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date: 18 May 2021


Abstract and Keywords

This part of the book introduces the content of Part III of the text. Building on the conceptual treatment of the field of information systems that was the focus of the last part of this book, Part III looks at some of the key issues associated with managing information systems in practice. It covers topics such as IS strategy, socio-technical infrastructure, knowledge sharing, sourcing, and IT governance issues.

Keywords: practice, IS strategy, socio-technical infrastructure, knowledge sharing, IT governance, sourcing

Building on the conceptual treatment of the field of Information Systems that is the focus of Part II, Part III of the book turns its attention to some of the key issues associated with managing information systems in practice. Where possible, we reference relevant related material that appears in other chapters, both in this section of the book and elsewhere. In addition, relevant research—from cognate fields in addition to Information Systems—is cited, in line with the transdisciplinary approach adopted by the editors and many of the other contributors.

Part III begins with a chapter by Bob Galliers on the subject of IS strategy. He adopts the term IS strategizing with a view to giving emphasis to the process of strategy making. He views IS strategizing as an integral aspect of business strategy rather than adopting the more common view that the IS strategy should be aligned with the business strategy. The sometimes vexed topic of alignment is dealt with in detail in Chapter 13 that follows. Galliers draws on such concepts as a socio-technical infrastructure, exploration alongside exploitation—ambidexterity, to use Tushman’s terminology (Tushman and O’Reilly 1996)—and knowledge sharing and creating (see also Chapter 20) to provide a rationale for the development of a framework that may be used by organizations in considering how to go about the strategizing process. Issues associated with sourcing considerations—the focus of Chapter 19—are incorporated, (p. 324) as are issues associated with IT governance more generally (see Chapter 16) and with improved organizational performance (cf. competitive advantage—the subject matter of Chapter 14). The chapter builds on, in part, his chapter (Galliers 2007) in the Oxford Handbook of Information and Communication Technology (Mansell et al. 2007).

As indicated above, Chapter 13 deals with the thorny issue of alignment. Written by Yolande Chan and Blaize Horner Reich, the chapter provides a comprehensive review of the IT alignment literature, noting that the topic is one of the major concerns of senior executives and IT practitioners alike. The authors build on their recent Journal of Information Technology article (Chan and Reich 2007) and present divergent views and new perspectives on alignment, first discussing the motivation for alignment research and moving on to provide a definition of alignment, given the range of perspectives to be found in the literature. They address such questions as: what creates alignment and what benefits can reasonably be expected as a result? In concluding, they highlight key implications for researchers and practitioners.

Chapter 14 considers sustainable competitive advantage on the back of IT. Written by Michael Wade, Gabe Piccoli, and Blake Ives, the chapter builds on and extends the comprehensive review provided by the authors in a recent MISQ article (Piccoli and Ives 2005). The authors first note that the term sustainability has two meanings in the IS literature: (1) ‘the ability of a firm to use IT to maintain a competitive advantage over a period of time’, and (2) the ‘ethics and long lasting socio-environmental benefits’ of IT. We deal with questions of ethics and ‘green IT’ elsewhere in the book (e.g. in Chapters 16 and 23, and 22, respectively). Here, the authors focus on the first meaning of the term. They make the key point that the factors that may assist in gaining an advantage are not necessarily those required to sustain that advantage. While much of the literature focuses on the former, relatively less has considered the means by which ‘firms can hold on to a competitive advantage based on, or enabled by, IT’. Reasons for this include the need for longitudinal research, which is all too often missing from our major journals. In addition, they note the significant challenge in isolating the specific role played by IT in sustaining advantage as against other competing explanations. ‘Unfortunately, the resultant scarcity of rigorous investigation and evidence is a contributing cause of the recurrence of attacks on the role of IT as a competitive resource’ (Carr 2003). The chapter aims to redress the balance somewhat.

The next chapter—Chapter 15—is written by Erica Wagner and Sue Newell and turns our attention to enterprise systems. Building on the previous chapter’s treatment of firms gaining competitive advantage on the back of IT, the authors make the point that this competitiveness is thought to be gained through enabling leaner production as a result of streamlining work flow with a view to increasing productivity, reducing costs, and improving decision quality and resource control. They note that this perceived ability to streamline and integrate business operations across an organization’s value chain (Shanks and Seddon 2000) lead to enterprise systems becoming the most popular business software of the twentieth century (Robey, Ross, and Boudreau 2002). The central tenet of enterprise systems is that this integration will help to leverage organizational competitiveness through improving the way in which information is (p. 325) produced, shared, and managed across functions and locations, providing the administrative backbone that an organization needs (Davenport 1998), thereby avoiding the issues of incompatibility associated with so-called ‘legacy’ systems that focused on discrete functions in prior times. So much, then, for the received wisdom: the authors go on to point out that, while enterprise systems hold the promise of business integration across an organization, ‘accomplishing this promise requires changes that affect an unprecedented amount of people across the enterprise’. Referring to the work of Aladwani (2002) and Scott and Wagner (2003), for example, they argue that the ‘standardization of work practices across functional areas of the business is often difficult to achieve, with resistance from stakeholder groups being common’ with organizational change being more problematic than first thought (Scott and Vessey 2002) and high levels of project failure being common (Robbins-Gioia 2001). Noting that, while 20 per cent of IT projects are abandoned prior to implementation (Cooke, Gelman, and Peterson 2001), this means that 80 per cent of enterprise system projects do at least go ahead. This leads them to suggest that the chapter might usefully refocus its attention away from looking at the short-term problems and opportunities associated with implementation towards understanding how organizations learn to exploit the functionality of these potentially powerful systems over the long term. Citing the work of Robey and Boudreau (1999), this perspective requires rethinking many of the assumptions about IT implementation and use—moving away from such simplistic notions as ‘IT “drives”, “forces” or even merely “enables” change’ to exploring ‘the complex relationship of reciprocal causality between IT and organization with the outcomes emergent and difficult to predict in advance’ (e.g. Walsham 1993; Orlikowski 2000). This reorientation of our thinking leads to questions being raised concerning notions of ‘best practice’, consensus, user participation, and implementation. In so doing, the authors provide considerable food for thought in relation to some of the more taken-for-granted assumptions underpinning much of the mainstream literature on information systems more broadly.

