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date: 18 May 2021


Abstract and Keywords

This part of the book introduces the content of Part IV of the text. Part IV extends the book’s coverage of information systems to consider a much wider set of topics that are central to this field of study in the twenty-first century. It considers managing knowledge work, innovation, various paradoxes associated with IT, ethical considerations, the literature on IT and globalization, issues regarding developing countries, and the future for research.

Keywords: managing knowledge work, innovation, ethical considerations, IT and globalization, developing countries, research

Part IV extends our coverage of Information Systems to consider a somewhat wider set of topics that are nonetheless central to our field of study in the twenty-first century. To recap, we introduced the book with a chapter from Lynne Markus that attempted to embrace the totality of the field of MIS, as we have construed it in this volume. We followed this with a historical account of how things have developed, through the eyes of Rudy Hirschheim and the late Heinz Klein. Building on these introductory contributions, Part II set the foundation for a consideration of MIS by providing a reprise of the various theoretical and methodological perspectives that exist to assist us in researching MIS phenomena—many of which are emerging as the technology, and our understanding of the subject matter, advances. Part III built on this foundation by considering key topics in the MIS domain. Some of these topics have been with us for some time, such as IS strategizing; business-IT alignment; IT for competitive advantage, and the like. Others have become more centre-stage in more recent years: enterprise systems; questions of IT governance; matters of security, and the emergence and impact of mobile IT, for example. Part IV expands the boundaries of MIS still (p. 530) further by considering such important topics as managing knowledge work; gender issues in IT; issues of sustainability and ethics; aspects of globalization, human development and the related topic of IT in developing countries, and—to bring things to a close—insights into questions of technological innovation and further emerging themes that are likely to attract our attention into the future.

We commence Part IV with Chapter 20, which focuses on the topic of managing knowledge work. Written by Jacky Swan, this chapter introduces the core concepts of knowledge, organizational knowledge, knowledge management, and—importantly—innovation. It draws from material that can be found in the second edition of Managing Knowledge Work and Innovation (Newell et al. 2009). Importantly, because this extends our understanding of why we wish to ‘manage knowledge’; why it is that increasing attention is being paid to knowledge creation (e.g. von Krogh, Ichijo, and Nonaka 2000; Gourlay 2006) rather than the more static view that went with the earlier treatments of knowledge management that were more akin to the collection and reuse of existing ‘knowledge’, with terms like ‘harvesting’ and ‘mining’ being used liberally. The chapter draws on theory developed in the organizational behaviour and strategy literatures and shows how these concepts have been—and can be—applied to the world of Information Systems through knowledge management systems (e.g. Leidner 2000). While the philosophical debates about what exactly is knowledge (e.g. Tsoukas and Vladimirou 2001; Tsoukas 2003) and the implications for IS (e.g. Newell, Swan, and Scarbrough 2001; Galliers and Newell 2003) are left to others, the chapter, nonetheless, covers a great deal of territory. A working definition of knowledge is provided and aspects of knowledge sharing across organizational boundaries are also dealt with (Hansen 1999; Carlile 2004). The distinction between knowledge and knowing is also highlighted (Cook and Brown 1999), with organizational learning (e.g. Boisot 1995; Brown and Duguid 2001; Gheradi 2001) coming to the fore, and—with the impact of new technologies—networking concepts are introduced in addition (e.g. McAfee 2006).

We next turn our attention—in Chapter 21—to matters of gender in the field of MIS. Written by Eileen Trauth, this chapter begins by asking the question: ‘Why should the MIS field be concerned about gender?’ or rather, why should we be concerned with this question now? As she states, ‘The rationale for the inclusion of gender among the “legitimate” topics of MIS attention is embedded within the larger rationale for the inclusion of the human resource dimension of the MIS field.’ The chapter traces the evolution of research in the field of gender and information systems in the context of developments in and forces shaping the twenty-first century. Highlighting, for example, the impact of globalization in providing impetus for the IS academy to pay greater attention to human differences, she identifies increased opportunities for research in relation to gender and socio-cultural differences, building on the work of Lisa von Hellens and colleagues (e.g. von Hellens and Nielsen 2001; von Hellens, Nielsen, and Trauth 2001), for example, and on social inclusion (e.g. Huang et al. 2006). The chapter, therefore, provides some interesting links with subsequent chapters that deal with matters related to IT and globalization, and IT in developing countries.

