Analyzing the impact of Information Technologies (IT) on the work of organizations, it can be stated that at present a significant portion of companies’ expenditures is devoted to IT. In that regard, IT constitutes almost an inseparable aspect of organizations, although the exact impact of IT is still researched. The aspect of technology has long been of interest to organizational researchers. There are variations, sometimes contradictory, in the way the effect of IT is viewed in the organizational context. Accordingly, the methods and the approaches used in assessing organizational consequences of information technology might vary as well.
To understand the differences and similarities in the approaches used to investigate the approaches to IT research as well as the variables used, a brief review of the literature was conducted. This article provides an analysis of several articles focusing on organizational changes caused by the implementation of IT, the approaches used, the theoretical foundations, and the way IT was addressed in each article.
Analysis of Approaches
It can be assumed that a quantitative approach can be seen as the most suitable in the context of assessing the impact of a certain change on an organization. The latter can be explained through the use of a positivist paradigm which implies the use of quantifiable measures of variables, which can be translated mostly into two important for the organizations, revenues, and costs. Research can be classified as positivist, if there was evidence of formal propositions, quantifiable measures of variables, hypothesis testing, and the drawing of inferences about a phenomenon from the sample to a stated population” (A.Jabar, 2009, p. 48). Nevertheless, there are other dimensions for the changes in the organization, in which financial benefits and costs reductions can be seen as one of the goals.
A different approach to assessing the impact of IT was outlined in Fulk and DeSanctis (1995), where such approach can be classified as based on interpretive paradigm, which largely involves qualitative methods. The paradigm implies that the researcher attempts to understand the complexities of the social work, which involves qualitative techniques, “intending to develop a rich and complex understanding of each individual’s interpretation of the world” (A.Jabar, 2009). In the article, the aforementioned approach was implemented through a review of scholarly literature and observations, in which the dimensions on which technology, communication, in this case, might have an impact. Those dimensions are identified through literature. The variables researched are either created or taken from literature, where the problem statement narrowed the literature investigated to the topic of the research. The problem statement, in that regard, was driven by the major changes which were taking place in communication and organizational forms. Thus, it can be stated that in general, communication and new organizational form were taken as two variables, the relationship between which were studied through interpretation of literature and observations.
Similar in terms of paradigm, i.e. interpretive, was the approach assessing the impact of IT on firms in Dedrick and Kraemer (2005). The method of data collection, however, might be seen as different, where most interviews were used. In both cases, the use of IT was brought about by changes in the organization and advances in technology.
A particular industry has selected a setting for the investigation, which is the Personal Computer (PC) Industry. Similar to the previous example, the elements of the investigation were derived from theory, in this case, the costs transaction theory which was adapted to the purposes of the study. Thus, it can be stated that the approaches taken in both articles, Fulk and DeSanctis (1995) and Dedrick and Kraemer (2005) were qualitative, following the interpretive paradigm in research. Other than some differences in the methods of data collection the approaches were similar.
A different approach can be seen taken in Malhotra, Gosain, and El Sawy (2005). With the article summarizing the results of an exploratory study, it can be stated that such study was of a mixed approach, combining quantitative and qualitative approaches to data collection. Nevertheless, the approach taken in the study was different in many dimensions. One dimension is the purpose of assessment, in which information technology was one of the purposes, rather than taking the sole focus. Accordingly, throughout the article, the reader can witness what in Benbasat and Zmud (2003) was referred to as an identity crisis in IS research, i.e. over-investigating aspects distantly related to IT and under-investigating aspects closely related to it (Benbasat & Zmud, 2003). In that regard, taking the purpose of investigating the influence of IT, in which IT is the cause, while the changes in the organizations are the effects of such cause, the article focuses only on the effects, rather than on the types of the causes. In this case, the effects were related to such aspects of supply chains and the processes occurring within them. The qualitative aspect of the study was mainly found in the interviews and field observations on supply chain partnerships. The quantitative data was collected by comparing supply chain configurations, where the variables were identified through the theories that were covered in a review of the literature. The variables and the scales used to measure them were identified, and with those variables being measurable, a relation was established, as well as a correlation between the variables.
Finally, the approach explained in Orlikowski (2000) was also qualitative, using the interpretive paradigm. If classifying the qualitative approach in the study, it can be stated that the research design is that of ethnography. In ethnography “researchers observe their collaborators without prejudice or prior assumptions” (A.Jabar, 2009). The use of ethnography can be seen through the investigation of the development of systems in organizations. Accordingly, the parallel to ethnography can be seen through the main goal of understanding a phenomenon, where according to Avison and Myers (1995), cited in Jabar(2009) such method is “suited to providing information systems researchers with rich insights into the human, social and organizational aspects of information systems development and application” (A.Jabar, 2009, p. 49). The focus of humans, in that regard, can outline the difference in the approach used in this article, for which the research can be described as ethnography.
