The article analyzes the relation between transformations in information systems and changing forms of organization. Drawing on a historical case study, it examines the rise of actuarial theory in Germany and Switzerland around 1900 and its significance for the emergence of the first modern social insurances. So far, the history of actuarial theory has been written as the social history of the actuarial profession or the epistemic history of probability calculus. By examining the political and economic contexts of the history of actuarial theory, the article also discusses the notion of an “insurance society”. The argument concludes that Foucauldian interpretations of actuarial theory as a technology of power and a condition of modern governmentality are too monistic and should be specified. The article suggests to use the concept of a “technology of trust” to interpret the integrative power of actuarial theory in a political field marked by deep antagonisms.
This study examines absorptive capacity’s role in IT implementation success. Absorptive capacity is the organization’s ability to recognize the value of new information, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends [Cohen, W. M., & Levinthal, D. A. (1990). Absorptive capacity: A new perspective on learning and innovation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 35(March), 128–152]. Based on previous research, this study proposes a measure of absorptive capacity that includes managerial IT knowledge and communication channels and tests its relationship to the application of new technology in the form of expert systems implementation.Related to claims about the importance of absorptive capacity are claims that a “learning culture” or “knowledge-friendly culture” is necessary in order for knowledge to be gained and effectively used within the organization. This study examines the type of corporate culture that influences absorptive capacity. The results provide support for absorptive capacity’s proposed dimensions and its antecedent of corporate culture that act to influence the implementation of new technologies.
Higher education is a sector entering an era of IT-enabled modernization in which it may have to cope with an influx of unfamiliar corporate concepts and practices. This paper analyzes one of the first Enterprise Resource Planning implementation projects within the academic administration of an Ivy League university. We contribute to existing qualitative literature in information systems by developing the theme of temporality within actor–network theory to support our analysis. This enables us to extend process-oriented ERP research by focusing on the identification of temporal zones and creation of durable work times designed to re-order priorities between competing visions for the future of higher education. We analyze detailed negotiations during periods of controversy to reveal how standard work practices come to be created and recreated. We consider how the ERP that emerges is affected by progressive trials of strength during the project and analyze the achievement of order as an on-going process. Our findings highlight the distinctive contribution that a ‘temporal turn’ can bring to longitudinal research studies by providing insight into the technical agency of ERP packages and how its temporal inscriptions shaped the emergence of a socio-technical information system. This reordered organizational work life and created a hybrid temporality that still needs to be negotiated into the working rhythms of the University’s actors.
The disembodying and disembedding of work through systems of abstraction (such as management accounting systems) were fundamental to the establishment of regimes of management that act, not directly and immediately on others, but instead acts upon their actions—i.e. the establishment of management as a regime of governmentality. Time–space distanciation, through abstraction (such as numbers) and electronic mediation, has radically transformed the way organisational actors interrelate and make sense of their everyday organisational lives. This paper argues and shows that phenomenology, in particular the work of Michel Henry, can help us understand how actors live their lives in and through the simultaneity of systems of abstraction and their affective, embodied and situated living praxis. The paper presents a case study of how different organisational actors (managers and controllers) make sense of, and live with, the numbers in a management accounting system—numbers that affect them quite profoundly. The analysis of the case shows that all interpretation, sense-making and argumentation of, and with the numbers are rendered possible through re-embodiment. Such a re-embodiment, in turn, require as necessary a prior reference to their subjective affective life—their own living praxis. If this is the case, as we hope our research shows, then subjective affective life should not be subjugated by the formal rational discourse of management but should rather be seen for what it is—the very source of meaning that is the condition of possibility for abstraction and mediation to be possible at all. The paper concludes with some implications of Henry’s phenomenology of life for organisations and management research.
Recent work on Information Systems tries to reconcile the apparent homogeneity of Information Technologies (IT) with the heterogeneity of their use by recognising that users can render IT systems flexible and malleable. This paper advances theorisation of this apparent paradox by reflecting on the nature of IT, i.e. its ontology. Observations of an ERP (SAP) implementation in a large USA multi-national cast within Actor-Network Theory and Science and Technology Studies approaches help illustrate how an object like IT can possess diversity and heterogeneity whilst being a homogeneous and operative technology. The paper argues that IT appears homogeneous for it attracts and generates heterogeneous uses. This paradox is labelled ‘heteromogeneous’. An IT system is theorised as an absence which establishes a presence by mobilising and attracting other actors and technologies, in this instance accounting, seeking visibility in organisations. IT emerges from multiple and continuous translations involving customisations of SAP. Thus the definition of IT is neither stable nor singular across time and space, which enables IT and SAP to travel across organisations.
Ubiquitous computing envisions seamless access of mass-scale services over the multitude of contexts that users encounter in their everyday mobility. However, to be successful such computing must simultaneously be designed to provide transparent, integrated, and convenient support in localized use contexts. Thus, the issue of multi-contextuality makes the design of ubiquitous computing services and environments a challenging endeavor. While ubiquitous computing requires attention to the multi-contextuality of people’s mobile device use encompassing spatial, temporal, and social dimensions of mobility, the typical avenue for IS research studies has been the single context (e.g., team, organization, or inter-organizational).This paper reports on a grounded action research study with the objective of developing and testing design principles for handling multi-contextuality in an increasingly important ubiquitous computing environment – the car. Already supporting people’s everyday mobility and promising to provide ubiquitous availability of computing and communication infrastructure, the car is indeed a relevant setting for investigating the co-existence of different use contexts in ubiquitous computing. Contributing to the early stage of the ubiquitous computing research tradition, this paper not only empirically demonstrates that the car as a ubiquitous computing environment can improve the convenience of people’s everyday mobile device use by providing multi-contextual support. The paper also suggests our design principles and their associated socio-technical implications to be valid for other ubiquitous computing environments. Indeed, synchronizing fluid use patterns, scaling service manipulation, and signaling context-switches through awareness support lie at the heart of weaving ubiquitous computing environments conveniently into the fabric of people’s everyday mobility.
