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Schellhammer Stefan

Accounting for Stability of Interorganizational Information Systems (IOIS)


    Stefan Schellhammer
    European Research Center for Information Systems (ERCIS)
    Department of Information Systems, University of Münster, 
    Leonardo-Campus 3, Münster, Germany


The main idea of interorganizational information systems (IOIS) is the integration of internal information systems across organizational boundaries for enabling the electronic exchange of data between different organizations. Based on case studies in different countries and industries, a research project has been set up to analyze the different structures and evolutionary paths of IOIS based on the (national) institutional and economic conditions. In a first exploratory phase case studies have been carried out focusing on the pharmaceutical distribution industry and specifically on the electronic ordering (eOrdering) systems between community pharmacies and wholesalers in different countries.

Although being exposed to an environment of fast technological change the Irish IOIS is running almost unaltered for over 20 years by now. At first glance the degree of stability and the ongoing use of the IOIS are counterintuitive. The rapid developments in information technology would suggest short lifecycles of information systems on an intra- and interorganizational level. The empirical observations therefore pose the question of how to explain the continuing use of IOIS in a world in flux. Several follow-up questions arise from this question. First, it has to be discussed what stability (or change) of an information system in general and an IOIS in particular actually is, both theoretically and empirically. Moreover what are the conditions in an empirical setting that would lead us to perceive a system as “stable”? In order to conduct research on the topic of IOIS-stability an emergent perspective on the use of technology is proposed. Practice Theory and in particular Communities-of-Practice (Wenger 2005) have been identified as promising theoretical concepts that may shed light on these emergent uses of technology.

Orlikowsky (2000) acknowledges that the use of technology is not completely unique but is shaped by material or physical properties of the artefact itself and the surrounding world. The patterns of using a technology may directly or indirectly be structured through regulations existing in its environment. In addition, technology is used by knowledgeable actors whose individual conceptualizations of the world, including the respective technology but also broader strategies, are shaping and are shaped by a technology-in-practice. These are three aspects of structures potentially influencing observable patterns of behaviour. In the following they are referred to as material, institutional and ideational structures.

In order to research structures of using technology on an industry level, the focus of the practice lens has to be adjusted to a higher level of abstraction. Not the individual enactment of certain practices is in the focus of the researcher, but the structures of practices that can be observed in a group of actors. The aim is to identify structures of practices that can be attributed to a cluster of organizations in which these are enacted by individual actors or employees. Research on the stability of IOIS requires the researcher to consider time as a relevant dimension. Arguing from a path dependency perspective events in the past have led to the current situation and may contribute to its stability (Mante, Botzem 2008).

An IOIS is a socio-technical system that has to be analyzed as such in order to explore the causes for its stability. Therefore a comprehensive theoretical framework is needed that incorporates (network) effects from the technology level, rigidities from the institutional environment as well as inflexibilities due to (learned) individual and collective alignments. Hence, a multi-theoretical perspective is proposed here to research the phenomenon of stability of IOIS.


Mante, A., Botzem, S. (2008). Acting upon Paths: Alternatives, Contestation and Fragile Stability in Path Dynamics. Research Conference at the Freie Universitaet Berlin Feb. 2008.

Orlikowski, W. J. (2000). Using Technology and Constituting Structures: A Practice Lens for Studying Technology in Organizations. Organization Science, 11(4), 404–428.

Wenger, E. (2005). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity (13th pr.). Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Full paper at:

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