Information Systems and Intra-Organisational Power: Exploring Power & Political Aspects Associated with the Adoption of a Knowledge Sharing System in an IT Services Department

Article excerpt

Introduction

The importance of investigating social and contextual factors relating to information systems adoption in organisations is illustrated by a number of scholars in the literature (Kling, 1977; Markus, 1983; Orlikowski, 1992; Thomas, 1994; Walsham, 1993). It has been posited that these factors consist of organisational culture, power, structure, and strategy (Kling, 1980; Lin & Silva, 2005; Walsham, 1993). However, over the years organisational power has had the least attention in comparison to organisational culture, structure, and strategy, when investigating information systems related phenomena (Silva, 2007). One such phenomenon is information systems used for sharing knowledge.

Knowledge sharing is one of the spheres of a broader research agenda called Knowledge Management--a field, which has been studied widely in the recent past (Alavi & Leidner, 2001; Schultze & Leidner, 2002). The resource based view of the organisation coupled with the transition from information workers to knowledge workers in firms has attracted many researchers to this field (Freke, 2005). Despite the growing number of studies in the area of knowledge sharing and related information systems, organisations still experience various difficulties in deploying effective knowledge sharing strategies among their organisational units (McDermott, 2000; Walsham, 2001). These difficulties more often than not are social problems relating to organisational culture, organisational power, and organisational structure and strategy, which in general require further attention from researchers (Walsham, 2001). Although organisational culture, structure, and strategy relating to knowledge sharing has been studied moderately in the literature (De Long & Fahey, 2000), intra-organisational power and politics in relation to knowledge sharing and information systems in general has not been explored in depth (Walsham & Hayes, 2001).

This paper investigates a knowledge sharing context of an IT service department in an Australian University, to bring to light intra-organisational power and political aspects associated with implementing, using, and maintaining an information system used for sharing knowledge. The paper adopts the emergent perspective of power (Jasperson et al., 2002) and employs Markus' (1983) Political Variant of the Interaction Theory (PVIT), which we argue (in PVIT Model section) belongs to the emergent perspective of power, to achieve its purpose. PVIT is regarded as a classic in information systems research (Lee, Myers, Pare, & Urquhart, 2000), but has not had much attention in the literature (excluding Lapointe & Rivard, 2005, 2007). The investigation described in the paper adopts an interpretive paradigm of research (Hirschheim & Klein, 1989; Klein & Myers, 1999; Walsham, 2006), which is carried out by means of a qualitative case study (Benbasat, Goldstein, & Mead, 1987) of the said IT service department and is based on the development of an Honours dissertation (Attygalle, 2009).

The findings of this paper shed light to relationships between organisational power relations and an information system, as a result of using the PVIT as a theoretical lens to look into the case study. It illustrates the adoption process of an information system (used for sharing knowledge) from its design, development, and maintenance are shaped by intra-organisational power relations, and that these power relations are also shaped by the system in place. In addition, it was found that, despite its age and the lack of use in empirical studies, the PVIT still possesses a great degree of analytical strength and is well suited to analyse a qualitative case study (of present) involving intra-organisational power and information systems.

The structure of this paper is as follows. First, a review of the literature relating to intraorganisational power and information systems is made, bringing to light the 'emergent perspective of power'. …