Toward a Theory of IOIS Variance: A New Framework for Studying Inter-organisational Information Systems

Toward a Theory of IOIS Variance: A New Framework for Studying Inter-organisational Information Systems

Kai Reimers (RWTH Aachen University, Germany), Robert B. Johnston (University College Dublin, Ireland) and Stefan Klein (University of Muenster, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/jsita.2010070104


Observing that existing models of inter-organisational information systems (IOIS) have not been developed to explain IOIS variance, in this paper the authors develop three criteria a new theoretical framework should meet: 1) It should support identification of and distinction between essential properties of IOIS; 2) it should explain the resilience of IOIS, that is, why (properties of) IOIS persist in the face of environmental change; and 3) it should offer a way of describing IOIS on organisational and collective levels, that is, the level of various types of collectives of organisations, such as networks, associations or industries. This paper then assesses four theories commonly used in IOIS studies (Transaction Cost Theory, Resource Dependence Theory, Neo-Institutionalism, and Structuration Theory) in view of these three criteria. Based on this discussion, the authors develop a new framework for studying IOIS variance which views IOIS as constellations of aligned practices.
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Why is it necessary to provide yet another ‘new’ framework for studying inter-organisational information systems (IOIS)? The literature is replete with such frameworks (Barrett & Konsynski, 1982; Johnston & Vitale; 1988; Benjamin et al., 1990; Kumar & van Dissel, 1996; Choudhury, 1997; Esbjerg, 1999; Fleisch & Österle, 2000; Riemer et al., 2001; O’Daniel, 2001; Hong, 2002; van der Vorst et al., 2002; Themistocleous et al., 2004; Qiu & Ling, 2004; O’Donell & Glassberg, 2005) and one might want to first ask why they are not sufficient for our purpose. In this article, we argue that while the extant literature has largely succeeded in explaining success and failure of IOIS initiatives, it has yet to cope with a phenomenon that has evaded academic attention, namely a substantial variation in existing IOIS which is not easily accounted for.1 For example, we find entirely different systems in similar industries but situated in different countries. Do country-level factors dictate or constrain the types of IOIS that emerge as stable systems in an industry? Furthermore, we find different systems in the same industry co-existing peacefully. Do these systems address different requirements of different segments in that industry? In that case, one would probably rather rely on industry-level factors for predicting which types of IOIS will emerge as a sustainable system in a given environment. Then again, we find cases in which all relevant contingencies seem to be almost identical but prevailing IOIS still differ significantly. However, looking at their evolution reveals that different types and constellations of actors have played crucial roles at early development stages or that these systems have been created at different points in time. This observation might lead one to speculate that those types of IOIS which emerge as stable systems are influenced by the particularities of their development process suggesting an explanation based on the theory of path-dependency.

An ability to explain variance of IOIS would make a significant contribution to theory development in the IS field. Scholars are still puzzled by the relationship between new information technologies and existing organisational and institutional structures. Specifically, the question in which way organisational and institutional factors influence deployment of information technology has not yet been satisfactorily answered. While the notion that institutional and organisational factors in some way constrain IT deployment is largely unchallenged, it is not clear how such constraints work. As a consequence, the opposite view, that organisational and institutional structures follow constraints inherent in technology -- so-called technological determinism -- has mostly been abandoned; yet it would seem to be a mistake to adopt a stance of ‘institutional determinism’ in which organisational and institutional structures determine viable forms of IT deployment (Markus, 2005). Ability to explain variance of IOIS would have to rely on a deeper understanding regarding this relationship between organisational and institutional factors on the one hand and forms of IT deployment on the other. We assume that IOIS variety would—to a large extent—follow from a variety of organisational and institutional settings while not every difference in organisational or institutional structure should be associated with a different type of IOIS.

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