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Centre for Digital Business

Do you know your wearables from your nearables? Your augmented reality from your virtual reality? Can you keep up with new workplace jargon such as CX (customer experience), growth hacking or responsive web design? Importantly, do you feel a need to be aware of emerging digital technologies that are radically altering our business landscapes? It is impossible to place a value on digital business. It underpins every startup, SME and global organisation. What is a certain is that digital business is driving economic growth, creating jobs and even making sure your shopping arrives on time! Does your organisation want to be the next big thing? Digital business is more than just your companies website. It is about transforming business models and using data driven insights to drive your organisation forward. Why don't you follow us on Twitter @DBcentresalford to find out more?

What do we do?

The pace of technological change brings major challenges for businesses. Some businesses do not have skilled people and are ill equipped to complete in such turbulent environments. Others don’t feel the need to change. Recent changes in our High Street demonstrate that even big organisations, such as HMV, Kodak and Thomas Cook Travel can fail to look forward, adapt their business models or align their organisational and IT strategies to address new challenges. By failing to acknowledge the strategic influence of business, digital technologies have caught out many big players. What hope is there for independents, startups or SMEs? Our award-winning centre provides a number of routes to support the local business community and beyond. These include Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, hosting of social media Boot-camps, running commercial one day courses or arranging strategic research internships with our PG students. There are many ways in which the Centre partners with businesses on a local and global level – email us to find out how we can help.

How can we help businesses become digital?

The Centre has an international research reputation. It focuses on the issue of digital businesses using national and international projects. We offer our accumulated knowledge through a number of free online resources such as MOOCs, blog posts, case studies, conference papers and ultimately courses offered by the Salford Business School. We don’t think it is too big a claim to say that we are transforming the lives of individuals free of charge. We offer a community for learning and enquiry as well as help organisations transform their operations and harness the power of digital business.

The Centre for Digital Business continues the work of the former Centre for Information Systems, Organisations and Society (ISOS)  - one of the top performing research centres of Salford Business School.

The UK-wide Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008) outcomes showed that 75% of the research activities of the former Centre was at international level, with 25% being classified as world leading.

The Centre for Digital Business continues this work with an expanded vision that brings together information systems research with research in the fields of strategy, innovation and  entrepreneurship as well as digital media.

PhD study at the Centre for Digital Business

If you would like to study for a PhD in the Centre for Digital Business, look at the research expertise of our members and contact them to informally discuss your research proposal. The postgraduate research application should follow the University of Salford’s guidelines - see how to apply for a Business PhD here. We have also written a guide on how to write a research proposal below.

Undergraduate and Postgraduate study at the Centre for Digital Business

The Centre staff are also involved in teaching on the following CPD courses and undergraduate and postgraduate courses:


How to write a research proposal

How you write a research proposal for your research degree will depend on a number of factors, not least the area of study and your previous experience of it. Writing a research proposal is one of the first tasks that has to be undertaken by all research programme students at the Digital Business research centre.

Please note that this is a guide and not a rule for research proposal writing and it does focus our research traditions and hence will not necessarily fulfil the requirements of other research centres. Whether you are studying for a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), MPhil (Master of Philosophy) or MSc by research - a research proposal will allow you to focus your work and find a suitable supervisor; thus it is an important starting point for your research training journey.

Your writing of a research proposal will depend on a number of factors. Before you commence, it is important that these factors are explored and identified by yourself and if possible with your potential research supervisor. The option discussed in this guide on writing a research proposal is to approach it as a mini project - meaning that your research proposal writing project has its time deadlines, quality benchmarks and associated costs. The information in this example draws on developing a PhD study research proposal that would be accepted for submission of study in the Salford Business School.

On this page:

How long to spend writing your research proposal

Dependent on your experience of the subject area, the average time allocated to writing a proposal could be anything from one day (for someone who has just finished their MSc and plans to develop their MSc thesis into a PhD) to about a month (perhaps where you have found a new area of interest and you want to take your career in this direction). For example, if you have recently graduated with an MSc in an area where you would like to develop your work further, the PhD research proposal could be the natural progression of your MSc dissertation – hence you could start with the conclusions chapter where you reflect on your findings and identify new areas of study. Alternatively, you might have developed a new concept and would like to test it further in different settings such as organisations or other countries or with larger samples of data. So – set yourself realistic expectations.