Summarizing the approaches taken in those articles, it can be stated that the use of qualitative approaches in an investigation is a common element. Despite the measurement of quantifiable variables, such results were combined with qualitative data. In that regard, a common aim can be seen understanding phenomena and exploration, with intersections between the IT field and organizational studies, with the latter being focused on more. In that regard, the role of IT in those articles c should be explained more.
The Role of IT in Organizations
Although all of the articles cover IT and its role in an organization, in a way or another, those roles might be largely different. One role of IT and technologies, in general, is that of enablers, i.e. tools that offer capabilities that help overcome constraints of organizations’ original forms. Such role of enablers can be seen in communication technologies covered in Fulk and DeSanctis (1995). In that regard, the topic of the aforementioned article and the way the research was unfolded, it can be stated that the technology was perceived as a contributing factor to the occurrence of new forms of organizations, rather than a separate entity that has certain interactions with the dimensions of those new forms. The investigation of those interactions was the main purpose of the article.
In Malhotra, Gosain, and El Sawy (2005), the role of IT can be understood through the use of the term “IT-based” throughout the article, from which it can be stated that IT is an existing element of infrastructure for a known process, which was already present before the implementation of IT, and without the “IT-based” attachment. Thus, the role of IT can be seen not in adding processes and capabilities, rather in enhancing the effectiveness and the efficiency of the existing ones.
In Orlikowski (2000), the role assigned to IT can be seen as enactment structures, the impact of which is assessed through the interactions of people working in organizations. Accordingly, it is the role of people to build onto those enactment structures different interpretive models. Thus, differences in technologies are not as important as the way people in organizations enact them, resulting in different technologies in practice. Accordingly, studying the influence of technologies in organizations, the technologies investigated are the technologies used in practice, rather than the core technologies that form them. The latter was supported through the study showing similar technologies that were used differently in practice. Accordingly, the categorization of technologies might be based on different types of enactment, rather than on the types of the technologies themselves.
The role of technology in Robey and Boudreau (1999) is explained through theories that use the logic of opposition, according to which IT can support either persistent or transformative forces of change or both simultaneously (Robey & Boudreau, 1999, p. 181). In that regard, detailed identification of the role of IT can be based on the identification of the forces in the organization during change along with understanding the change process itself. Finally, the role of IT in Dedrick and Kraemer (2005) was understood through the cost transaction theory, in which IT acts as a tool that eliminates layers of management, reducing complexity and assets involved in market transactions. Thus, IT restructures processes eliminating layers in those processes.
This paper examines several articles focusing on the topic of integrating IT in the work of organizations. The article compared and contrasted the approaches used to investigate the role of IT along with explaining the role of IT in each case. In that regard, it can be concluded that the prevalence of qualitative approaches can be identified in the articles, along with the use of the interpretive paradigm. The use of ethnography can be mentioned as well, indicating the aim of research to provide an understanding of phenomena. IT roles, on the other hand, were different in each case, varying between enablers, elements of infrastructure, supporters of change forces, and process restructurers.
A.Jabar, M. (2009). An Investigation into Methods and Concepts of Qualitative Research in Information System Research. Computer and Information Science, 2(4), 47-54.
Benbasat, I., & Zmud, R. W. (2003). The Identity Crisis Within the IS Discipline: Defining and Communicating the Discipline’s Core Properties. Management Information Systems Quarterly, 27(2), 183-194.
Dedrick, J., & Kraemer, K. L. (2005). The Impacts of IT on Firm and Industry Structure: The Personal Computer Industry. California Management Review, 47(3), 122-142.
Fulk, J., & DeSanctis, G. (1995). Electronic Communication and Changing Organizational Forms. Organization Science, 6(4), 337-349.
Malhotra, A., Gosain, S., & El Sawy, O. A. (2005). Absorptive Capacity Configurations in Supply Chains: Gearing for Partner-Enabled Market Knowledge Creation. [Article]. MIS Quarterly, 29(1), 145-187.
Orlikowski, W. J. (2000). Using Technology and Constituting Structures: A Practice Lens for Studying Technology in Organizations. [Article]. Organization Science, 11(4), 404-428.
Robey, D., & Boudreau, M.-C. (1999). Accounting for the Contradictory Organizational Consequences of Information Technology: Theoretical Directions and Methodological Implications. [Article]. Information Systems Research, 10(2), 167-185.