Using the example of a failed software implementation, we discuss the role of artifacts in shaping organizational routines. We argue that artifact-centered assumptions about design are not well suited to designing organizational routines, which are generative systems that produce recognizable, repetitive patterns of interdependent actions, carried out by multiple actors. Artifact-centered assumptions about design not only reinforce a widespread misunderstanding of routines as things, they implicitly embody a rather strong form of technological determinism. As an alternative perspective, we discuss the use of narrative networks as a way to conceptualize the role of human and non-human actants, and to represent the variable patterns of action that are characteristic of “live” routines. Using this perspective, we conclude with some suggestions on how to design organizational routines that are more consistent with their nature as generative systems.
The implementation of new information technology (IT) often aims at transforming work practices. The information systems (IS) literature has detailed numerous cases of reproduction or changes of practice associated with IT use. The literature has also drawn from the practice and structurationist perspectives to suggest that changes in practice are related to changes in organizations. The micro-level issue of how practices change with IT use, however, has so far remained under-explored. This paper investigates this issue and analyzes what makes agents transform how they work with IT and how these transformations may be shared among members of the same work group. The conceptual lens proposed in this paper builds on the emerging literature in IS on the relationships between action and cognition, and introduces the notion of social representations to the IS field in order to clarify these relationships. The adopted conceptual lens helps us to examine a longitudinal case study of the implementation and use of an intranet system in an occupational network. The analysis suggests that practices are reproduced with IT use when agents experience a sustained consonance between actions, practices and representations. Conversely, when agents undergo dissonance between actions, practices and representations, they gradually adapt their practices and representations to reestablish consonance.
In this paper we problematize the metaphor of balance employed in the area of information privacy. Using Actor-Network Theory we conduct an historical investigation into the continuous release of the same personal data over the course of eight decades. Through the examination of actual enactments of balance over time we find that, in practice, balancing acts are conducted at local levels by local actor-networks within organizations, with limited overall organizational knowledge, raising challenges around interpreting statements made by organizational spokespersons. We also find a surprising lack of knowledge possessed by these local actor-networks about what is subsequently done with personal data and the extent to which networks that extend beyond the organization gravitate towards and form around available data. Through tracing and revealing this historical Actor-Network Theory investigation provides a means of probing and examining actual acts of balance in the area of information privacy and, through revelation, aid in the creation of the possibility of bringing the act of balance more in line with the concept.
Various modern approaches to Information Systems Security (ISS) development, influenced, e.g., by information systems (IS) development methods, have been presented. While we see these approaches as serious attempts to improve ISS, they have not received much attention in the literature. One reason for this is that these methods have been developed by scholars from different research traditions and disciplines. This article first identifies the disciplines and research communities which underlie the modern ISS approaches. Second, the article reveals the assumptions behind these modern approaches. Finally, the article places these ISS approaches in a five-generational classification. It is argued that the extant ISS methods reside on the first four generations, and future ISS methods should move towards the fifth generation, social and adaptable (empirically grounded) ISS methods.
Current debate on organization change is concerned increasingly with questioning the extent to which different organizational designs are effective. Consequently, many new forms of organizing have been proffered. In particular, new-form theorists acknowledge hierarchy but rarely test it in generating a variety of information technology- (IT) related change outcomes. This paper focuses on the robustness of hierarchy by tracing its characteristics within two public organizations. It provides an understanding of the relationship between IT applications and structural change by examining how the process of IT adaptation unfolds. Specifically, it explores how management’s disposition to IT change discerns the nature of an organization’s structure and the adaptation of that structure. I argue that the nature of management’s application of information systems—and non-management’s reaction to this practice—guides structural modification. Discussion focuses on explaining the continued presence of hierarchy in IT environments where there is an expectation for significant structural change.
In this paper, we draw on theory from social worlds to analyze how different organizational contexts affect groupware adoption. We report on a study of the adoption of data conferencing in a large distributed organization. Our data show that the diffusion process, which was driven by the users, was a result of communication and transformation of the technology across different social worlds. We also discovered that membership in multiple social worlds in an organization creates a tension for the potential adopter who is in a distributed team. To function effectively, team members must uniformly adopt the technology, yet some may face resistance from other social worlds to which they belong. Our study showed that adoption was affected by organizational sites having conflicting views of the value of collaboration, different amounts and needs for resources, and different acceptance of technology standards. Potential technology adopters on distributed teams are faced with conflicting loyalties, constraints, and requirements between their distributed collaborations and organizational homes.