Research proposal subject area

It is always advisable to see your research proposal writing as a first step to advancing your future career and not simply as writing a research proposal for its own sake. There are a number of reasons for this, not least the financial necessity to fund your work and the potential use of your findings for commercial purposes in the future. Also, unless your work is unique, the contribution to knowledge (which is a requirement of a PhD) would be, difficult to achieve. Although there are exceptions to this, and there are some researchers who simply take their degree to gain a research qualification, it is important that you are interested in the research area yourself and are not considering it simply because of your supervisor or a journal paper that mentioned that specific area as important.

PhD research proposal topics inspiration

The opportunities for research proposals in the area of digital business are endless. A good starting point for inspiration are PhD research proposal topics - these can be found on the Business School PhD pages. The latest publications can be viewed on the University of Salford Institutional Repository, from the profile pages of the individual members of academic staff by exploring their research areas and publications or more generally via Google Scholar: scholar.google.co.uk

Research proposal quality benchmarks

In answering the question on how to write a research proposal we have so far identified that it is not something that should be done without a longer term perspective and there are a number of issues that have to be considered before you finalise your research proposal draft. The following numbers should be used as a guide and not a rule – there are always exceptions but generally:

  • Word count is between 1500 to 2000 words (not counting abstract and references)
  • Number of references should be about 10 to 20 (recent academic journal publications)
  • You should always read the work of those who you intend to supervise you and include your views on their relevant work.

Generic proposal structure could include:

  • Title page: - your research proposal title and your name etc.
  • Abstract: - circa 300 words summarising What? Why? and How? you are proposing to undertake this research.
  • Research Context: - setting out the “research problem” area and what others have done about it thus far.
  • Research problem statement: - why is this still a problem warranting your research; highlighting limitations or weaknesses of other studies and identifying what is necessary to address these limitations. This leads you to stating your research questions.
  • Research aim and SMART objectives: - the aim of your research should logically follow from the research problem statement. The SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) objectives should break your research proposal into major stages and state an output, which would guide you in planning and negotiating your work with your supervisor. For example, one of the objectives could be: Objective 1 – literature review: To undertake a literature review of 100 most relevant journal articles and writing a 20,000 word literature review by the end of the first year.

(Note here that the 20,000 word literature review is a measurable output which will guide you in your final thesis production. The final word count for a PhD thesis is about 85,000 to 100,000 words and you have to plan your chapter writing outputs accordingly.)

  • Research method: - This section is logically derived from your research questions, aim and objectives and deals with the practical implementation of your data collection, data analysis and conclusions’ drawing. It is important to differentiate that the term ‘method’ is sometimes interchangeable to mean methodology, research approach or research strategy – dependent on which research methods books you are following. Since you are only at the proposal stage of your study it is not expected that you make statements here about the philosophical stance of your work. For example, discussion of your philosophic beliefs (such as positivist, interpretive or critical research paradigms) and hence the methodological considerations are not necessary at this stage.

    However, it is useful to demonstrate your appreciation of some consideration to the methods you are planning to use – i.e. is it going to be action research, case study, experiment, grounded theory or other widely accepted information systems research methods. At this stage, the following information systems research book is recommended reading and would be a good companion for your PhD studies:

    Oates, B. J. (2006). Researching Information Systems and Computing. London: Sage Publications.

    On a more practical note you also need to consider the primary data collection tools (assuming that you are planning to use these) such as questionnaires, observations, interviews, document analysis, focus groups etc. Finally, your section on research methods could end on the discussion of data access – that is how you are planning to negotiate access to primary data collection.

  • Research plan – the last section could be a brief reminder of what it is that you are going to achieve and what will follow from your research method and research objectives. For example, each objective could be broken down into smaller tasks that would guide you in allocating time to your work.

