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Outflanking with information technology: a dialectic model of organizational transformation
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Umeå Centre for Gender Studies (UCGS). Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Informatics. Swedish Center for Digital Innovation.
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Informatics.
Case Western Reserve University.
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The information systems (IS) literature conveys two opposing narratives of how to create radical organizational transformation (OT) with information technology (IT): “Iron fist” scholars argue that such OT is best achieved by resolute leaders capable of driving episodic change by fiat, while “velvet glove” scholars posit that OT is best induced incrementally by compassionate leaders who nurture shared vision and minimize conflict. These narratives portray implicitly gendered management stereotypes and promote accounts of heroism. Built to celebrate deliberate managerial action, they also brush aside back-stage work necessary for successful IS strategy implementation and cast IT in the marginal role of a trigger for or enabler of OT. To address these shortcomings, we advance a dialectic model of OT that views IT as a material change agent. To synthesize insights from these opposing narratives of change, our dialectic model also interrogates dominant assumptions in received OT theory. The model is motivated by an unexpected and intriguing case of OT in a Swedish municipality where initially peripheral actors used IT to gradually bring about a much-contested radical change to the organization’s service logics. These actions resembled the military tactics founded on stealth and surprise that military leaders use to overcome overwhelming enemies; therefore, we term the new OT narrative “outflanking.” The narrative foregrounds three tactical IT uses—shielding, priming, and enrolling—that the actors deployed to overcome the opposition. As a result, we theorize that the role of novel IT uses is a necessary component of contemporary OT. Following a call for analyses of OT that recognize material effects of IT, the article concludes with a discussion of how managers can strike alliances with peripheral actors to render their organizations more dynamic, and how researchers need better articulate the complexity of the current IT-based OT.

Keyword [en]
Organizational transformation, IT use, Digital materiality, Outflanking, Dialectics, Institutional entrepreneurship, Socio-political change.
National Category
Information Systems, Social aspects
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-109759OAI: diva2:858982
Available from: 2015-10-05 Created: 2015-10-05 Last updated: 2015-10-06
In thesis
1. Digital transformation: the material roles of IT resources and their political uses
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Digital transformation: the material roles of IT resources and their political uses
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Digital transformation : den materiella betydelsen av IT-resurser och dess politiska användning i strategiska informationssystem
Abstract [en]

As IT became ubiquitous, we recognized that IT was everywhere but in our theories. Despite significant efforts, Information System (IS) research is still in desperate search for the IT artifact. Recent reviews show that IS research first and foremost considers IT resources as a socio-technical and managerial concern. Analyses of inertia are restricted to cognitive limitations or technical challenges of IT development and use as separate activities. Hence, IS research assumes that more development resources, extended training, and better management could turn most failures into success. In this thesis, I posit that IS strategy research often treats normal failure as unexpected to maintain the rational idea that managers are in control and that IT does not matter in and of itself. I argue that planned and convergent views of change work well under stable and unitary conditions but in this way fail to account for the complexity of current IS strategy practice. To substantiate this claim, I demonstrate how IS research routinely neglects the material IT use story in the context of digital transformation (DT) studies and social informatics. Political conflict is a constant theme in IS strategy implementation research, yet few studies provided explanation for the apprehension that managers and workers display during the introduction of new IT resources; even as most managers remain men I found also no study that theorized gender politics as related to IS strategy outcomes. I argue in particular that the IS fields routine adherence to borrowed assumptions about the pace, linearity, and sequence of radical change have limited IS scholars to marginally improve on received DT narratives in which IT plays little or no part as IT appears as an agent mostly before and after DT. Though much is said about how IT triggers and enables organizational change, the actual processes and mechanisms that underlies IS strategy change enactments are thus poorly understood. To examine how the material roles of IT resources and their political use can be captured and explained, I summarize and synthesize insights grounded in empirics from four appended research papers. In this way, I chart avenues for material theorizing of micro-affordances and institutions, and develop an IS strategy-as-practice lens that attends IT use as a material practice. After developing this lens, I discuss how material practice perspectives afford deep understanding of the materialities through which actors create, sustain, and transform organizational practice with digital material, and highlight some opportunities to observe the social consequences of IT use in the context of critical studies on men and masculinities and digital gender.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2015. 112 p.
Research reports in informatics, ISSN 1401-4572 ; 15.03
National Category
Information Systems, Social aspects
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-109761 (URN)978-91-7601-365-6 (ISBN)
Public defence
2015-10-30, MIT-huset, MA1, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 13:00 (English)
Available from: 2015-10-09 Created: 2015-10-05 Last updated: 2015-10-09Bibliographically approved

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Arvidsson, ViktorHolmström, Jonny
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Umeå Centre for Gender Studies (UCGS)Department of Informatics
Information Systems, Social aspects

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