Intentional Decentralization and Instinctive Centralization: A Revelatory Case Study of the Ideographic Organization of IT

Intentional Decentralization and Instinctive Centralization: A Revelatory Case Study of the Ideographic Organization of IT

Johan Magnusson (University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden & Norwegian School of Information Technology (NITH), Oslo, Norway)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/irmj.2013100101
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The aim of this study is to contribute to the body of knowledge surrounding centralization and decentralization of IT within the field of IT Governance. This is achieved through a revelatory case study of an ideographic organization, seen from the perspective of Social Transformation Processes. The study finds that the discussion in regards to whether IT should be centralized or decentralized is misdirected and needs to take additional aspects into account. As the case illustrates, organizations that hold dual identities encompass both organizational states simultaneously, whereby intentional decentralization is coupled with an instinctive centralization. The study illustrates limitations in the distinction between centralized and decentralized IT, as well as opens up for future studies of the organization of IT utilizing the perspective of social transformation processes.
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Since the introduction if information technology (IT) into organizations there has been continued debate in regards of how best to organize the IT resource (Leavitt & Whisler, 1958; Dearden, 1987; Tiwana & Konsynski, 2009; Bradley et al., 2012). From early dominance of centralization to the decentralization of the 1980’s and the re-centralization during the 1990’s, the organization of IT was and continues to be a complex and problematic concern (Brynjolfsson, 1994; Nault, 1998; Guillemette & Paré, 2012; Prasad, Greene & Haeles, 2012; Xue, Ray & Sambamurthy, 2012). Previous attempts at understanding and investigating centralization versus decentralization of IT are bountiful and diversified in terms of theoretical outsets (see f.i. Clemons, Reddi & Row, 1992; Tiwana & Konsynski, 2009; Zarvic et al., 2012; Güney & Cresswell, 2012). Despite this, there has so far been a gap in research that bridges the institutional and organizational culture aspects of organizing (Strandgaard Pedersen & Dobbin, 2006). This paper proposes a bridging of said theoretical fields using Strandgaard Pedersen and Dobbin’s framework of social transformation processes (ibid), in order to increase our understanding of how a single organization can be regarded as both centralized and decentralized (see Bloomfield & Coombs, 1992). This corresponds to the concept of “ideographic” organizations as coined by Albert and Whetten (1985), referring to organizations with dual identities. In this manner, I regard the concepts of centralization and decentralization not as concrete but sensitizing concepts (Blumer, 1954), i.e. concepts that aid us in our analytical pursuit without offering direct inference between concept and empirical observations.

As I will argue, the organization of IT exists in a power field dominated by consonance and concentration. In terms of consonance, this refers to the mirroring of organization and governance structures from the organization at large to the specific function in focus. Proposed by Woodward (1965) through her “consonance hypothesis”, stating that social and technological systems are built to mirror one another, this implies that a highly decentralized organization will strive for decentralizing also its IT department(s). In terms of concentration, this follows the ideas of economies of scale and competence pooling (Coase, 1937), where the very nature of IT is associated with major benefits if it can be organized en masse (Clemons, Reddi & Row, 1992; Ferguson et al., 2012).

The purpose of this paper is to investigate the ideographic organization of IT from the perspective of social transformation processes. The paper’s central contribution is a new perspective for better understanding the process of how IT is organized. This is achieved through a revelatory case study of an IT centralization initiative at a large Swedish university and the testing of the theory of social transformation processes as a explanatory device. The paper is organized accordingly: First, there is a description of previous research on the organization of the IT function. Next follows a presentation of the theoretical framework used for bridging the gap between cultural and institutional studies. After this, the case of AllGood is presented, followed by a discussion of the study’s findings. Implications of the research and suggestions for future studies conclude the paper.

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