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Information management (IM) was established as a discipline during the 1970s and 1980s (paperwork reduction act) in order to facilitate the informatization of organizations (Zuboff, 1988). The terms “enabler” and “facilitator” are widely used in the literature to characterize ICT as the platform of inter-organizational networks. However, the introduction of new technological artifacts reshapes the firm’s business practices and raises an explanatory discussion in various research fields. The development and deployment of information and communication infrastructures and systems need to be professionally managed in order to ensure their contribution to the companies’ goals and, more specifically, to foster information utilization and processing capabilities (Teubner, 2003). Little research has been done to address the specifics of inter-organizational or NIM (e.g., Buxmann, 2001; Homburg, 1999), which is, in its focus on the functional domain that has been selected for the IOIS, more specific than IM. On the other hand, managing information systems and infrastructures in an inter-organizational environment or managing information flows across companies’ boundaries poses huge challenges. Peppard (1999) posits that network organizations strive to manage the interdependencies among geographically dispersed units, for example, in construction consortia, distribution centers, and sales offices at different locations. Information exchange is the key mechanism through which this integration is achieved, and ICT is increasingly being conscripted to facilitate efficient combinations of centralized and decentralized decision making (Wyner & Malone, 1996) and to integrate and manage distributed, yet interdependent operations.
Wollnik (1988) introduced a framework for information management that analytically distinguishes three domains of management tasks (Figure 2): (1) information deployment or information resource management, (2) information and communication systems management, and (3) information infrastructure management. While the managerial tasks of planning, organization, and control are part of each domain, we added a layer of strategic information management in order to highlight the need to integrate the three pillars of IM and to align them to the network strategy. We will use Wollnik’s classification schema to describe the different NIM domains and their interdependencies.
Figure 2: Information management framework Source: Adapted from Wollnik (1988).
NIM comprises the information and ICT issues and extends the notion of information management to IOISs and related interfirm networks. From a systemic point of view, the focus is to improve the management of information flows (Klein, 1993). From a strategic and relational point of view, the focus is on information partnerships (Konsynski & McFarlan, 1990). The goal of NIM is to make sure—by managing information infrastructures, systems, and resources— that information can be deployed throughout the network efficiently and effectively. Hence, NIM addresses the network’s (structural, institutional, and human) capabilities to process information (cf., the goal of IM; Teubner, 2003; Wigand, Picot, & Reichwald, 1997). However, this is not a goal in itself but has to contribute to the performance of the network.
The development of information partnerships and alignment between network strategy and IOIS strategy are preeminent tasks of strategic network information management (SNIM).
In 1990, Konsynski and McFarlan introduced the notion of information partner- ships (which later led to the development of the concept of IOISs): by sharing information resources (foremost) and information infrastructures, companies would be able to join forces and achieve efficiency gains as well as unique value propositions. Shared vision at the top and coordination on business policy are among the success factors they identified.
As the relationship between information partners or network members is typically cooperative and competitive at the same time, SNIM has to make sure that the often delicate and dynamic balance of strategic goals and incentives among network members is reflected in the information flows. ONIA NET is a good example of an information partnership between suppliers and retail stores facilitated by an intermediary. ONIA NET as the intermediary has convinced competing suppliers and competing retail stores to join the system and share a wide range of information resources along the supply chain in order to achieve overall efficiency improvements. Hamel (1991) introduced the notion of a learning competition to describe the dialectics of information sharing and appropriation of information within networks. While information sharing can foster the development of trust, network participants do not want to lose control of critical information resources (Badaracco, 1991). Hence, it is a critical issue for TELCO how much information they are prepared to share with their customers, as some of that information might leak to their competitors. In the case of DIMER, the fact that the different contractors are working in various changing consortia might have restrained the exchange of information.