Most IS research in both the technical/rational and socio-technical traditions ignores or marginalizes the emotionally charged behaviours through which individuals engage in, and cope with the consequences of, IS practice and associated organizational change. Even within the small body of work that engages with emotions through particular conceptual efforts, affections are often conceived as a phenomenon to be eradicated – an affliction requiring a cure. In this paper, I argue that emotions are always implicated in our lived experiences, crucially influencing how we come to our beliefs about what is good or bad, right or wrong. I draw from the theoretical work of Michel Foucault to argue for elaborating current notions of IS innovation as a moral and political struggle in which individuals’ beliefs and feelings are constantly tested. Finally, I demonstrate these ideas by reference to a case study that had considerable emotional impact, and highlight the implications for future work.
A recently conducted piece of micro-level, interpretive IS action research has enabled the delivery of direct user benefits through the adoption of a methodological approach which focuses specifically on the interpretive generation of meaning by authorial individuals. Drawing on recent debates concerning knowledge and identity within social anthropology, IS and social psychology, this approach derives from a theoretical position which acknowledges social constraints on individual behaviour whilst according primacy to individuals’ biographically determined interpretive work. Use of this approach in the field revealed layers of interpretive interaction between users and technology which had hitherto remained invisible and problematic, and allowed several simple practical interventions which strengthened the ability of users to generate their own meanings at critical junctures in the system. It is suggested that such sensitive, low-level ‘fine tuning’ represents a new way forward for those seeking a practical, focused alternative to the more commonplace, high-level research approach within current interpretive IS literature.
The problems of nomadic computing users have been described as challenges presented by the interplay of time, space and context. However, theoretical accounts to date have not addressed all three aspects of nomadic computing in a single effort. We investigated how the practices of individual nomadic computing users in a large mortgage finance company changed after implementation of a nomadic computing environment. Although users experienced contradictory outcomes as they sought resolutions to the dilemmas posed by work and nonwork demands, all users reported effectiveness in their computing practices. We attribute their effectiveness to skilled use of technologies to control the boundaries between their personal and business social contexts. The variety of patterns of boundary control across nomadic workers in the study is explained using a theory of human agency that focuses on the temporal, spatial and contextual conditions facing actors as they engage with their nomadic computing environments.
Mobilities, encompassing the movements and ‘flows’ of people, objects, capital, images technologies and information across the world have been strongly implicated in the context of contemporary globalization processes. Globally distributed software development work across boundaries of time, space and place undertaken by global software organizations (GSOs), can be seen as a microcosm of such processes, reflecting a multiplicity of mobilities, while situated in a particular context. An in-depth interpretative case study of a GSO located in Mumbai, India, was used in order to understand the nature and kinds of mobilities and their interactions with place, space, selves, and identities of Information Technology (IT) workers within the firm. Three kinds of interrelated mobilities – geographical, social and existential – were identified through an interpretive analysis of the empirical material. The construct of mobility–identity is proposed for analyzing the dynamic interplay between mobilities, place, selves, and identities of the workers. An understanding of mobility–identity is seen to have both theoretical and practical implications, and contributes more broadly to the development of our understanding of a “sociology of mobilities”.
Neo-institutional economics is credited with acknowledging the role of a “positive information cost” in the formation of economic organizations. However, neo-institutional theory does not explicitly address the problems presented by the loss of information that occurs when organizations change from a face-to-face to electronic channels. An anthropological perspective, in contrast, allows us to explain why this occurs and how organizations can address the dislocations it causes.We argue that Frank Knight’s concept of “uncertainty reduction,” still prominent in current neo-institutional thinking, is insufficient for understanding changes in the firm interface, constitution, and cultural roles resulting from shifts in the cost and nature of information processing. As an extension, we explore paradigms from anthropology, suggesting that changes in the material and social mix of communication are critical in explaining the psychological, cultural and institutional roles that many organizations play, and discuss how these roles are transformed in electronic channels.A five-level framework of information mediation is developed through a case study of an insurance company that has undertaken a dramatic re-engineering of its primary value-adding processes. The framework extends the traditional neo-institutional focus on internal resource allocation towards societal demand and fulfillment of institutional needs. While the new IT/telecom-based processes have substantially improved its cost profile and shifted organizational boundaries, they have also transformed the medium of interaction between the insurer and its customers. As such, the company soon learned that mediating and processing its products through telecom-based channels fundamentally changed the characteristics of its product offering as well as its basis as a social institution.
The mobility of human activities entails intrinsic parameters such as the mobility of tasks and technologies, as well as changing conditions underlying mobile computing. The interactions between these parameters bear directly on the appropriation of mobile technologies deployed in these activities. In this paper, I analyze the appropriation of mobile technologies as a function of motives, conditions of use, and technology design properties. The analysis explains the flexibility of mobile computing as a direct function of the appropriation process. The paper contributes to understanding mobile technology use and improving user acceptance by extending existing conceptualizations of technology use. Technology personalization and use in non-organizational contexts are the essentials of the extension, suggesting that mobile computing is a function of use for serving both organizationally-sanctioned and personal motives. Implications for researching mobile technology use and for designing mobile technologies are drawn.
In this paper, I explore how presence is articulated in a virtual team environment. The empirical data in this paper are taken from a series of emails that were exchanged for the duration of a virtual team project. The paper argues that even though presence was identified as integral in conceptualising virtual teams, it has not previously been well articulated. Using the discourse analysis approach, the study succeeds in identifying three different articulations of presence in virtual organizing: present availability, absent unavailability and silenced availability. The paper concludes with the argument that these discursive articulations of presence are central to understanding virtual organizing and the theoretical and practical implications of this are discussed.