This treatment of enterprise systems leads nicely into Chapter 16—a chapter that deals with IT governance issues more broadly. In it, Sue Newell and Cynthia Williams consider how decisions are made in organizations about IT. They note that how these decisions ‘are made, who makes these decisions and what rules and norms guide decisions is a fundamental first step as this will likely influence whether the necessary organizational structures are put in place to support the strategic adoption and use of IT’. Calling on the more general corporate governance literature, they broaden the notion of IT governance commonly found in the mainstream literature on the subject by looking at the ‘rights and responsibilities associated with the use, storage, retrieval and collection of data’. Corporate governance concerns itself ‘with ensuring that there is correspondence between the interests of managers, as decision makers, and the interests of shareholders, as owners’ (cf. Eisenhardt 1989). In other words, the authors take a broader stakeholder perspective in their treatment of the subject matter, and consider that IT governance is ‘about ensuring that IT decisions are made in the interests of the long-term sustainability of the organization’. There is thus an ethical (p. 326) dimension (see also Chapter 22), to their treatment of the subject matter. They draw on work by the likes of Brundtland (1987) to incorporate sustainability criteria in measuring organizational success, referring to the ‘triple-bottom line’ concept coined by John Elkington (1994) to indicate that organizational performance should be measured according to three key criteria—social and environmental as well as financial. Thus, they argue that the decisions related to IT governance need to be aligned with these social, financial, and environmental considerations.

A key aspect of the ‘rights and responsibilities associated with the use, storage, retrieval and collection of data’ is the question of security, and this topic is the focus of Chapter 17 written by Amy Ray. Noting that notwithstanding the fact that while spending on security is increasing, so are security breaches, the author argues that it is high time to rethink current approaches to information security management. In light of this, the chapter considers ‘how the growing sophistication of newer technologies demands new security management thinking beyond addressing individual vulnerabilities’. The chapter goes on to present ideas for improving IT security management efforts, including ‘suggestions for more proactively identifying risks resulting from emergent use of these systems’. In doing so, this chapter bridges ‘the gap between high level policy-based security management and low level technology-based security management to consider how more attention to technological and business processes may lead to improvements in information security management efforts’.

One of the newer technologies that have had major impacts on the way we need to think about the topic ‘MIS’ is the emergence in recent years of mobile information technology, and this is the focus of Chapter 18. Written by Carsten Sørensen, this chapter notes that mobile IT concerns the shrinking of computers, ‘making them mobile or embedded into the environment, and establishing wireless connections to local—or global—information infrastructures’. Sørensen notes the amazing growth of one form of this technology, that of the mobile phone. There were approximately four billion such devices in the world in 2009 and that number is estimated to reach six billion by 2013. ‘Such a phenomenon’, he argues, ‘clearly deserves to be studied and a growing body of research is exactly doing so.’ But much of the debate on the topic ‘tends to emphasize the technical opportunities or affordances at the cost of a more comprehensive analysis of how the social and the technical is co-constructed’ and much of the research on the topic focuses on a single mobile technology—the mobile phone. This chapter aims to counter the fact that there is relatively little research that broadens the focus to include the range of mobile information technologies. Such arrangements may comprise ‘more than one mobile phone, dedicated mobile email client, notebook computer with wireless Internet access, and perhaps peripheral equipment interacting with the devices in Personal Area Networks (PANs) such as Bluetooth headsets, cameras, photo printers, and speakers’. The chapter considers ‘enterprise mobility’ as an outcome of the use of mobile IT in and between organizations, and raises ‘critical issues in our understanding the intersection between the individual experience with mobile IT at work and the organizational concern for efficiency’.

(p. 327) The increasing complexity associated with MIS in this day and age is also reflected in the subject matter that is the focus of Chapter 19: outsourcing. Written by two internationally renowned authorities on the topic—Mary Lacity and Leslie Willcocks, together with a colleague, Shaji Khan—this chapter, originally published in the Journal of Strategic Information Systems (Lacity, Khan, and Willcocks 2009), provides an overview of the many contributions that MIS research has made to practice. Ten aspects of IT outsourcing (ITO) are covered, namely: (1) determinants of IT outsourcing; (2) IT outsourcing strategy; (3) determinants of ITO success; (4) client capabilities; (5) supplier capabilities and perspectives; (6) relationship management; (7) global IT workforce issues; (8) offshore outsourcing; (9) application service provision; and (10) the future of global sourcing. The authors go on to note, however, that there remain ‘five persistent, prickly issues that continue to plague ITO practice that still need our attention’. In dealing with the many contributions that have arisen from the mutual constituted nature of theory in and of practice, this chapter—and the others that make up Part III—serves as something of a metaphor for the Handbook as a whole, given our intention to provide both critical perspectives on and new directions for this important field of study. Paraphrasing Lacity and Willcocks: ‘It is our hope that [the book] will serve to acknowledge the contributions of [MIS] researchers, to inform interested readers in the main findings of [MIS] research that assist practice, and to inspire future researchers to tackle unresolved challenges.’


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