How can the various schools of thought
in strategic information systems contribute to
Amsterdam, Wednesday, 13 December, 08:30-10:00 am

You are encouraged to make a contribution to this discussion.

The purpose of the Panel is:

To compare the perspectives of various schools of thought in strategic information systems theory.
This is to be achieved through a discussion of what each school contributes to a particular and seldom-discussed class of organisations. The class the Panel is concerned with is those that operate in what can be characterised as 'low-competitive' environments, such as government agencies, charities, and professional, industry and consumer associations.

A diverse set of panellists has been invited. The role of each panellist is to represent a particular 'school of thought'. The panellists will therefore present some lines of argument in which they are firm believers, and other arguments which are pursued with greater fervour by some of their colleagues.

The sequence in which the panellists will present is as follows:

The session will proceed as follows:

1. 'The Boston school'

It is, of course, an over-simplification to speak of 'the Boston school of thought' in relation to strategic information systems theory. Nonetheless, some lines of analysis and argument are well-known, and associated with individuals, corporations and institutions in that city. These include, for example: portfolio analysis; critical success factor analysis; value chains within individual organisations and within industry sectors; and the market forces model of competition within an industry segment.

Michael Vitale will firstly provide a brief reminder of the key elements of existing strategic information systems theory. His primary contribution, however, will be to suggest the ways in which these intellectual tools are applicable to the various kinds of organisations which are not corporations in highly competitive settings, but are nonetheless seeking to apply information technology in support of their organisational objectives and strategies.

2. 'The European government school of thought'

There is no established body of theory of this name. The term is valuable, however, in underlining the significant differences in perspective which a senior academic in public administration in a European university brings to the topic.

Ignace Snellen will argue that the management science analysis used in relation to corporate strategy for competitive corporations is a valuable and even necessary element in the public sector. But it is not sufficient. Public administration involves political and legal factors which demand, in addition, a value-laden component of strategy creation. In essence, public bodies recognise as objectives not only their own survival, financial success, growth and market-share, but also the performance of a socially desirable function. To a corporation, the delivery of goods and services to a clientele is a means to an end; to a public body, it is the end in itself.

Associated with this additional dimension is the importance of recognising that there are many stakeholders in the policies and practices of public bodies; that these stakeholders have very different, conflicting and morally justifiable perspectives, which are not mediated by a 'corporate ethos'; and that the process of strategy formulation is essentially political in nature, involving interaction and negotiation among the representatives of multiple vested interests.

As a result, the conception, development, implementation and exploitation of strategic information systems will be subject to political struggle to an extent far greater, and on a stage far wider, than is the case within individual corporations, nomatter how large they may be.

A further complication is the tiered nature of the governments of most countries, and the consequential need for the implementation of many strategies to be delegated (as distinct from sub-contracted) to semi-independent governments and their agencies.

The emergent models appropriate to the analysis of public policy strategies may prove to be applicable to some forms of private sector activity as well. Examples include consortia and integrated value-chains, both hierarchically organised 'hub-and-spoke' schemes, and especially those which adopt the form of a marketplace or marketspace.

3. 'The Wiseman school'

Characteristically, Charles Wiseman will adopt an approach orthogonal to the main streams of thought. He will argue that the strategic information systems message from the jungle to the bush should read:
The black sun is coming; wake up the shamen; study the theorems of Gødel and the paintings of Magritte; prepare for new rites and sacrifices.
He will argue that the concept of strategic information systems in so-called 'non-competitive' domains such as government agencies and not-for-profit enterprises may be defined as the use of information technology to support or shape the strategy or policy of the organization.

That is, competitive advantage need not be considered.

To take this concept seriously, he will suggest, means learning to live in the world turned upside down. And given the inertial, often paralyzing forces operating without market discipline in these domains, similar in many respects to those found in monopolistic firms suddenly deregulated and facing Darwinian tigers, government agencies and non-profits need to transform themselves into creatures that may bear little relationship to their former selves. This emerging identity problem calls for radical change in the organizational body and soul.

His presentation will suggest some lessons drawn from the unlikely sources mentioned in the opening paragraph.

This Panel Session therefore represents an opportunity for competing schools of thought to be thrown into relief against a common background. In order to provide some common ground for the discussions, a series of f'rinstances have been provided.


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Last Amended: 29 October 1995

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