Characterizing the IT Artefact through Plato's Ontology: Performance Measurement Systems in the Web 3.0 Era

Characterizing the IT Artefact through Plato's Ontology: Performance Measurement Systems in the Web 3.0 Era

Marie Marchand (Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Canada) and Louis Raymond (Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Canada)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8147-7.ch016
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Based on ontological principles enunciated by Plato more than 2300 years ago, yet at a time when Web 3.0 technology is seen to impact the management of organizations and especially the management of organizational performance, the authors propose in this chapter to characterize the IT artefact with an approach that returns the user perspective to the forefront. As an illustration, the Performance Measurement Systems (PMS) of 16 Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) are investigated and characterized from their users' perspective in terms of their specific attributes as systems dedicated to managing organizational performance in the Web 3.0 era. The variety of contexts and configurations of these systems is of particular interest while looking for the principles that underlie their empirical manifestations. Results provide a framework of reference for the characterization, design, and evaluation of IT artefacts that is applicable in particular within a Web 3.0 technological context.
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1. Introduction

Calls have been made repeatedly to characterize and theorize IT artefacts in IS studies (Weber, 2003). While one is regularly reminded in the IS literature of the importance of the IT artefact and of its study as such (Kling & Scacchi, 1982; Leonardi & Barley, 2008), there exists as of yet no theorization of this artefact that is grounded in practice (Orlikowski, 2010). And notwithstanding the fact that questions related to the IT artefact are recognized as the most relevant topics in the IS research domain (Whinston & Geng, 2004), one observes that “IT artefacts are either absent, black-boxed, abstracted from social life, or reduced to surrogate measures” (Orlikowski & Iacono, 2001, p. 130). The need to refocus on the IT artefact, to consider it explicitly in its material and cultural presence in the organization, and thus to conceptualize and theorize this artefact has also been underlined by other IS researchers such as Agarwal & Lucas (2005).

There thus remains a need to conceptualize and theorize the IT artefact in order to identify its true nature and its true role in an organization so as to obtain practical implications in terms of systems design, use and management, and in terms of the organizational “fit” of this artefact, that is, the extent to which it answers the needs of the organization and the individuals that compose it (Strong & Volkoff, 2010). Preoccupations expressed by many in the IS field as to the nature of IT artefacts and as to their delimitation as objects of study thus reveal an epistemo-ontological problem with regard to these specific artefacts (Merrill, 2011), and also with regard to technological artefacts in general (Barley, 1998). Now, a return to the foundations of philosophical reflection from which scientific thought originated can provide solution paths to this problem. Inspired by the ontological principles enunciated by Plato 2370 years ago (Brisson, 2001; Fine, 1993), an approach meant to facilitate the characterization of IT artefacts is proposed in this chapter. Its interest lies in the fact that it returns the user to the forefront, it focuses on the function of the IT artefact, and it allows for the theorization of this artefact in the context of its use. And at a time when Web 3.0 technology is seen to impact the management of organizations and the management of organizational performance in particular (Garrigos-Simon, Alcamí & Ribera, 2012), such a characterization is meant to be especially applicable in this new technological context.

This approach was developed empirically through the study of a particular type of IT artefact, i.e. performance measurement systems (PMS). As these systems are highly contextualized because of their strategic nature (Marchand & Raymond, 2008), their study is meant to generate relatively generalizable and useful findings with regard to their characterization as IT artefacts in the Web 3.0 era. The rest of the chapter is structured as follows: We first present PMS and the IT characterization issues that relate to these systems. We then expose the ontological foundations of our approach and develop it in order to characterize the IT artefact. The methodology is described, followed by the results of applying the approach developed, as the PMS of 16 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in different industries are investigated and characterized. Follow the implications of these results for research and practice. The chapter ends with future research avenues and concluding remarks.

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