The design and creation of anything innovative requires knowledge creation, which in turn often depends upon the introduction of innovative information technology (IT). Since design-related practices are deeply integrated with particular IT artifacts, it is no trivial task to migrate practice-based knowledge to unfamiliar IT artifacts. To explore the challenges associated with such migration, we develop the concept of embeddedness of IT artifacts by drawing on research that highlights the critical role of representational artifacts in knowledge, design, and distributed cognition. We then inductively analyze interview data from an in-depth case study of Frank Gehry, a world-renowned and radically innovative architect known for his use of sophisticated 3D computer-aided design (CAD) technology. By studying construction firms' transition from 2D CAD to 3D CAD, we identify four relevant themes associated with embedding new artifacts into knowledge-creating practice: (1) motivating the new artifact; (2) anchoring the new artifact in the old; (3) experimenting with the new artifact; and (4) confidence in using the new artifact. Through the generation of a process theory of embedding, we elaborate on how this perspective complements and extends research on IT adaptation and assimilation, and discuss the relevance of continuing to develop the IT embeddedness perspective given the continuing need for increased levels of IT-enabled innovation.
Engineers such as systems developers get most of their information from colleagues and internal reports. In the literature on engineers' information-seeking practices the generally agreed-upon explanation of this preference for close-by, internal information sources is that engineers follow a principle of least effort by choosing their information sources on the basis of ease of access rather than quality of contents. This study argues that engineers' preference for internal sources such as their colleagues is just as much a preference for sources with a known or easily determinable trustworthiness as it is a preference for information that is easily accessible. Trust is of central importance because quality is a perceived property and, thus, assessing the quality of an information source is essentially a matter of establishing to what extent one is willing to place trust in it. This can be done with greater ease and precision for familiar sources. A field study of the meetings in a software design project shows that in discussing and selecting information sources the software engineers devote significantly more attention to quality-related factors than to cost-related factors. It is also normal conversational practice at the meetings to accompany the mentioning of information sources that may be unknown to some project participants by information that puts them in context. Systems for managing knowledge and sharing expertise must recognise these rich means of forming a perception of the credibility of individual pieces of information.
In the last twenty years or so the UK National Health Service (NHS) has witnessed tremendous changes in the provision of mental health services. As the vast Victorian asylums have progressively been run down and closed attention has switched to the planning and delivery of services based on the idea of ‘care in the community’. This paper explores some of the temporal and spatial dimensions of the problems of organizing that have marked this transition. Drawing on research conducted within a hospital department responsible for psychiatric services in the community, it addresses some of the issues faced by mental health professionals in struggling to put in place and maintain mental health services while simultaneously under pressure to demonstrate their professional accountability. In this regard, particular attention is paid to the role of technology (principally information and the information systems) in managing services in the context of the transition to care in the community as well as addressing some of the problems generated by it.
Most research on Internet auction fraud focuses exclusively on the relationship between the con-artist and victim. However, the con-artist and victim are situated in an ecology comprising the auction house, police, and auction community. This paper employs the ‘parasite’ metaphor as a way of building theory about Internet auction fraud. We begin by describing the parasite metaphor. We then introduce three theories from the parasitism literature and demonstrate the insights these theories can produce. The first theory, the competitive exclusion principle, highlights how separate auction markets evolve their own species or types of fraud. It also warns us that fraud elimination may be neither desirable nor feasible relative to constraining fraud to acceptable levels. The second theory details various parasite infection mechanisms to show that on-line fraud is composed of two processes; the actual deception and escape. Finally, virulence theory provides one way to predict how much harm a particular kind of fraud will cause to an individual victim. Virulence theory is also used to suggest that the auction infrastructure encourages low virulence vis-à-vis other kinds of fraud like Nigerian letter fraud.
Why do some information technology innovations come to be adopted widely while others do not? One promising research stream has begun to investigate how institutional factors shape the diffusion of IT innovations. Here we examine how these institutional factors themselves are shaped. Specifically, we explore how interested actors termed institutional entrepreneurs develop institutional arrangements to launch an IT innovation toward widespread adoption. Undertaking a contemporary case study of a new class of enterprise software, professional services automation (PSA), we found that to launch PSA, institutional entrepreneurs sought to mobilize an organizational community by developing and recognizing leaders and facilitating members’ focus on PSA. They further struggled to legitimate PSA by developing a coherent organizing vision that incorporated compelling success stories. We tie these findings together in a model that usefully shifts the focus of IT innovation research from assessing institutional effects to understanding institution-building. This new focus suggests an alternative IT diffusion theory with several practical implications.
To support collaborative interactions, information systems need to support awareness: Collaborators must attain and maintain reciprocal awareness of shared activity in order to coordinate effectively. Supporting awareness has often been conceptualized a matter of ameliorating deficits inherent in remote interaction. In this paper, we consider awareness support in several community informatics contexts from the standpoint of better-leveraging affordances unique to remote community-oriented interactions. We suggest positive design strategies to design awareness support “beyond” what is typical in traditional face-to-face interchange.
