BLAKE IVES AND MICHAEL VITALE
Strategic information systems (SIS) is one in a string of miracle cures offered up by the information systems community to an increasingly wary audience of senior managers and directors. SIS is one of the alphabetic elixirs of information technology alongside DBMS, DSS, EIS, and AI. Unlike the others, which focused primarily on internal efficiency, the SIS cure is usually targeted specifically at a firm's products, customers, distribution channels, or suppliers. Information technology (IT), we were told in 1984, can be used to erect barriers to entry, lock in customers and suppliers, produce new products and new distribution channels, and in some cases, restructure an industry ( McFarlan 1984).
Some SIS success stories (American Airlines, Merrill Lynch, and American Hospital Supply) became well known and frequently told, occasionally in versions that include 'benefits' that have not always been carefully documented. After a period of initial euphoria, practitioners and academicians alike then began to question the validity of the SIS concept. Can information technology, so easily purchased in the open market, ever produce sustainable competitive advantage? And even if it can, can SIS initiatives be deliberately fostered, or do they result instead from gradual increments in quality built from a series of false starts, minor improvements, and subtle repositionings of the technology within a competitive milieu?
As later generations of SIS stories surfaced, and more rigorous analysis was employed to draw firmer conclusions ( Runge 1985; Lockett 1987), we have looked at scores of cases in which information technology was purported to offer competitive advantage. At a cursory glance, the answer to the above questions appeared to be 'no'--no sustainable competitive advantage, and limited opportunities for information systems management to unearth new competitive opportunities. However, a closer look at the case suggests that IT can play a strategic role and that organizational redesign can foster innovative applications.
The first question, that of sustainability, has been addressed by others