The Governance of Information Infrastructures

The Governance of Information Infrastructures

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1622-6.ch007
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This chapter continues on from the discussion in Chapter 6 by exploring the notions of co-production and polycentric governance structures in the development of information infrastructures. Drawing on Ostrom’s (1990) original principles toward commons governance, as well as more recent developments from commons studies (Anderies et al., 2004; Hess & Ostrom, 2007), this chapter builds on and extends extant research on the governance of information infrastructures and concludes with implications for further research into IT governance through a commons perspective.
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Information technology (IT) governance has traditionally been tied to decision making processes toward the effective procurement of IT resources (Dean & Sharfman, 1996; Devaraj & Kohli, 2003; Sambamurthy & Zmud, 1999; Weill & Ross, 2004). Decisions are made across different domains including business strategy, IT architecture and infrastructure, business application needs, and IT investment prioritization options (Weill & Ross, 2004). In each of these domains, stakeholder constituencies take different lead roles and responsibilities for IT decision making, and each generates different benefits and challenges (Weill & Ross, 2004).

Traditionally, three configurations have been distinguished for IT governance (Sambamurthy & Zmud, 1999). In each configuration, stakeholder constituencies take different lead roles and responsibilities for IT decision making. In the centralized configuration, corporate IT management has IT decision-making authority concerning infrastructure, applications, and development. In the decentralized configuration, division IT management and business-unit management have authority for infrastructure, applications, and development. In the federal configuration (a hybrid configuration of centralization and decentralization), corporate IT has authority over infrastructure, and division IT and business-units have authority over applications and development. In general, it is argued that centralization provides greater efficiency and standardization, while decentralization improves business ownership and responsiveness (Brown, 1997). The literature suggests that the federal configuration provides the benefits of both centralization and decentralization (Hodgkinson, 1996; Von Simson, 1990), and research indicates that organizations adopt a federal configuration when pursuing multiple competing objectives (Brown & Magill, 1998; Sambamurthy & Zmud, 1999).

Despite the merits of approaching IT governance as the selection and use of decision making procedures for the effective procurement of IT resources, research in information infrastructure development suggests that IT governance cannot be solely concerned with the formal allocation of IT decision-making authority (see in particular Ciborra et al., 2001). Irrespective of the locus of control, mechanisms for lateral coordination need to be included for IT governance. For example, the findings from both the Crete and English case studies indicate that, in more dynamic environments, effective IT governance is more likely to resemble a network of relationships rather than classical hierarchical structures. In such complex, interdependent decision-making environments, there is considerable uncertainty and ambiguity arising from within distributed communities of users, providers, and policymakers, among others (cf. DeSanctis et al., 1999; Jarvenpaa & Ives, 1994).

Given the increasingly large scale nature of information infrastructure projects, it is essential that individuals (and the communities they represent) at multiple levels are engaged in the decision making process, to ensure that IT resources meet the needs of all constituencies. A key objective of IT governance is to ensure such synergies occur and associated benefits are reaped, not solely at the procurement level, but more importantly at the level of implementation.

The theoretical framework discussed in Chapter 3 of this book holds possibilities for addressing this objective. The key differentiating factor of this theoretical framework and other frameworks found in the IT governance literature is exactly its focus on the multilevel context of IT resources and the dynamic negotiations around the diverse property rights of various right holders.

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