This paper will argue that accounting can be understood as a special kind of Latourian Actor – a ‘space/time/value machine’ [Frandsen, A. -C. (2004). Rum, tid och pengar – En studie om redovisning i praktiken. Doctoral Thesis, Göteborg: BAS]. It starts conceptually by seeing accounting and its references as a ‘chain of translations’ [Latour, B. (1998). Artefaktens återkomst. Stockholm: Knowledge and Society; Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s hope. Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge: Harvard University Press]. Empirically it follows a puzzling set of such references, from a psoriasis clinic where accounting is unfamiliar – so part of what [Tuan, Y. -F. (2001). Space and place, 8th ed. London: University of Minnesota Press] would call a ‘space’ – to a central finance function where it is taken for granted embodied knowledge, and so part of ‘place’, and then back, to observe how these references become integrated into medical everyday work and its embodied ways of knowing, establishing the clinic as an accounting ‘place’ for those who work there.. It then argues that as these references become more taken for granted, accounting acts as a special Actor because of the way it circulates inside and outside both human and non-human ‘actants’, as a machine which always names and counts, so constituting space, time and valuing through its flexible ‘named numbers’.. It tracks how accounting moves to becoming familiar and expands its reach through four categories: ‘the character of the associations’, ‘the integration of associations and the delimitation of movement’, ‘order and its relation to change; and ‘the production of other spaces’. This illuminates how accounting draws actants into its chains or circuits of value, thus extending its ability to construct both facts and acts. Here the paper supplements the actor-network approach with ideas drawn from the work of Hoskin and colleagues [e.g. Ezzamel, M., & Hoskin, K. (2002). Retheorizing the relationship between accounting, writing and money with evidence from Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 13, 333–367; Hoskin, K. (1981). The history of education and the history of writing, Unpublished paper. Department of Education, University of Warwick; Hoskin, K., & Macve, R., (1986). Accounting and the examination: A genealogy of disciplinary power. Accounting, Organisation and Society, 11, 105–136] which see accounting as a visible sign system naming and counting from before the invention of writing, and so having a special priority in settings concerned with coordinating action in space and across time. In modern managerial worklife settings, its named numbers circulate as paper and electronic texts which are strategically central to both financial and non-financial coordination of resources and actants. This helps clarify why accounting should be such a special Actor, as well as how it functions as machine.
To learn and adapt, organizations engage widely in Information Technology (IT)-mediated boundary-spanning. This involves making sense of a swath of peripheral information made available by digital means so as to expand local knowledge. Prior research on boundary-spanning has paid scant attention to material differences between IT systems in enabling or constraining such activity. In this article, we argue that material features do matter: features afforded by IT systems have a significant impact on the form and content of boundary-spanning. We analyze material features and related affordances provided by remote diagnostics systems – a family of ubiquitous IT systems. These features allow remote diagnostics systems to collect, store, and continuously analyze data about the state of machinery and related production processes across space, time and organizational boundaries. Organizations use these systems to determine when maintenance intervention is needed, or to improve their production processes. Often, these systems are run by external service providers at remote sites, which become the new ears and the eyes of a focal organization’s production processes. Building on a longitudinal multi-site case study of two organizations, we explore the impacts of remote diagnostics systems on boundary-spanning. We observe that material features afforded by the remote diagnostics led the organizations to change their boundary-spanning in contradictory ways. On one hand, they reinforced existing boundaries. On the other hand, they crossed or cut down others, or created new ones. This suggests that the material features of these systems, when combined with new knowledge creation and sharing practices, within and between the local and the remote sites generate richer, multi-faceted inter-organizational knowledge flows. We surmise that IT’s new material features will continue to significantly shape organizing logics that determine where and when organizational boundaries are drawn and crossed. Future boundary-spanning will increasingly be shaped by socio-technical assemblages brought together by increasingly pervasive IT capabilities.
This article discusses how the disembedding of social relations and their rearticulation across different tracts of time and space are implicated in knowledge working. We explore this theme within the context of the UK selling division of a multi-national pharmaceutical company. We shall examine how the use of a groupware technology was used to work across the functional, geographic and temporal boundaries that separated many employees, and most notably the sales force from those who were located at the head office. Specifically, we shall consider the opportunities and limitations that surrounded the use of groupware to work within and between these boundaries. We shall also discuss the innovative strategies that some employees devised to work around these difficulties. Knowledge production is conceptualised from a communities of practice perspective, and further sensitised with reference to Giddens' thesis on the nature of contemporary society.
Contemporary organizations increasingly rely upon information technologies as platforms for their core work processes. The Internet age has witnessed the creation of new business models based almost entirely on electronically-mediated business processes involving multiple organizations. Information systems link suppliers, manufacturers, logistics companies, and other partners, allowing organizations to add value using smaller investments in physical assets. The creation of these linkages establishes both technical and social interfaces between organizations and their business partners. We apply Giddens’ concept of time-space distanciation to analyze the interfaces in iTalk, an organization in Silicon Valley hosting Internet voicemail services. iTalk achieved initial success in bridging external social and technical interfaces with the major regional telephone companies in US, allowing their voicemail service to attract millions of subscribers. In effect, iTalk used information technologies to dis-embed social and technical elements from global systems (the telephone companies) and re-embed them as part of iTalk’s local organizational presence. However, iTalk was unable to provide a sufficiently reliable service to customers as volume increased. Ironically, bridging external interfaces created internal interfaces within iTalk, which in turn produced technical problems and social conflicts that were not satisfactorily resolved by the time iTalk was acquired by a larger media company in 2001. The study provides theoretical understanding of the challenges associated with creating and sustaining social and technical interfaces in organizations that rely heavily upon electronically-mediated business processes that cross organizational boundaries.