    When developing timelines, you have to be aware of the timelines frameworks as set out by the University of Salford regulations. At the time of writing this “how to write a research proposal guide”, a PhD normally takes three years full-time or five years part-time study (January 2013). The MRes or MPhil programmes usually last at least one year, if studied full-time and two or more years if studied part-time.

    The development of outputs could be your milestones and would guide your progression of study. A plan is a communication medium for you and your supervisor and it is always worth trying to keep the balance between too much detail and too little – for example, you don’t want to have too many detailed tasks for all years but perhaps at the beginning of your work you might want to be explicit about your first year and keep the latter stages more generic since they are likely to change based on your work in the first year. Examples of a plan of activities could include:

    Objective 1 – literature review tasks:
    • Attend research training on undertaking a literature review
    • Identify 10 most recent authors in the area and critically review their work – Month 1
    • Identify 10 most frequently cited journal articles in the area and critically review their work – Month 2
    • Identify 10 most relevant journals and conferences in the area and quarterly review their recent publications – Month 4
    • Present your literature review drafts to peers – Month 5
    • Mile Stone: Produce a draft literature review chapter of circa 20,000 words and 100 references. – Month 6
  • References: – In the Salford Business School, the work is mostly published using the Harvard referencing standard. This means that in the body of your research proposal you need to state the author’s last name and the year of publication, for example (Bell & Heinze 2004), and at the end of your proposal in the references section you have to state the full reference stating the title, journal details and the page numbers such as this:

    Bell, F., & Heinze, A. (2004). With regard to respect: a framework for governance of educational virtual communities. International Journal Web Based Communities, 1(1), 19- 34.

    Additional information on how to reference can be found on the University of Salford library support pages.

You have written your research proposal: what next?

Now that you have written your research proposal, you have to check that you have all the other necessary documents for your application. The main thing is not to worry if you find that your proposal is still not perfect - it is a proposal and during the first year of your study you will refine it and when it comes to the final submission it might be a totally different document, which is not uncommon. It is often the case that once you get into the area of research you will refine and re-focus your work in light of the feedback from the supervisor and others to whom you present your work as part of your research training – this would include seminar presentations, conferences etc. So apply now!

Need more help on how to write a research proposal?

Have an informal discussion with a member of staff who you are hoping will be your supervisor. You can contact them directly or contact the College Research support staff who will help you to find a potential supervisor for your work and or who will provide further clarification on the above guide.

However, there are a number of additional resources, which could help you with your work, and the University of Salford provides these centrally:

Expertise: rigour and reputation

At the Centre for Digital Business we aim to produce academically rigorous research that builds our reputation as advisors to local businesses. The members have a broad range of expertise that can be grouped into the following three areas:

Strategic use of digital technologies

Search and social media marketing, social media reputation building, digital media campaigns, Business and IT strategies, e-learning, disruptive technologies, ecommerce, legislation, innovative business models

Application of digital technologies

Social media strategies, mobile apps, on-line shopping, information securities, back office systems (ERPs, CRMs, Supply chains, enterprise web),

Analysis of digital technologies

Big data, privacy, identities, young people and technologies, Facebook ethics, YouTube, mobile device usage, on-line trust, surveillance technologies


Funding detail: EU)
Duration: 2013-2016
Grant:€384,859
Centre member(s): Aleksej Heinze, Gordon Fletcher and Tahir Rashid
Research: Identification of European needs for Digital and Social Media Marketing and developinga book, Massive Open Online Learning Course (MOOC) as well as a Joint masters in Digital and Social Media Marketing. The project already succeeded in developing a new Msc Digital Marketing programme now offeredat Salford Business School.
Dissemination: http://mastersindigitalmarketing.org

Funding detail: KTP (TSB)
Duration: 2009-2011
Grant: £79,000
Centre member(s): Gordon Fletcher, Maria Kutar
Research: Develop the POS Store system - An online design and ordering systems for Point ofSale materials.

