The Crux of Integration: Exploring Infrastructure Evolution in the Process Industry

The Crux of Integration: Exploring Infrastructure Evolution in the Process Industry

Lars Rönnbäck (Umeå University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-692-6.ch007
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Abstract

The purpose of this chapter is to identify and explore critical challenges for the process industry in IT infrastructure integration and adaptation. The authors identify four critical challenges in the integration and adaption of IT infrastructure in the process industry: integration as an ongoing process; maintaining stability in the installed base; locking the right stuff in; and balancing user value, continuity of production and compatibility. Given the centrality of IT infrastructure in today’s process industries the importance of dealing with these challenges must be emphasized. The four challenges identified in this study are of such a complexity they can only lend themselves to the evolutionary strategy. Such a strategy is in concert with the sensibility towards risk the authors find in the paper industry.
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Introduction

CRUX [‘kruks]

1: a puzzling or difficult problem: an unsolved question

2: an essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome <the crux of the problem>

3: a main or central feature (as of an argument)

For contemporary organizations the dream of managing their use of information technology (IT) through the establishment of an IT-strategy, and aligning the IT infrastructure with existing business strategies, has never come to be realized. Practical evidence of integration of large-scale IT infrastructure in complex organizations shows that the integration process does not follow a rational and waterfall-like process (Boudreau & Holmström, 2006; Hanseth et al, 1997; Holmström & Robey, 2005). Results from industrial settings, where the “new” IT infrastructure logic becomes intertwined with “old” and highly institutionalized industrial settings illustrates such complexity in some detail (Jonsson et al, 2008; Rönnbäck et al, 2007; Westergren & Holmström, 2008). While managerial handbook recipes imply that IT infrastructure are highly malleable and enabling, and can be deployed by means of a rational decision making process by the management this perspective to IT-strategy has been criticized for undermining the role of organizational and social issues (Ciborra et al, 2000; Knights et al, 1997; Robey & Holmström, 2001).

This chapter builds on the idea that large-scale IT infrastructures deployed in an organizational setting should be characterized as “infrastructures” rather than “tools”, because their deployment is often constrained by an installed base. An installed base can be defined as the interconnected practices and technologies that are institutionalized in the organization (Rolland, 2002).

The purpose of this paper is to identify and explore critical challenges for the process industry in IT infrastructure integration and adaptation. As an example of a process industry, the study presented in this paper is focused on IT integration in an organization in the paper and pulp industry. The paper builds on a growing literature on information infrastructures (e.g. Ciborra et al, 2000; Hanseth et al, 1997; Star, 1996) and in particular the picture painted in this literature of IT infrastructure as stable rather than flexible, as they have been recognized as hard to change due to the inertia of the installed base (Monteiro, 1998).

The remainder of this paper is outlined as follows: First we present a theoretical framework we argue is a useful perspective on IT integration, in the following section the case is presented. In the fourth section we suggest four critical challenges that organizations in the process industry need to address. In the concluding section we discuss the implications of our study, for the process industry and for future research.

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