In my paper (Mingers, Real-izing information systems: critical realism as an under pinning philosophy for information systems. Information and Organization, 2004; 14(2), doi:10.1016/j.infoandorg.2003.06.001), I put forward the case that the philosophical position known as critical realism could potentially provide a sound underpinning for information systems. This issue of Information and Organization contains two papers written in response to mine (Klein, Seeking the new and the critical in critical realism: Deja vu? Information and Organization, 2004; 14(2), doi:10.1016/j.infoandorg.2004.02.002; Monod, Einstein, Heisenberg, Kant: methodological distinctions and conditions of possibility, Information and Organization, 2004; 14(2), doi:10.1016/j.infoandorg.2003.12.001) and the editors have allowed me to make a very brief reply.
Global outsourcing of software development is a phenomenon that is receiving considerable interest from North American and European companies currently under pressure to meet their growing manpower resource shortages and find new ways to cut costs. However, these outsourcing arrangements are technologically and organisationally complex, and present a variety of challenges to manage effectively. In this paper we discuss results from an ongoing longitudinal study of a British firm's attempts to develop and manage global software outsourcing arrangements with an Indian software company. More specifically, we focus on understanding management challenges along three key dimensions of culture, organisational politics and the process of distributed development across time and space. The process of globalisation provides the context within which these management challenges can be investigated.
In many developing countries, lack of IT skills and human capital impede the potential of IT investments in organizations in developing countries [Lee, J. (2001). Education for technology readiness: Prospects for developing countries. Journal of Human Development, 2(1), 115–151]. This paper draws upon theories of human and social capital, and knowledge, to explain enablers/obstacles for knowledge creation and transfer for IT capacity building in a tourism organization in a developing country – the Maldives. IT capacity building is intimately linked to knowledge and skills at the level of human resource development. Using the Nahapiet and Ghoshal (1998) [Nahapiet, J., & Ghoshal, S. (1998). Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage. Academy of Management Review, 23, 242–267] framework for the role of social capital in knowledge creation and transfer, we examine the major issues of IT capacity building for the case organization. We conclude that the role of cognitive capital is the most important for the tourism sector of the Maldives, and may play a vital role in accumulating structural and relational capital, together with appropriate government policies on ICT.
Researchers have had difficulty accommodating materiality in voluntaristic theories of organizing. Although materiality surely shapes how people use technologies, materiality’s role in organizational change remains under-theorized. We suggest that scholars have had difficulty grappling with materiality because they often conflate the distinction between the material and social with the distinction between determinism and voluntarism. We explain why such conflation is unnecessary and outline four challenges that researchers must address before they can reconcile the reality of materiality with the notion that outcomes of technological change are socially constructed.
This paper addresses the challenge of developing participatory networks to support the design, development and implementation of Health Information Systems (HIS) in the context of public health in Kerala, India. It is argued given the nature and complexity of HIS, there is the need to bring together our understanding of participation from two streams of development theory and IS design and development. While development theory provides interesting insights on how to enable participatory processes, they tend to not consider technology. Further, traditional participatory design in Information Systems research has its origins in Western workplaces, often quite divorced from the context of public health in developing countries. In trying to combine these two streams of learning, we propose and develop the concept of participatory networks. Drawing upon an ongoing empirical analysis of an action research effort to introduce, scale and sustain Health Information Systems in Kerala, this paper elaborates on the nature of participatory networks that come into play, and the various mechanisms and purposes of participation with the different network partners. In the discussion section, four areas of re-conceptualization of participation in the context of HIS in developing countries are identified: (1) creation of participatory networks; (2) increased context sensitivity; (3) focus on outputs of participation, not just inputs and techniques; and, (4) focus on structural aspects of participation, not just behavioral issues.
Research on the mechanisms for conducting business with suppliers has traditionally centred on the nature of arm’s length and embedded relational models. While such models provide a basis for understanding market and closely integrated approaches to supply chain management it has been recognised that a variety of hybrid models occur in practice. This paper identifies and examines a hybrid model of buyer–supplier relationships that forms part of a portfolio of relationships managed by a large Australian organisation. The hybrid model takes a local community perspective within a market based mechanism. The characteristics of the hybrid model are underpinned by the motivation to maintain goodwill in the supplier community and employ a global competitive electronic marketplace for procurement. Strategies to manage local suppliers and consideration of their role and standing in the local community are important factors that large organisations need to incorporate in hybrid procurement arrangements.
How may users make initial senses around new technology? This question requires an investigation beyond initial sense-making and into ongoing sense-making. An important research agenda is how users may make more senses from ongoing work structuring around technology. The previous studies largely examine how users make initial kinds of sense so as to form certain attitudes towards technology adoption. However, less known to current literature is that users also make ongoing senses as they extensively interact with technology in practice over time. This article presents a qualitative study of the ongoing adoption of CabLink, a Global Positioning System (GPS) which enables vehicle dispatching, implemented by one of the world’s largest taxi fleets, based in Singapore. It analyzes how additional new senses may emerge from a vagary of technology enactments. As a result, users become more sensitive towards adopting technology differentially as they continue to appropriate technology in their work context. This longitudinal research illustrates how local meanings ascribed by different user-groups to a technology may evolve and induce intended as well as unanticipated work transformation. Theoretical and practical implications on ongoing sense-making are discussed.
Real-time technology has the capability of symbolising both customers and call center representatives (and the moment of interaction), purely by/as numbers, or forms. The pinnacle of this data processing is customer relationship management (CRM), where the digitised data is assembled so as to reproduce a mimetic model of the customer. This could be seen as a metamyth (Adams & Ingersoll, 1990) that, in its concealed appearance within corporate databases, seems to cuts loose from any critical inquiry. In this paper, we offer an embryonic form of such a critique through the analysis of a number of original call center case studies. It seeks to analyze the nature of abstraction at the heart of IT-based CRM practices, and the contradictions that such abstraction can foster.