Funding detail: KTP (TSB)
Duration: 2011-2013
Grant: £81,000
Centre member(s): Gordon Fletcher, Aleksej Heinze, Andrew Goudie
Research: Development of a Dynamic Campaigns dashboard logic and its implementation.
Dissemination: Ongoing

Funding detail: KTP (TSB/ESRC)
Duration: 2011 - 2013
Grant: £81,000
Centre member(s): Aleksej Heinze, Gordon Fletcher, Yiannis Polychronakis
Research: Development of E-Law concept and infrastructure.
Dissemination: Ongoing.

Funding detail: KTP
Duration: 2009 - 2011
Grant: £118,001
Centre member(s): Marie Griffiths, Aleksej Heinze
Research: Back office operations review and ERP solution refinement.
Dissemination:Ofoegbu, AC, Griffiths, M and Heinze, A 2011, Themes and challenges for service management solutions in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) , in: UK Academy for Information Systems 16th Annual Conference 2011, 11 - 13th March 2011, Oriel College, Universityof Oxford.

Griffiths, M., Heinze, A. and Ofoegbu A. C. (2012). The real SAP Business One cost: a case study of ERP adoption in an SME. International Journal of Management Practice (IJMP), Forthcoming. Special Issue on: "Challenges and Issues of Technology Adoption in Small Businesses – Beyond the Rhetoric" Forthcoming

Funding detail: KTP
Duration: 2012 - 2013
Grant: £60,577
Centre member(s): Marie Griffiths
Research: To bring empty homes back into use through the development of an innovative and sustainable emptyhomes engagement strategy.

Funding detail: KTP
Duration: 2009
Grant: £136,852
Centre member(s): Aleksej Heinze, Marie Griffiths
Research: Enterprise 2.0 - Customer Relationship Networking and impact on its use inbusiness.
Dissemination:Griffiths , M, Heinze, A, Light, B, Kiveal, P and Sethi, T 2010, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace: can Web 2.0 social networking sites nudge the boardroom – the evolution of CRN 2.0 research agenda? ,in: UK Academy for Information Systems 15th Annual Conference 2010 “Information Systems: Past, Present and Looking to the Future” , 23rd - 24th March 2010, Oriel College, University of Oxford.

Funding detail: Research Bidding Support
Duration: 2010
Grant: £3,000
Centre member(s): Maria Kutar, Gordon Fletcher, Marie Griffiths
Research: Exploratory research to develop a systematic methodology foridentifying digital identity.
Dissemination: Ongoing

Funding detail: ESRC
Duration: 2012
Grant: £2,162
Centre member(s): Maria Kutar, Gordon Fletcher, Marie Griffiths
Research: Exploratory research to develop a systematic methodology for identifying digitalidentity.
Dissemination: Ongoing<

Funding detail: Centre for Inquiry-based Learning in the Arts and Social Sciences (University of Sheffield)
Grant: £3,950
Centre member(s): Maria Kutar, Marie Griffiths
Research: Griffiths, M, Kutar, M and Wood,J 2010, 'Introducing digital literacy skills through IBL: A comparative study of UG and PG business information systems students' , Italics, 9 (2)

Funding detail: University of Salford
Duration: 2009 - 2010
Grant: £10,000
Centre member(s): Gordon Fletcher, Aleksej Heinze, Ben Light, Alison Adam
Research: Development of innovation bazaar concept asa forum for community open innovation.
Dissemination: Ongoing including input into papers about SF prototyping.

Funding detail: University of Salford staff placement
Duration: 6 months during 2008
Grant: £1,500
Centre member(s): Aleksej Heinze
Research: Identification of motivational typology driving onlinemarket research communities participation.
Dissemination: Ferneley, E, Heinze, A and Child, P 2009, Research 2.0: Improving participation in online research communities , in: European Conference in Information Systems, 2009, Verona, Italy.
Ferneley, E, Heinze, A and Child,P 2009, Research 2.0: encouraging engagement in online market research communities , in: UK Academy for Information Systems (UKAIS), 2009, Oxford.

