Estzer BARTIS, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary Nathalie MITEV, London School of Economics, United Kingdom
We discuss the introduction of an information system where the dominant coalition claimed project success. While the key users did not use the system as intended and the project goals were not achieved, the project committee reported success to the top management board. Using a multimethodological approach, we can follow how different stakeholders attributed different meanings to the system introduced over time. The rhetorical tools used are analysed using a narrative methodology. We draw on the social construction of technology and use the concept of relevant social groups to understand the different interests influencing the organizational dynamics. We complement this approach by employing the concepts of organisational power and cultural fit between the new system and the different subcultures. We found that this multiple approach explains well how the acceptance of the new software processes was interpreted differently within the organisation, and also by the software supplier. Although limited, our case study reveals the process of socially constructing the success or failure of an information system using this multiple research approach. We compare our results with the literature on IS failures and we consider the value of combining constructionist and critical approaches through a narrative methodology.
IS failures have been surrounded by unabating interest in the last four decades. One main reason is that IT investments are expensive and of high risk (Carr 2003, Lyytinen & Robey 1999, Fortune & Peters 2005). Fitzgerald and Russo (2005) refer to the Standish Group’s survey reporting that only 16% of IS projects are completed on time and within budget. Sauer (1997) argues that to be more successful in the future, we have to understand and learn from failures, and Mitev (2000) that failures can reveal processes that would be hidden when systems are claimed to be successful. Some of the causes for failure have been identified as the difficulty to manage so many different factors (Sauer & Southon 1997) or that organisations fail to learn (Lyytinen & Robey 1999). Researching IS failures originates back in the 1960s. The early works were concerned with technological or engineering problems where systems were not delivering the required performance (Sauer 1997). These failures originated in hardware or software deficiencies. In the seventies, the focus turned towards user resistance and the lack of user involvement was quickly claimed to be a major reason for failure (Argyris 1971, Ein-Dor & Segev 1978). Later, discussions also included managerial or organisational issues but were still resting on positivist assumptions. DeLone and McLean (1992) provide a thorough overview of the main research in the quest for the key success factors of that time. Some 10 years later DeLone and McLean (2003) discussed the critiques and suggestions and revised their model. Their work concentrates on positivist research applying quantitative methods. That means a stream of growing importance is left out of their work: interpretivist, constructionist and critical research, which use mainly qualitative methodologies. Epistemological approaches have therefore evolved and the focus of inquiries has broadened, taking into account wider organisational aspects. Mitev (2003) and Wilson and Howcroft (2002) summarise these more recent approaches and emphasise the lack of consensus, the multifaceted nature of IS and the subjectivity of the terms ‘success’ and ‘failure’. White and Leifer (1986, p. 215) point out that “perceptions of a system’s success or failure may vary depending upon an individual’s perspective of the system” and Mitev (2000, p. 84) raises the justifiable question: “are there inherent differences