Concepts such as partner relationship management (PRM), supply chain management (SCM), customer relationship management (CRM), or e-collaboration represent organizational and strategic visions that have guided the development of numerous IOISs. The implementation of those concepts can be elaborated by using the notion of a business model, which describes architectures for the product, service, and information flows, including the various business actors and their roles; and an account of the potential benefits for the various business actors; and an explanation of the sources of revenues (Timmers, 1998).
Business models for IOISs combine the organizational vision, such as SCM in the ONIA NET case or e-collaboration in the DIMER and TELCO cases, with a description of the network model (roles of the participants) and the information systems, infrastructures, and resources. In many cases, ICT-based communication and coordination among the business partners is the precondition for viable business models. Information management practices are thus focused on facilitating organizational performance. As illustrated in the ONIA NET case, the use of POS data enabled the development of a Web-based platform for the grocery retail sector, which interconnected the entire retail chain. The notion of a business model thus incorporates the idea of strategic alignment: linking strategic and organizational as well as technical and business perspectives (Henderson & Venkatraman, 1993).
By default, IOIS settings are information-rich environments, where accurate and relevant information is crucial for the stability of the whole arrangement. IOISs are characterized by information flows, which have been agreed between the organizations. The goal of network information resource management (NIRM) is to secure the provision of information to the network in an economic manner. NIRM therefore aims to identify information requirements, to design network information and communication flows, to facilitate the deployment of information, and to assess the value of information. It has to facilitate the distribution of information as well as its integration based on common semantic references (e.g., ontologies) and collaborative processes of sense making, e.g., in the area of forecasting or trend analysis.
The information value and payoff depend on the purpose of information deployment (Wollnik, 1988). Information may be a product or service or an increasingly important part of products and services. The latter aspect has been addressed by Porter and Millar’s notion of information intensity of products and services (1985).
In most cases, information has a facilitating function; it is deployed for:
Transaction support (e.g., DIMER)
Collaboration support (e.g., TELCO)
Problem solving (Dawes, 1996) and decision support (Mennecke & Valacich, 1998; see also ONIA NET)
Relationship support, i.e., developing shared understanding and common themes (Craig, 1995)
Information sharing increases transparency across the network, stimulates the inter-organizational cooperation and collaboration, and facilitates partnerships and trust among the network members. It thus potentially improves the overall success of the participating organization (Dawes, 1996; Kumar & van Dissel, 1996). NIRM has to identify the range of purposes that are addressed in a given network and has to cater for the related needs.
Based on the understanding that the use of information is embedded in routines and work practices, we are suggesting a systematic analysis of information requirements, information flows, and practices of information deployment. However, the role that an institutionalized information management can play vis -vis the users has to be carefully reviewed, as most of the functions we describe are integral parts of managerial work.
Based on the purpose of the information deployment, information management can identify basic or obvious information requirements and related information sources. As information needs cannot be fully anticipated, not even by the information users themselves, the requirements analysis can only be a first step.
As the meaning and representation of information is highly context dependent, NIRM has to raise the awareness for differing information needs within networks. For example, the information TELCO provides for its customers is targeted at different groups, such as system planners, service engineers, or users. TELCO is not fully aware of the information requirements these various groups have. Different contractors in the DIMER case may have different information needs and even different conventions and standards for the same objects.
Within a network, NIRM has to monitor information behavior, as asymmetric behavior can quickly impair the network relations.
The metaphor of information logistics (Klein, 1993) describes quite well the goal of NIRM: to provide the right type, quantity, and quality of information to the right people at the right time. The resulting information flows reflect existing sources of information and (centralized or decentralized) decision structures (Hanseth & Braa, 1998; Wyner & Malone, 1996). The establishment of new or changed information flows will have an immediate impact on existing decision structures. For example, as ONIA NET provides more transparency, more decisions can be made centrally. As TELCO provides more information to their customers, they will be able to make more informed choices and will probably be able to solve minor technical problems themselves.