Funding detail: Manchester City Council and Salford City Council
Duration: 4 months
Grant: £10,000
Centre member(s): Aleksej Heinze
Research: Evaluation of enterprise culture development projects inManchester and Salford.
Dissemination: Vasilieva, E, Avramenko, A, Heinze, A, MacLean, C, Rouse, J and Crompton, H 2008, Building bridges: Manchester Salford enterprise initiative. Enterprise support and engagement in deprived communities pilots: final evaluation report and recommendations towards a model for developing enterprise culture in deprived communities, ProjectReport, University of Salford.

Funding detail: Vice Chancellor Enterprise Development Fund
Duration: 2008 - date
Grant: £1,800
Centre member(s): Aleksej Heinze
Research: Professionalisation of the Search and Social Media Marketing industry.
Dissemination: Heinze, A and Wells, S 2009, Open enrolment programmes at Salford Business School: challenges and opportunities , in: Fifth Education in a Changing Environment Conference Critical Voices, Critical Times ,September 2009, University of Salford, Salford, Greater Manchester.

Heinze, A, Fletcher , G and Chadwick , C 2010, From search engine optimisation to search engine marketing management: development of a new area for information systems research , in: UK Academy for Information Systems 15th Annual Conference 2010 “Information Systems: Past, Present and Lookingto the Future” , 23rd - 24th March 2010, Oriel College, University of Oxford.

Heinze, A and Fletcher, G 2011, Can we make higher education relevant to the needs of the search & social media marketing industry? , in: 6th Education in a Changing Environment Conference, Creativity and Engagement in Higher Education, 6-8 July 2011, Salford, Greater Manchester.

Funding detail: EU
Duration: 2011 - 2013
Grant: £262,000
Centre member(s): Aleksej Heinze
Research: Identification of European business culture in 31 countries in particular the use of social media andstudent placements.
Dissemination: http://businessculture.org/

Funding detail: Interreg IVC
Grant: £1,206,734
Centre member(s): Aleksej Heinze
Research: Study of innovation triple helix: universities, policy makers and commercial operators located in University City Regions in Europe (regionswith over 100k student of population).
Dissemination: http://www.knowledgecities.eu

Funding detail: Interreg IVC
Grant: £1,206,734
Centre member(s): Aleksej Heinze
Research: Study of innovation triple helix: universities, policy makers and commercial operators located in University City Regions in Europe (regionswith over 100k student of population).
Dissemination: http://www.knowledgecities.eu

Funding detail: HEIF
Duration: Forthcoming placement of 10 days
Grant: Staff grant of £1,500
Centre member(s): Marie Griffiths
Research: This is a scoping exercise for the BIITN. BIITN are aware thatthe sales of print media have declined over the past two decades and that this is accelerating as more media are available online. The organisation has been radically affected by this. The research aims to target BIITN readers who are generally from social groups ABC1, more likely to be women than men,and largely over 40, who have grown up with the street vendor concept. We aim to continue meeting this target market, but additional new audience sectors will also be explored, through raising an awareness of the brand via digital media.

Developing a New Business Model Due to Disruptive Technologies

Duration: 2008
Grant: £29,000
Centre member(s): Aleksej Heinze
Research: Evaluation of HEFCW’s Third mission and its impact in Wales.
Dissemination: http://www.hefcw.ac.uk/documents/publications/external_reports_and_studies/3%20mission%20fund%20full%20report%20Oct%2009.pdf

Funding detail: European Social Fund
Duration:1 year project Jan-Dec 2007
Grant: £85,000
Centre member(s): David Kreps
Research: Examined the accessibility of jobs websites both nationally and in theNorth West of the UK to disabled people using assistive technologies to access the web. Findings were that none were particularly accessible.
Dissemination: Kreps, D & Wheeler, P (Dec 07) 'Language, Technology & the Body: Critical Research into Disability, Impairment &Web Accessibility for UK JobSeekers' paper at International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS) Dec 2007, Montreal, Canada.

Wheeler, P & Kreps, D (2008) 'User Testing is Not a Luxury' Electronic Markets - The International Journal Routledge, London 18(4), 324-332.