(p. 531) The following chapter, by Pierre Berthon and colleagues, highlights some of the paradoxes associated with IT, noting that ‘sometimes IT has done more to compound problems than create sustainable solutions’. Some of these paradoxes include the promise of efficiency gains, of cleanliness, of education, and of community, with each being questioned in turn (e.g. Sellen and Harper 2001; Grossman 2006; Sigman 2009). Unlike others before them, however, the authors of this chapter focus not on green information systems or green IT, but rather on the way in which we go about thinking about the topic. As a result, they identify three ‘paradigms of sustainability’ that lead to varying ways of using IT ‘to achieve the goal of a viable planet’, as opposed to the exploitative view of IT that has permeated much of the earlier treatment of the topic. Building their argument on the work of Heidegger (1977)—see also Chapters 9 and 10—they argue that (information) technology is ‘a mode of revelation…a process of bringing forth…a way of seeing…’. Thus, rather than merely exploiting nature, they propose viewing IT in terms either of preserving, returning to, or transforming nature.

Already, then, we are considering ethical considerations when we talk of MIS, and this is the specific focus of Chapter 23. This chapter, written by Simon Rogerson, might usefully be read in combination also with Chapter 16, in which Sue Newell and Cynthia Williams consider questions of governance, sustainability, and the so-called ‘triple-bottom line’ (Elkington 1994): financial, social, and environmental performance. In this chapter, the author considers the many different definitions of what he terms ‘computer and information ethics’, with the aim of demonstrating the breadth and multi-disciplinarity of the field. Building on this introduction, the chapter then focuses on application: how to embed an ethical perspective into the way in which we develop information systems, and how to instil ethical professionalism into our practice. A series of challenges are identified, including privacy (see also questions of security covered by Amy Ray in Chapter 17), culture, and crime. This chapter leads nicely into the following chapter, by Geoff Walsham, as Rogerson concludes his chapter with a look into a future that involves a technology that ‘continually increases choice in global interaction within a dispersed community and between different and geographically distant communities’.

Thus, in Chapter 24, Geoff Walsham reviews the literature on IT and globalization, and argues, in line with the likes of Grey and Willmott (2002), for ‘critical research which addresses issues of IT and human development in our more globalized world’. This literature includes some of his own prior work (e.g. Walsham 2001, 2005), and the work of others including that of Manuel Castells (1996, 1997, 1998). First, though, he considers varying treatments of globalization itself, most notably, the work of Robertson (1992), and Beck (2000). This chapter, in turns, provides a useful segue into Chrisanthi Avgerou’s treatment of information systems research in developing countries, in the chapter that follows. It does so by providing two examples of the critical research for which he argues: in relation specifically to health information systems (e.g. Braa and Hedberg 2002) and IT for the poor (cf. the so-called ‘digital divide’).

(p. 532) As indicated, Chapter 25 broadens our perspective to consider information systems in the context of developing countries. As Chrisanthi Avgerou points out, there is considerable literature on the topic, but this has more recently been extended to include ‘the broader socio-economic context of the organizations hosting new technologies’, rather than simply focusing on development and implementation issues per se. This is where her use of the term ‘innovation’ comes in: as she points out, ‘even if the technologies implemented…are already common elsewhere…the local experience of technology implementation and socio-organizational change constitutes an innovation for the organization concerned and [possibly]…for its socio-economic context’. Her treatment of the innovation process focuses in the main on two perspectives: transfer and diffusion on the one hand, and socially embedded action on the other. In the former case, the local context means that one size does not fit all (cf. Bada 2002), and in the latter, incorporating such considerations as empowerment into the process (cf. Sahay and Walsham 2005). The chapter ends with a plea that echoes the arguments raised by Geoff Walsham in the preceding chapter: critical research that will have real impact in policy circles.

Our final chapter is by Rick Watson, Pierre Berthon, and Leyland Pitt. In it, the authors take an expansive view of the field of MIS and argue for a broadening of the field’s traditional boundaries as we confront the issues of the twenty-first century. Traditional foci associated with information systems within organizations, or theories or approaches formed within the industrial as opposed to the information age constrain our research and are inappropriate as the field develops. Watson and colleagues argue that some of the recent debate as to what properly constitutes the field of Information Systems (cf. King and Lyytinen 2006) is potentially misplaced: research into instrumental design and research into emergent ‘IS phenomena’ is required, not one or the other.

We have covered a vast territory in this Handbook. We have done so, quite deliberately, with a view to demonstrating how the field of MIS has developed in recent years—and continues to do so. To echo the argument of the authors of Chapter 26: ‘the instrumental and the emergent are inherent aspects of any technology—neither can be ignored for they feed each other…’ We have therefore attempted to cover some of the ground that has been the traditional haunt of MIS researchers in recent decades: the use and impact of IT in and between organizations. In addition, however, we have attempted to expand our focus to include managing knowledge, information systems and human development, and broader issues of ethics, sustainability, and globalization as they relate to IT. To do so, we need sound theoretical and methodological tools to guide our endeavours, and that is why we have provided what we hope to be a strong foundation for our treatment of this expanding universe in Part II. We conclude that issues or emergence and innovation are the very stuff of MIS as we attempt to address the many pressing issues of the twenty-first century—a century in which information and communication technologies will play an increasing, and as yet, only dimly perceived role.

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