Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Extending Digital Infrastructures: A Typology of Growth Tactics

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Extending Digital Infrastructures: A Typology of Growth Tactics

Article excerpt


Digital infrastructures provide an underlying sociotechnical foundation for information services in functional areas such as health, payment, and transportation (e.g., Hanseth & Lyytinen, 2010; Henfridsson & Bygstad, 2013; Tilson, Lyytinen, & Søørensen, 2010). As such, they govern collaboration between partners (Andersson, Lindgren, & Henfridsson, 2008; Malhotra, Gosain, & El Sawy, 2007), facilitate their reuse of common resources (Henfridsson & Bygstad, 2013; Lyytinen, Sørensen, & Tilson, 2018), and help to integrate heterogeneous systems (Lindgren et al. 2008; Saadatmand, Lindgren, & Schultze, 2017; Sahay, Monteiro, & Aanestad, 2009; Tilson et al., 2010). Hence, the viability of these infrastructures is key for service delivery in functional areas such as fleet management (Andersson et al., 2008), health (Sahay et al., 2009; Ure et al., 2009), telematics (Svahn, Mathiassen, & Lindgren, 2017), and traffic navigation (Lindgren et al., 2015).

Digital infrastructures have a long lifespan during which their environments change (Ciborra et al., 2000; Lyytinen et al., 2018; Silsand & Ellingsen, 2014). Such evolution of new service requirements means that it is challenging for any infrastructure to serve as a stable (yet flexible) sociotechnical foundation over time (Grisot, Hanseth, & Asmyr Thorsen, 2014; Ribes & Finholt 2009). A digital infrastructure therefore needs to be dynamically adapted to better cater to the services its user groups demand (Hanseth et al., 2006; Rolland & Monteiro 2002; Silsand & Ellingsen, 2014; Tilson et al., 2010).

However, it is difficult to transform digital infrastructures in this way. Past research highlights the complexity that designers and managers alike face when assembling diverse actors, systems, and technologies (Ciborra et al., 2000; Grindley, 1995; Star & Ruhleder, 1995), and discusses the adverse implications for deliberate change interventions (Hanseth & Monteiro, 1997; Tilson et al., 2010). Not surprisingly, often relying on tenets of the complexity, network, or relational perspectives (Henfridsson and Bygstad, 2013), recent IS research has depicted the transformation of infrastructures as an evolutionary process being shaped by responses and adaptations to ever-changing environmental conditions (Edwards, Bowker, Jackson, & Williams, 2009; Grisot et al., 2014; Monteiro & Rolland 2012).

In this paper, we propose the notion of extensions to capture improvements in the scope of a digital infrastructure that can augment its ongoing adaptation. We define an extension of the scope of an infrastructure as an enhanced capacity to effectively serve emerging possibilities and changing purposes (cf. Agarwal & Tiwana, 2015). For example, an infrastructure characterized by inertia created by control mechanisms that are too tight (Ciborra et al., 2000; Constantinides & Barrett, 2014) often means that the adaptation dependent on contributions of multiple actors and technologies does not take off in the form of positive feedback loops and selfreinforcement (Hanseth & Lyytinen, 2010; Henfridsson & Bygstad, 2013). We surmise that in such situations, deliberate growth tactics for extending the scope of the infrastructure are necessary to overcome the impediments to its successful adaptation.

Accordingly, we address the following research question: How can growth tactics help extend the scope of a digital infrastructure and thereby enable durable service delivery in its functional area? By relying on an initial typology of growth tactics, we empirically investigate this question through the case of the city of Stockholm's digital infrastructure for public transportation. In short, over a 13-year period, four growth tactics were pursued for the purpose of continued delivery of relevant information services to its citizens. Our investigation of these deliberate interventions scrutinizes how each of them extended the scope of the infrastructure. …

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