Funding detail: European Commission Framework Programme 7
Duration: 2008 - 2011
Grant: £295,000
Centre member(s): David Kreps
Research: This project is about people. We began by interviewing over1000 people in the UK and Bulgaria about their energy consumption. Many of them then joined the project to help us design the equipment that would help meet their needs in terms of monitoring the energy they consumed. The final goal being to enable people to reduce their household energy consumption andcut the cost of running their homes. The project has become increasingly relevant to the lives of all of us. Energy prices have increased dramatically since we started work on DEHEMS in 2008 and it seems safe to assume that that this will continue in the long term.
Dissemination:Kreps, D. 2010, Introducing Eco-Masculinities: How a masculine discursive subject approach to the Individual Differences Theory of Gender and IT impacts an environmental informatics project, in: AMCIS 2010 Proceedings, (Americas Conference on Information Systems) AIS, Lima, Peru, p.277. Conference details:Nominated for Best Paper.

Funding detail: AHRC
Duration: 2009 - 2010
Grant: £10,000
Centre member(s): David Kreps
Research: As part of the developing Research Councils UK (RCUK) Digital Economy Programme the Arts andHumanities Research Council (AHRC) has collaborated with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPRSC) to commission a study to review the capital needs to support leading edge research using new and related media technologies. The goals of the study are to broadly assess the current situation,identify any gaps in provision and comment on modes of support provision. Specifically, regarding the latter, to consider whether there is a need for the large-scale provision of facilities, infrastructure and equipment for particular communities over existing modes that are tied to individual researchprojects.
Dissemination: Report to AHRC

Funding detail: KTP (TSB)
Duration: 2013-2015
Grant: £79,721
Centre member(s): Marie Griffiths, Tahir Rashid
Research: To embed a strategy of cross-channel sales and marketing, concentrating on a seamlessapproach to the client through all available channels.
Dissemination: Ongoing

Funding detail: ESRC
Duration: 2014-2016
Grant: £122,345
Centre member(s): David Kreps, Maria Griffiths and Maria Kutar
Research: To develop research techniques to better identify client needs and aprocess and toolkit to identify which tools and techniques, in what order, are best suited to a particular UX client profile and project and enhance the client relationship in terms of UX and speed of delivery and management.

Dr Marie Griffiths

t: 0044 (0)161 295 4237
e: m.griffiths@salford.ac.uk

The Team

Dr Marie Griffiths

Digital Technologies

Dr Gordon Fletcher

Digital business, digital culture, playbour and labour in games, new information strategy // http://217lemurs.tumblr.com

Dr Aleksej Heinze

Digital marketing, SEO, SMO, eCommerce, blended learninig, social media, search engine optimisation

Mr Kostas Chaldoupis

Additive Manufacturing - 3D Printing

Dr Yun Chen

Digital Business

Mr Richard Dron

Disruptive Innovation & Entrepreneurship // http://richarddron.io

Mr Alex Fenton

Digital business and sport // http://alexfenton.co.uk

Miss Sophie Iredale

Digital Marketing

Dr Suzanne Kane

IT, Management, and Education

Ms Jenny Kanellopoulou

Competition in the Digital and Media Industries

Dr David Kreps

Philosophy of Information Systems // http://david.kreps.org/

Dr Maria Kutar

Information Systems, privacy, teaching and learning

Miss Jessica Muirhead

Information Systems & UX // http://www.jessica.digital

Dr Mostafa Mohamad

Digital Business, Innovation Systems, Information Systems & Strategy, digital finance, Mobile Computing, Big Data Analytics, Enterprenurship, Sustainable Development, Supply Chain Management, ICT4D

Dr Christos Papanagnou

Big Data, supply chain management, control theory, IoT

Dr Yiannis Polychronakis

Operations, Supply Chains and Project Management

Mr Chris Procter

Project Management, Education

Dr Tahir Rashid

Digial Marketing and Islamic Marketing

Dr Peter Reeves

Political marketing, brand marketing, higher education marketing

Dr Stelios Sapountzis

Project Management