Davenport, Harris De Long, and Jacobson (2000) argued that one of the most important traits of the information age is that organizations have focused too much on mastering transaction data and not enough on turning it into valuable information and knowledge that can lead to business results. One reason for neglecting obviously valuable purposes of information may be that most of the organizations are still struggling to develop the appropriate capabilities to aggregate and analyze rather than use information for decision making and to generate real business value in a network environment. In other words, many organizations are still focusing on the early stages of the information life cycle, i.e., collecting, retrieving, verifying, or rearranging information (Levitan, 1982). In later stages, information sources are turned into information resources, which are made accessible within (and beyond) the network or are actively sent to information users according to predefined rules or thresholds (Wigand et al., 1997).
The objective of network information systems management (NISM) is to support NIRM and specifically to ensure the appropriate usage of information and communication technology (ICT) for the completion of inter-organizational tasks and, in particular, the inter-organizational information flows (Riggins, Kriebel, & Mukhopadhyay, 1994). This implies the selection (with a particular emphasis on the relevant functional scope), implementation, and maintenance of inter- organizational applications.
Typically, IOISs permit information access to other organizations and enable new forms of cooperation (Garbe, 1998). As a result, the organizational boundary of a single firm may be redefined and extended toward a network level. Moreover, an IOIS comprises organizational and technological perspectives. From an organizational perspective, IOISs enable and drive new forms of organization (e.g., the fulfillment of tasks in an interfirm context) (Webster, 1995). From a technical perspective, IOISs have an integrative function. The primary focus of NISM is the technical perspective of IOISs.
Depending on the information requirements and the strategic intent of the IOIS, managers have to design the functionality of the IOIS. Because various organizations exist in the context of IOISs, the offered functionality depends on the individual needs of each organization. TELCO, for example, intends to carry out a requirements analysis in order to determine an appropriate service design for its e-collaboration platform. The DIMER example indicates that implementing an IOIS into an existing network is a challenging task threatened by various pitfalls and obstacles. The project management platform did not really meet the expectations, because it was not well integrated into the existing network structures and work practices. In the end, the platform caused dissatisfaction and even a destabilization of the whole network and was abandoned.
Each organization, and consequently the managers, normally views an IOIS as an enabling/facilitating context to increase employee awareness through new sources of information, to establish closer links with other companies, to exchange product characteristics between buyers and suppliers, to monitor the supply chain, etc. Generic functions that IOISs support are:
Information: The IOIS is the carrier of information sources, which enables new methods of decision making, increases the transparency in a supply network, smoothes the production processes, etc. Examples are electronic catalogs or FAQs.
Communication: The IOIS brings together geographically dispersed units that allow the formal communication and the establishment of standards. A whole portfolio of communication applications such as e-mail, structured message exchange (EDI), or videoconferencing and virtual meeting rooms is available.
Transaction: The exchange of valuable data is also carried through the IOIS. These data support the inter-organizational business processes of the organizations.
Collaboration: The IOIS may be a context of long-term collaboration, where the trading partners develop a platform in order to fulfill exact strategic demands and increase participants’ commitment. In this case, the potential to expand the network arrangement is high, because it is a stable IOIS. Examples include CSCW, knowledge management, etc.
Coordination: In the case where scarce resources exist in a network setting, managers view the IOIS as the coordination mechanism with which to efficiently manage the resources. Examples include WFMS, SCM, group decision support, or negotiation support systems.
Potentials and benefits of IOISs can only be attained completely if the IOIS design is well integrated into existing systems and co-evolves with the inter- organizational processes (Ives & Jarvenpaa, 1991). Thus, the NISM is not an isolated issue, but it interacts with the information resources and the dynamic nature of the information infrastructure. In particular, the existing information infrastructure has a great impact on the design of the technical architecture of an IOIS.
The notion of infrastructure or platform addresses those elements or aspects of ICT that do not have a single, dedicated functional scope but rather provide a broad range of support for network information systems, i.e., numerous applications and users. The information infrastructure provides the basis for a system’s development, transformation, and adaptation to future needs. However, the development and maintenance of a collaborative platform incorporates issues that the manager needs to address. For example, misfits between the platform’s functionality and the actual user requirements might cause network members to abandon the platform. Immature technology can become a barrier of acceptance; it can result in delays and cost overruns.
