Data analytics expert joins ASU as distinguished chair and professor
Olivia Liu Sheng brings 40 years of experience in data analytics and information systems research to W. P. Carey School of Business
This summer, Olivia Liu Sheng stepped into her role as the new W. P. Carey Distinguished Chair and Professor of the Department of Information Systems at Arizona State University.
She’ll co-lead the W. P. Carey School of Business' newly approved Center for AI and Data Analytics for Business and Society to use artificial intelligence responsibly.
“The W. P. Carey Chair is the most prestigious chaired position at the business school,” says Gopalakrishnan Mohan, senior associate dean of faculty at W. P. Carey. “The title owner is expected to be a thought leader, connecting theory and practice and working or coordinating research, teaching and service that enhances the school's reputation with a significant social impact. Olivia Sheng is a world-renowned expert in information systems research with a current focus on leading mindful AI efforts within our strategic initiative on AI and data analytics.”
In 2019, a second gift by the W. P. Carey Foundation invested $10 million to create two new endowed professorships, called W. P. Carey Distinguished Chairs, to help recruit prominent professors who are outstanding teachers and researchers recognized as leaders in their fields. The gift led directly to the appointing of the first W. P. Carey Distinguished Chair in Business in 2022, Dean Ohad Kadan. Sheng received the second Distinguished Chair when she joined the information systems department on July 1.
“Olivia Sheng is a leading scholar in artificial intelligence and data analytics,” Kadan says. “Her presence is already making an impact at W. P. Carey as we roll out a host of initiatives, programs and certificates focused on applications of AI in business. We expect Olivia to transform these already innovative efforts into truly world-class initiatives that will shape the future of AI and data analytics in business.”
Sheng most recently served as a President's Professor and Emma Eccles Jones Presidential Chair of Information Systems at the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. She established the Global Knowledge Management Center to seek research and education extension of business intelligence and analytics. She also organized one of the first annual academic conferences on business analytics.
Before the University of Utah, Sheng was on the faculty of management information systems at the University of Arizona since 1985 and was the department head from 1997 to 2002. She was also a visiting faculty member at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Shanghai Jiao Tung University and Molde University College in Norway.
As the W. P. Carey Distinguished Chair, Sheng participates in PhD education and engages with the students on mindful AI research topics.
“I was very familiar with faculty in W. P. Carey’s information systems department and interacted with them about their research over the years,” Sheng says. “I have been impressed by the growth and accomplishments of the information systems faculty. My remote colleagues refer to our information systems department as a powerhouse!”
How Sheng’s childhood shaped her
Sheng’s humble upbringing, her father’s entrepreneurial spirit and her family’s support influenced her career trajectory and approach to research and service.
“My interest and appreciation for problem-solving came from observing my father, who was brilliantly innovative,” says Sheng, who was born in Taiwan. “He was always coming up with new inventions to solve problems.”
In Sheng’s family, it was clear that a college education was a must, and an advanced education was encouraged. Sheng pursued management science and, ultimately, quantitative business methods.
“I enjoy quantitative reasoning,” she says. “My interests became clearer in college, but before college, I always enjoyed paying attention to the details and thinking deeply about problems.”
She received her bachelor’s degree from the National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan.
“Management science in Taiwan isn’t considered an area of study for women students,” Sheng says. “I was always interested in disciplines, knowledge and skills that were not considered appropriate for my gender, as I enjoy math, science and technology.”
During her undergraduate education in management science, Sheng learned about coding and programming. When a donor gave a microcomputer to the school, it allowed Sheng and her classmates to get hands-on coding experience.
“After that, I wanted to see more coding results,” she says, “but I hadn't thought about how I was going to combine it with quantitative reasoning or data-driven research; I just knew I wanted to pursue technology within business school.”
This led Sheng to the U.S. to earn her master's and PhD degrees in computers and information systems from the University of Rochester in New York.
Sheng’s research focuses on machine learning with large-scale data for enhancing online and social media users’ experiences, health analytics, distributed computing management, digital government, telemedicine and telework applications. Her research has received funding from organizations such as Overstock, Yahoo!, the U.S. Army, the National Science Foundation, IBM, Toshiba, Sun Microsystems, SAP University Alliance and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Sheng also founded Aculus, an IT startup that offers business intelligence and big analytics solutions for search marketing, drug and other product review analytics.
AI meets Sheng — and mindfulness
Sheng says she'll bring her research experience to the W. P. Carey School “to grow capabilities of all kinds."
“I always want to do my best to contribute to my profession and community," Sheng says. "That motivated me to join the University of Utah 21 years ago. Now it’s ASU’s turn. ... My mission every day is to help create meaningful impact with the school’s strategic investments in the new Center for AIDA for Business and Society.
“It’s important to know that the technology is not perfect; AI can fabricate examples, pose security and privacy risks, and recreate biases," Sheng says. "So, we’ll be asking how we mitigate the risks and dangers and ensure we maximize the benefits for society.
"Mindful AI should help solution providers create fair and harmless AI technology and guide end users to engage with the technology cautiously.”
“We are super excited to welcome Professor Sheng to our big (information systems) family,” says Pei-yu Chen, chair of the information systems department. “Professor Sheng is a world-renowned researcher, well-respected scholar, a pioneer in design science research in information systems, and brings much technical and business knowledge in AI and data analytics to ASU. Her expertise and experiences will undoubtedly elevate our already strong (information systems) department to new heights on multiple fronts, including research, teaching and corporate engagements."
Sheng has been involved in complex, multidisciplinary health care research — including radiology and cardiology applications.
“I’m always excited about working on practice-oriented, real-world research that could impact our society and business,” she says. “I hope to do so one project at a time, small or big, where I can help ASU and Arizona to leverage AI more positively, to reduce the risks and avoid the harm.”
Other areas Sheng says she’d like to study include AI for problems brought on by natural and manufactured disasters, climate change, and mental health and neurological challenges.
"I think there are many opportunities here,” she says.
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