Is Strategic Decision-Making: A Garbage Can View

Article excerpt


Developing information systems (IS) strategies and choosing the right IS portfolio for an organization--involve decision-making, such as identifying the right IS projects, deciding how best to organize the IS staff, and specifying IS procurement. Although Strategic Information Systems Planning (SISP) has received growing attention from both scholars and practitioners, especially with regard to decision-making, an organization's perennial challenge is to make the right decisions, one reason being the highly dynamic and emergent nature of technologies and organizational forms. To date, research has focused on finding the optimal IS strategy development processes for organizations (Basu, Hartono, Lederer, & Sethi, 2002; Gottschalk, 1998, 1999; Salmela & Spil, 2002; Teubner, 2007). But organizations can be very dissimilar, owing to underlying differences in their structures and actors, so the same processes cannot be rotely implemented for everyone and in any case. Complicating the picture even further, decision-making occurs at different levels and at different times in different organizations. This paper therefore addresses IS strategic decision-making in organizations known as "organized anarchies," (Cohen, March, & Olsen, 1972) and views the IS strategy-development processes as a set of decisions. "Organized anarchies" bear that name because of their three common attributes: fluid participation, problematic goals, and unclear technology. The Garbage Can Model (GCM) of decision-making (Cohen et al., 1972) serves as the theoretical framework for the analysis as it is particularly suited for understanding decision-making in organized anarchies.

Organizations make IS strategic decisions to increase organizational performance. But the effectiveness of those decisions hinges on how purposefully the employees use the ISs. Fardal (2007) found that when both IS users and the managers responsible for the IS strategic processes agree as to the correct IS strategic choices, it has a positive influence on the IS use. IS use is even further enhanced if the users are directly involved in IS strategic processes, including decision-making. This underlines the importance of studying IS strategic decision-making, as the quality of IS use directly affects organizational performance (Henry & Stone, 1995). Furthermore, research shows that many organizations find it a struggle to actually implement their IS strategy (Gottschalk, 2002). Some of this failure no doubt stems from poor decisions at the very heart of that strategy. The present study adds to existing knowledge in this domain as organizations must be able to make IS strategic decisions that reflect their needs, prove economically realistic, and align with their business strategies (Ba, Stallaert, & Whinston, 2001; Fardal, 2007; Henderson & Venkatraman, 1993, 1999; Teubner, 2006). Consequently, processes concerning both development and implementation of IS strategy need to be improved to avoid failure.

Several studies have proposed alternative approaches for IS strategy planning and development (e.g. Earl, 1993; Levy, Powell, & Galliers, 1999; Newkirk & Lederer, 2007; Salmela & Spil, 2002; Teubner, 2007). Earl (1993), for instance, found that companies might use one or more of five different approaches to SISP: Business-Led, Method-Driven, Administrative, Technological, and Organizational. Earl concluded that an Organizational approach seemed the most effective; however, he suggested that hybrids, mixing elements from several approaches, might be even more effective. Salmela and Spil (2002) propose the four-cycle model, which provides a basic schedule for planning activities. The model combines the strengths of both comprehensive and incremental planning. Their initial action research indicates that it should be used as a choice list in the planning process. …


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