Seams and Sutures in IT Artifacts: Sewing Up the Socio and the Technical Together

Seams and Sutures in IT Artifacts: Sewing Up the Socio and the Technical Together

Federico Cabitza (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, Milano, Italy), Carla Simone (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, Milano, Italy), and Cristiano Storni (Computer Science Building, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/IJSS.2016010102
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After more than forty years the principles of the socio-technical approach still offer a sound basis on which Information Systems, interpreted as socio-technical systems, can be constructed to address the increasing need of flexibility of the modern organizations, and to satisfy the will to exploit the technological evolution that now offers unprecedented opportunities for adaptability and flexibility. The paper reconsiders some of the basic principles of socio-technical theory, namely openness, underspecification and interdependence, and on their basis it outlines new ways to conceive IT-supported organizations so that these organizations, their IS artifacts and the constituting IT artifacts can more easily co-evolve without mutually imposing unnecessary constraints. To this aim, we advocate the application of a socio-technical approach to both the design of the social structures and the design of the technical components of the organizations, by leveraging recent frameworks and technological platforms that are aimed at empowering the frontline end-users.
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Introduction: The Socio-Technical Legacy

In this paper we start reconsidering the importance – and surprising freshness – of three principles that are related to the core of the socio-technical theory: openness, underspecification, and interdependence. We focus on these three aspects as they appear to be even more suitable than in the past to effectively and positively inform the design of IT artifacts and IS artifacts in organizational settings. This is mainly for the current availability and affordability of more mature, stable and usable interactional technologies, as well as for a more receptive culture.

In arguing about the importance of these principles, we will focus on the technical component of the socio-technical systems that we above denoted as either IT artifacts or IS artifacts. More precisely, here we consider IT artifacts all of the single software applications that constitute an Information System (IS) “includ[ing] not only instantiations [of] the IT artifact but also the constructs, models, and methods applied in the development and use of information systems, [and instead excluding] people or elements of organizations [and] the process by which such artifacts evolve over time” (Hevner et al. 2004, p. 82). On the other hand, after Watson et al. (2012) we consider the IS artifact as a complex socio-technical system that includes “integrated and cooperating set of people, processes, software, and information technologies [that] support individual, organizational, or societal goals” (Watson et al. 2010).

The main aim of this paper is to argue the need to bring the concepts of openness, underspecification, and interdependence more concretely into the technological dimension of socio-technical design, and hence advocate for their application as design-oriented principles that underpin a novel approach to the implementation of IT and IS artifacts. In what follows we introduce our interpretation of these known principles.

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