It Takes Two to Tango: The Fit Between Network Context and Inter-Organizational Strategic Information Systems Planning

It Takes Two to Tango: The Fit Between Network Context and Inter-Organizational Strategic Information Systems Planning

Ton A.M. Spil (University of Twente, The Netherlands), Tijs van den Broek (TNO Information and Communication Technology, The Netherlands) and Hannu T.T. Salmela (Turku School of Business, Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/jsita.2010101503
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The view of evaluating Strategic Information Systems Planning (Grover & Segars, 2005) process and effectiveness has matured. However, the inter-organizational view or network view is understudied. The introduction of information strategy in networks seems more reactive than proactive; many organizations continue to use SISP as a way to support their internal decision-making process without actually cooperating with their business partners. This article aims to qualitatively explore and validate, respectively, context and process dimensions in two inter-organizational cases: a network of municipalities in Finland and a network of healthcare organizations in the Netherlands. The first case study explores the network context and theorizes how network context influences inter-organizational SISP, discovering that the inter-organisational SISP process is influenced by the context, especially by the role of trust and complexity. The second case study is the exploration of three process dimensions: contingency, certainty and contractual agreements.
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Empirical research on Strategic Information Systems Planning (SISP in different decades has shown that companies also adopt different approaches to developing IS plans, see Earl, 1993; McLean & Soden, 1977; Pyburn, 1983; Segars & Grover, 1998). The image of SISP has changed over years. Early research on SISP focused primarily on the formal study that led to a formal SISP plan. However, SISP is part of a wider planning system and thus only one way to support decision making in organizations.

Our society is shifting to a network society (Castells, 1996), which makes boundaries between organizations more permeable and vague (Alexander, 1992). This increases complexity of governmental ICT projects. For example, the OECD (Hyysalo & Lehenkari, 2003) published a report on e-government in Finland stressing the challenge of coordinating the collaboration between governmental bodies on large ICT projects. Finland is not the only country facing such challenges (Ernst & Young, 2007); in Dutch Healthcare, the challenge of coordination is even bigger, as networks are not only horizontal (same organizations working together) but also vertical (e.g., healthcare chains) (Hong, 2002).

Networks of organizations are increasingly undertaking planning of a portfolio of Inter-organizational systems that helps to achieve the common goals of the network. This is referred to as Inter-Organizational Strategic Information System Planning (IOSISP) (Spil & Salmela, 2007). Sadly, academic studies on IOSISP are still rare. A study of relevant literature shows that most research so far focuses on either SISP in a single organization or governance issues of Inter-Organizational information systems and networks. Like SISP, networks seem to vary in the way they approach IOSISP (Finnegan, Galliers, & Powell, 2003).

Methods for evaluating a SISP study are fairly well documented. The conceptual framework presented by King (1988) provides a good basis for evaluating SISP. Baker, (1995), Lederer and Salmela (1996) and Brown (2004) provide a more dynamic model. Additionally, survey instruments have been developed that researchers can use in measuring planning success according to predefined dimensions (Segars & Grover, 1999). This research adopts these frameworks to evaluate the processes of SISP in two cases of network organizations. In addition to this theory on SISP evaluation, the paper also makes a more situational evaluation of SISP. The differences between these two evaluations are then discussed. While supporting the prior evaluation methods, the paper suggests that also a contextual evaluation can provide interesting insights and promote learning.

In terms of IOSISP process dimensions, prior research on inter-organizational systems suggests fairly emergent forms of planning between different stakeholder groups. The formulation and implementation of IOS strategy is typically described as an emergent process driven by perceptions of power, interest and environmental forces which are only partially controlled (Boonstra & Vries, 2005; Konsynski & Tiwana, 2004). Often, individual companies make their own strategies, which are based on assumptions related to other networks parties’ expectations and future actions (Phan, 2001). It is, however, very common that the outcomes are different from what was originally planned by individual parties (Boddy, 2000; Pouloudi & Whiteley, 1997)

Although planning processes between different parties tend to be emergent (i.e., characterised by low comprehensiveness and formalization and limited participation), there are also reasons to believe that a more comprehensive planning—in particular in a favourable context—could lead to better outcomes. For instance, comprehensive planning could lead to improved common understanding about the benefits of IOS to all parties. The resulting common understanding has been found to better commit all parties in the network to implement systems and process changes (Chatfield & Yetton, 2000).

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