s degrees in art history and management information systems (MIS) at SDSU, graduating Magna Cum Laude in both. “After 16 years as an undergraduate, I earned both my bachelor’s degrees at the age of 33,” said Briggs. “I continued on at SDSU to earn my MBA with an MIS focus at the age of 34.”
Don’t Stop Now
Two of his MIS professors, Dr. Richard Hatch and Dr. Thomas Wendelmoot, encouraged him to earn his Ph.D. “It was intoxicating to think that I might be able to find the cutting edge, to jump over it, to see what was out there, and then to drag the cutting edge out to meet me. And then do it again – for the rest of my life!” he said. “I thought: ‘How cool would that be?’ Then I won an AACSB National Doctoral Fellowship to study at the accredited university of my choice. I chose the University of Arizona, where I earned my Ph.D. in MIS in 1994.”
Making an Impact
Since then, Briggs has become a leading expert in the field of collaboration systems and technologies, with the objective of improving group productivity. He co-founded the field of collaboration engineering, which is an approach to designing collaborative work practices for high-value organizational processes. With his approach, he can routinely cut project cycle times by 90 percent and reduce labor hours by 50 percent while increasing the quality and acceptability of work products. He has applied his expertise to create collaborative learning methods that reduced school drop-out rates among inner-city learners and developed business processes for Fortune 500 companies. He pioneered new classes of collaboration technologies, some features of which are now commonplace in social media and conferencing systems.
Briggs taught and researched collaboration systems and technologies at universities in the Netherlands, Arizona, Alaska and Nebraska before returning to his home base at SDSU’s Fowler College of Business in 2011. However, it wasn’t homesickness that brought him back. “When I was a student here, then-SDSU President Thomas Day began reshaping the university as a research school, and that inspired me,” Briggs recalled. “From the beginning of my career, I knew I wanted to help build a doctoral program someday, to be a part of helping a university move to a new level. It’s hard to believe I get to help build the first doctoral program here, at the Fowler College of Business, my alma mater. We’re still a year or two off yet, but we’re moving forward.”
Briggs exchanged his passion for the age-old profession of woodworking for the evolving field of technology, and he continues to look to the future. In addition to developing a ground-breaking Ph.D. program, he also hopes to establish an interdisciplinary center for informatics research at SDSU and write a book on the logic of scientific inquiry. Not surprisingly, he named the legacy of NASA as one of his greatest inspirations, because “they used intellect, guts and perseverance to make impossible possible.”