This paper aims to explore the contradictions of CRM systems and their use in call centres and in doing so contribute to the literature on critical information systems research. By invoking a critical perspective our analysis shows significant contradictions between system objectives and outcomes in practice. With reference to the work of Pierre Bourdieu, a sociologist and critical social theorist, we highlight the powerful theoretical lens that his work can provide for information systems researchers. Using an empirical study, which draws upon Bourdieu’s key concepts of field, habitus, logic of practice and symbolic violence, we illustrate how these processes of contradiction operate at the local level in the context of the field.
Various social and technical imperatives permeate discussions around information technology (IT) implementation. Given the importance of both social and technical elements in IT implementation, IS researchers have begun exploring how implementation outcomes emerge from an unpredictable interaction between these two elements. In this paper, we explore the use of conversation analysis, with its roots in ethnomethodology, to investigate how IT issues disrupt and disorder the conversational flow of a criminal trial, and how these disruptions are handled through secondary conversations that repair this flow. We focus on two IT issues that posed significant disruptions to the court’s orderly conversational process, which during secondary conversations, reveal tacit institutional rules that are brought to the foreground to question and be questioned by these IT issues. We suggest that conversational analysis and ethnomethodological concepts, rarely studied in IS implementation research, provide a complementary research agenda for IS researchers and practitioners – to explore and intervene during the disruptions during IT implementation.
Critical realism is a subject of growing interest in the IS literature. This article aims at implementing a critical realist framework: Archer [Archer, M. (2003). Structure, agency and the internal conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press] internal conversation theory. As a contemporary sociologist, Archer suggests both a general vision of social practice and a typology of reflexivity modes. Her multilayered framework could be extremely useful in overcoming a current limitation in IS: the weakness of reflexivity modeling. Indeed, though much research sheds light on the structure–action relationship, it does not illuminate users’ biographical realms and reflexivities. In consequence, some genuine motives in ICT-related practices remain poorly understood. To address this deficiency, this article applies Archer’s framework to an IS environment through a meta-analysis of interviews. Results partially confirm the relevance of internal conversation theory and its potential added value to the study of ICT-mediated interactions. A further reflexivity mode and possible re-organizations of the Archer framework are also proposed.
In this paper, we combine two theories of the dynamics of a large socio-technical system — technology drift and actor-network theory — to address how and why information technologies often need to change, relative to their initial conceptions, during implementation. We analyze the failure of the first introduction of electronic cash in Umeå, Sweden as an example of what happens when drift does not occur: the lack of drift resulted in the socio-technical system's failure to stabilize. Lack of flexibility is identified as an important reason for the card's poor public acceptance. Banks ignored the critical comments of merchants, thus refusing to negotiate about the intended role of the technology. The cards were perceived as serving only the needs of the banks, while ignoring the needs of merchants and card users. Based on the findings in this case study, we argue that in order for a socio-technical system to stabilize it must drift from a single-purpose network, reflecting the interest and agenda of its designers/originators, to a multi-purpose network that reflects the interests of all involved social actors. In addition, we argue that a network-building process can be successful only if the network is flexible enough to serve the multiple purposes of its constituent actors.
Technology acquisition is an important but neglected issue within the social science analysis of technology. The limited number of studies undertaken reproduce a schism between rationalist (e.g., economic) forms of analysis, where the assumption is that choice is the outcome of formal assessment, and cultural sociological approaches which see choice as driven by the micro-politics of the organisational setting, interests, prevalent rhetorics, fads, etc. While sympathetic to the latter critical view, we are dissatisfied with the relativist portrayal of technology selection: that decisions beset with uncertainties and tensions are divorced from formal decision making criteria. Influenced by Michel Callon’s writing on the ‘performativity’ of economic concepts and tools, we argue that formal assessment has a stronger relationship to technology decisions than suggested by cultural sociologists. We focus on a procurement which is characterised by high levels of organisational tension and where there is deep uncertainty about each of the solutions on offer. We show how the procurement team are able to arrive at a decision through laboriously establishing a ‘comparison’. That is, they attempt to drag the choice from the informal domain onto a more formal, accountable plane through the mobilisation and performance of a number of ‘comparative measures’ and criteria. These measures constituted a stabilised form of accountability, which we describe through the metaphor of a ‘scaffolding’, erected in the course of the procurement. Our argument is threefold: first, we argue that comparisons are possible but that they require much effort; second, that it is not the properties of the technology which determines choice but the way these properties are given form through the various comparative measures put in place; and finally, whilst comparative measures might be imposed by one group upon others in a procurement team, these measures remain relatively malleable.
Bringing transactions to an end constitutes a crucial stage of market activity: the detachment between the counterparties engaged in a trade must be guaranteed. In financial markets, this operation relies on organisational technologies, such as clearinghouses, that can reach a high degree of sophistication. In this paper, we use financial clearinghouse mechanisms to explore how such detachment technologies are constructed. Based on several historical examples, our review shows that clearinghouse mechanisms developed on the basis of an increasingly IT-enabled organisational separation between the trading and clearing stages of market activity were a crucial factor that enabled clearinghouses to calculate the mutual obligations of the counterparties and perform the consequential steps. Our analysis goes on to reveal a paradoxical thread in the evolution of clearing: increasing informational and calculative capacity have lead clearing mechanisms to breach the separation on which their ability to operate was dependent – the boundary between trading activity and clearing processes. These findings shed a new light on the reflexive nature of IT-enabled market innovations and emphasise their role in re-introducing new forms of disorganisation back into contemporary financial markets.
