An information system is not the same as the technology upon which it is based: it is the totality of technological and human components that work together to produce the information services that are needed, for organisational purposes. We make sense of technology by engineering it into information systems that include all the components of a working system, including the human capability to work with the system to deliver outputs.
Information systems have traditionally been developed and maintained by the "systems development department". There we find systems analysts, database designers, and specialists who can test systems and make sure that they work according to the specification. But today things are changing. Why design and build a unique solution when a software package already exists? Answer: when competitive advantage lies in the possibility to have systems that are different to everyone elses.
Overby, E., Bharadwaj, A. & Sambamurthy, V. (2006) Enterprise agility and the enabling role of information technology. European Journal of Information Systems, 15, pp.120-131.
As an early step in researching enterprise agility more exhaustively, Eric Overby and his colleagues have studied the way that organisations sense impending change, and then respond to it. By assessing how good organisations are at sensing, and then responding, they identify four types of organisation: those that lack both (don't invest there!), those that sense but fail to respond, those that do not sense but respond well when the need arises, and (the ideal?) that can do both. They observe that this leads to good R&D, the best application of IT, good governmental relations, excellent market intelligence, and so on. This allows an organisation to detect the environmental change that comes from new technologies, regulatory changes and so on; these problems can be turned into opportunities. They consider that a firm's IT capability is directly related to sensing and responding components of enterprise agility. They refer to the emergence of the web and the way that only some businesses were able to sense and respond, essentially because of their level of IT capability that rendered them able to anticipate and sense changes arising from advances in IT. They refer to a wide range of other work in this area, for example Haeckel & Nolan who more than 20 years ago referred to "managing in conditions so turbulent that sense making and action are impossible" without what they called "IT enabling, managing by wire". "Effective use of IT is one method for firms to kick off and sustain [a] virtuous cycle [of agility], as IT enhances both sensing and responding capabilities. When investments in IT serve to increase the process and knowledge capabilities of a firm, they create a powerful platform of digital options that can enable the firm to sense and respond to rapidly changing environmental conditions."
Molla, A. & Peszynski, K. (2012) Enterprise Systems and Organizational Agility:
A Review of the Literature and Conceptual Framework. Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 31 (1), p.8. This is a rather academic (and therefore quite difficult) analysis of existing literature about agility. It concludes that agility comes from a range of factors: - The use of enterprise systems (such as ERP, CRM, SCM) in building and renewing their sensing and responding capabilities. - Better alignment and higher levels of enterprise systems-enabled sensing capability and enterprise system-enabled responding capability. - A high level of enterprise system technical competence They also conclude that organizations working in fast-changing environments are more likely to develop high enterprise system competence, and a high enterprise system-enabled sensing and responding capability, than those that operate in a relatively stable environment; probably a case of the blindingly obvious, but it is good to see that serious research supports it!
Grover, V. (2012) The Information Systems Field: Making a Case for Maturity and Contribution. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 13 (4), pp.254-272.
Varun Grover provides a personal overview of the emergence of academic thinking about information systems capability that can be compared with what is written here. He identifies four eras: an early era before the need for academic treatment of information systems management (other disciplines such as electrical engineering and mathematics dealt with the basics of how computers work), initial agonising about what should be done following the first ICIS conference in 1980, rapid theoretical and methodological development of the field in the 1990s, and fragmentation with the emergence of specific topics such as mobile technologies, e-business, and value-based management of information systems investments since then. I rather enjoyed his analysis of information systems research as … an aggregator of terms a complex adaptive system a knowledge market, and a biological organism. This is an authoritative overview of information systems research over the ages, adopting a particularly interesting perspective.