Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Generification by Translation: Designing Generic Systems in Context of the Local

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Generification by Translation: Designing Generic Systems in Context of the Local

Article excerpt


While the mechanisms of generification during implementation and use of large-scale systems are well known, this paper extends and analyzes the notion into the design phase of generic systems and provides insight into the associated socio-technical key mechanisms at play. The paper draws on the information infrastructure literature, and emphasizes how generic systems' designs always face infrastructural challenges and opportunities in the development process. The paper illustrates how a vendor solved the infrastructural challenges by (to a large degree) lending on local practice, translating perspectives, and carefully adjusting their design strategy over time. We argue that our findings have implications for practice because they underscore the malleability of the collaboration process between vendor and users. First, we suggest that designing a generic system calls for a flexible vendor willing to change and adjust the development strategy along with the evolving project. Second, to strengthen the user-developer collaboration, we highly recommend giving the user-participants, at the very early stage of a development project, a basic understanding of software design, and raising their skills in making precise contextual narratives. Third, we emphasize the importance of the project management's engagement in recruiting clinical personnel and in making it possible for the clinicians to participate in the project. Empirically, the paper presents the initial stages of a large electronic patient record (EPR) development project that has been running from 2012 in the North Norwegian health region and is due to finish in 2016.

Keywords: Design, Information Infrastructure, Generification, Local Practice, Translation.

1. Introduction

The implementation of large generic systems in organizations is associated with many benefits. Some of these are institutional-wide coverage, streamlining of work practices, and the possibility to reuse systems across many institutional settings. However, many studies have noted how organizations are different and therefore may have diverging needs (e.g., Berg, 1999; Berg & Goorman, 1999; Star & Ruhleder, 1996). Accordingly, it is crucial for an organization's vendors and project managers to align local needs with technical opportunities in order to establish a well-working system. Pollock and Williams (2008) have coined this process "generification", and describe it as the vendors' strategy of making a generic system work in several settings. Together with customization capabilities of the software, generification involves social processes of ordering, prioritizing, and persuading users in order to motivate them to use similar versions of the same system that is installed in different organizations (Pollock & Williams, 2008). Currently, the mechanisms of generification during implementation and use are well known (see, e.g., Pollock & Williams, 2008), but we have less insight about the generification processes in the design phase and to what extent local knowledge is exploited in the process. Therefore, this paper extends the notion of generification to the formative stages of generic systems and provides insight about the key mechanisms at play in this crucial phase.

A key characteristic of generic systems is that they contain a standardized core supplemented with a customizable part that is a range of clearly defined building blocks (Baldwin & Woodard, 2008; Beale & Heard, 2007, 2008). The idea is that designers can take a step back from the users' context and leave the tailoring of the building blocks to skilled users and domain experts. This sustains a more or less distinct boundary between the designers' technical domain and the users' work domain. An interesting example from healthcare is the emerging openEHR architecture (Beale & Heard, 2007, 2008) developed by the openEHR foundation and standardized by CEN and ISO in the EN/ISO 13606 standard series (Chen, Klein, Sundvall, Karlsson, & Ahlfeldt, 2009, p. …

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