Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Designing for ICT-Enabled Openness in Bureaucratic Organizations: Problematizing, Shifting, and Augmenting Boundary Work

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Designing for ICT-Enabled Openness in Bureaucratic Organizations: Problematizing, Shifting, and Augmenting Boundary Work

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

Organizational openness is increasingly recognized as an emerging phenomenon that is enabled by the transformative capacity of information and communication technologies (ICTs) (Ahmed, 2007; Baldwin & von Hippel, 2011; Fishenden & Thompson, 2012). Openness has become a key strategic imperative for many organizations, with various studies arguing that increased openness enhances accountability (Gigler, Tanner, & Kiess, 2011), servitization (Yoo, Henfridsson, Lyytinen, 2010), social inclusion (Warschauer, 2004), productivity (Streeter, Kraut, Lucas Jr., & Caby, 1996), expansion of supply chains (Sarker, Sarker, Sahaym, & BjørnAndersen, 2012), and innovation (Laursen & Salter, 2006). However, attaining these benefits remains elusive for large bureaucratic organizations with rigid structures (Gersick, 1991; Heracleous & Barrett, 2001). While open forms of organizing manifest in online communities (von Hippel & von Krogh, 2003) and multisided platforms (Boudreau, 2007), large and bureaucratic organizations continue to face significant challenges in making the change towards increased openness (Silva & Hirschheim, 2007).

ICTs have been central to the discourses and practices that have shaped the drive towards openness in large organizations (Henfridsson & Bygstad, 2013). A number of studies, including two recent special issues in the information systems field (Schlagwein, Conboy, Feller, Leimeister, & Morgan, 2017; Whelan, Conboy, Crowston, Morgan, & Rossi, 2014), have highlighted the centrality of ICTs to the increasing openness of the resources, processes, and outcomes of organizing. ICTs provide important elements of the enabling architecture required for a shift towards more open organizational structures (Monteiro, Pollock, & Williams, 2014), as well as visible models for more open organizational dynamics through, for example, the open source software movement (Tkacz, 2012). On the other hand, ICTs have also contributed to making organizations less open by enabling higher levels of centralization (Whittington, Cailluet, & YakisDouglas, 2011) or by becoming obligatory passage points for access to services (Backhouse, Hsu, & Silva, 2006). In other words, ICTs play a dual role with regards to openness; they can make processes of organizing more open by increasing the permeability of organizational boundaries, and they can make them more closed by reinforcing existing boundaries.

A number of studies build on the concept of "boundaries" to offer a variety of approaches for linking the adoption and use of ICTs to varying levels of organizational openness. Some studies emphasize the role of ICTs in reducing the cost of coordination across organizational boundaries (Dewan & Ren, 2011; Hitt, 1999). Other studies highlight the role of ICTs as boundary objects that offer interpretive flexibility enabling the spanning of knowledge boundaries (Levina & Vaast, 2005). Yet others point to the role of ICTs in undermining established boundaries of professional identity, thereby opening professional fields to external participation (Lamb & Davidson, 2005). However, the conceptualizations of openness proposed by such approaches tend to underemphasize the opposing practices that are continuously enacted to maintain and reinforce existing boundaries. Taking these practices into consideration is particularly important for understanding shifts towards open organizing in contexts with rigid structures, which are less readily amenable to changes in boundary configurations.

In response, we investigate the mechanisms through which ICTs both enable and constrain more open forms of organizing in the context of structurally rigid organizations. To do so, we adopt a practice-oriented view of openness as a form of boundary work. More specifically, we draw from actor-network theory's (ANT) conception of boundaries to develop a theoretical approach that highlights the dynamics between ICTs and ongoing boundary work in organizations. …

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