This paper examines the coordination of outsourced information system (IS) development, focusing on two sets of questions: How are these projects coordinated, and why? How do the coordination mechanisms evolve during a project, and why? Coordination mechanisms were classified into standards, plans, formal mutual adjustment, and informal mutual adjustment. Two studies were conducted, including seven and four cases from vendor and client perspectives, respectively. Based on these cases, the coordination mechanisms used in outsourced IS projects are examined, factors influencing the evolution of coordination mechanisms are identified, and a model of evolution of coordination is developed. The cases also revealed three scenarios for the evolution of coordination (non-coordination, consistent coordination, late coordination). The results show the client as pulling the outsourcing relationship toward a hierarchy structure, characterized by informal mutual adjustment, while the vendor pulls the relationship toward a market structure, characterized by standards, plans, and formal mutual adjustment. Implications for future research and practice are examined.
In their roles as users and providers of uncertainty data, decision-makers are confronted with choosing among a plethora of data formats offered by the decision support systems on most personal computers, but are offered little in the way of decisional guidance for choosing the most effective display format. This research investigated when and why decisional guidance should be provided. We found that in tasks involving uncertainty data, the decision-makers were more accurate and responded faster when symbolic tasks were matched with tabular displays and spatial tasks were matched with graphical displays. We also found that when subjects were provided with both matched and unmatched display formats, field independent individuals were more accurate for both spatial and symbolic tasks. When decisional guidance restricted the display formats to match the task types, field dependency did not significantly affect performance. This suggests that cognitive ability or field dependency is not a factor when the mental representation formulated is consistent with the problem representation.
The inherent complexity of information systems development presents significant impediments to the achievement of shared meaning among the members of a development team. How then do software development teams resolve questions of shared meaning in the development process? In this study, we build upon observations of a large platform development team to identify the ways in which team members converge around shared meanings through the application of a repertoire of interpretive techniques. Specifically, we develop a model of interpretive team interaction. This collective hermeneutic model extends the hermeneutic tradition in IS research by addressing the ways in which an interpretation takes shape not simply within the mind of an individual but also through collaboration with others. Finally, we discuss implications of this theoretical perspective for the design of systems development environments and the prospect for additional research on the interpretive processes of development teams.
In contemporary knowledge work organizations, work is often accomplished through communication. Consequently, communication disruptions often translate into work disruptions. In this paper, we identify two types of communication disruptions with implications for the relative organization of work: delays and interruptions. Communication delays contribute to work disorganization when a worker is unable to move forward with a task due to insufficient information, while interruptions derail the flow of activities directed toward the accomplishment of a task. Communication technologies are often designed with the intention of improving work organization by reducing communication delays (first-order effect), but the use of these technologies may, in practice, inadvertently contribute to an increase in work interruptions (second-order effect). We illustrate these first and second-order impacts of communication media use in a descriptive model. Then, using this model as our point of departure, we draw on prior research on personal control, relationships, and organizational culture to offer testable propositions regarding likely worker responses (third-order effect) to either communication delays or interruptions with further implications for the organization of work. Our argument suggests that communication technology use may not result in either more or less organized work overall but, rather, may simply shift the locus of control over the flow of work.
This paper adopts a communities of practice approach to examine how the introduction of a groupware application in a UK pharmaceuticals company enabled and constrained knowledge working. We will refine the analysis by distinguishing between participation that is undertaken in what is referred to as political enclaves, and participation that takes place in safe enclaves. We will discuss how the deliberate intervention of some employees moderated some of politicising, and facilitated increased participation. The paper concludes by suggesting ways in which existing theoretical conceptualisations of information systems and knowledge work may be expanded to consider socio-political issues in more depth.
Representing knowledge in codified forms is transformative of ones orientation to that knowledge. We trace the emergence of a routine for knowledge acquisition and its consequences for participants. Over time, participants in the earth science project GEON, first learned about ontologies and then learned how to create them. We identify three steps in the routine: understanding the problematic of interoperability; learning the practice of knowledge acquisition; and engaging the broader community. As participants traversed the routine they came to articulate, and then represent, the knowledge of their communities. In a process we call reapprehension, traversing the routine also transformed participants’ orientation towards their data, knowledge and community, making them more keenly aware of the informational aspects of their fields.
This paper examines the simultaneous implementation within a single organization of two contemporary managerial information systems—Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Knowledge Management (KM). Exploring their simultaneous deployment within an organization provides an opportunity to examine the resulting interactions and impacts. More specifically, we examine their combined influence on improving organizational efficiency and flexibility, two outcomes which traditional organizational theory suggests are incompatible. Through an interpretative case study, the research confirms that: (1) the two systems can be implemented in tandem to good effect; (2) complementarity between the two systems is possible, although this is not an automatic outcome, it has to be fostered. This complementarity is analyzed in relation to the four mechanisms (namely partitioning, enrichment, metaroutines and switching) proposed by Adler, Goldoftas and Levine (Organization Science 10 (1999) 43), as vital for the simultaneous development of organizational efficiency and flexibility.