Strader, Lin, & Shaw (1998) argued that a network information infrastructure provides at least the following services:
An information network that supports electronic brokerage, electronic meeting and collaboration, electronic payments and banking, business transaction processing, and online information services.
Electronic access to external environment data, such as customer data, external firm data, market research data, and economic data.
Electronic connections among the network participant organizations to support business processes, system integration, and process coordination.
Electronic access to operational data, such as design data, marketing data, transaction data, manufacturing data, legal data, etc.
Intra-organizational information system support for software development, process support, decision support, database support, telecommunications, local area networks, and a network interface.
Electronic connections to customers that support activities such as order fulfillment and customer service.
All three case examples use a platform as a basic inter-organizational information infrastructure. Although the functional design and specifications differ, they all provide information and communication services, electronic connections among the network participants, and access to operational data.
NIIM highlights two issues. First, network infrastructures have to be open and standardized in order to support interoperability. This is more important in a network than in a firm context, because a proprietary infrastructure may require specific investments (asset specificity) by participating members that may lead to a lock-in situation or dependency regarding the network. Second, infrastructures have to facilitate the integration of distinct components.
Corporate infrastructure emphasizes the standardization of systems, data, and processes throughout the corporation as a way to reconcile the centralized IS department and resources on the one hand, and the distribution of systems and applications on the other. To this end, standardization refers to:
A wide range of and ever-expanding range of hardware equipment,
Communication standards: The information itself, referring to the forms being diffused among the network nodes (video programming, scientific databases, sounds, images, library archives, documents),
Applications and software that allow access, manipulate, organize, and digest the proliferating mass of information,
The network standards and transmission codes,
The people who create information, develop applications and services, construct the facilities, and train employees.
The standardization issue is a central challenge in the TELCO example. TELCO’s customers have different requirements for integration solutions. Due to the peripheral role of the platform, the customers expect TELCO to use or appropriate industry standards rather than to develop a proprietary solution.
Hanseth (2000) pointed out that information infrastructures are large and complex systems involving significant numbers of independent actors as developers as well as users. Further, information infrastructures grow and develop over a long period of time, new parts are added to what is already available, and extant parts are replaced by improved ones. An information infrastructure is built through extensions and improvements to what exists, as well as through the integration and alignment of the independent components to make them interdependent. Thus, integration and alignment can be demonstrated by qualities such as connectivity, compatibility, and modularity.
Connectivity refers to the ability of any technological component to attach to any of the others inside a single firm and outside in the organizational network.
Compatibility is the ability to share any type of information across the technological component. For example, at one extreme, only simple e-mail messages can be shared, while at the other extreme, any document, process, service, video, image, audio, or a combination of these can be used by any other system.
Modularity relates to the degree to which IT software, hardware, and data can be seamlessly or effortlessly diffused into the infrastructure or even supported.
More recent developments in networking focus on the aspects of infrastructure that deal with more fundamental changes to management control brought about by the intrinsic properties of information resources. Ciborra (2000) stated that corporate information infrastructures are embedded in larger, contextual puzzles and collages. Interdependence, intricacy, and interweaving of people, systems, and processes are the culture bed of infrastructure. To this respect, the standardization of the information infrastructure refers to the interpersonal and management skills needed to operate within an organizational network.
The range of network management issues is illustrated by the selected cases (Table 1). The cases also highlight issues of embedding NIM into a broader network management structure.
Alignment model: drivers and requirements, information partnership
Efficiency of collaboration in construction consortia. DIMER as a hub of an information partnership.
Information exchange in order to improve the coordination along supply chains.
Introduction of ecollaboration and customer relationship management.
Strategic Network Information Management
Information exchange, sharing
Common vocabulary (and interpretation) [semantics], monitoring and handling of information within and across the participating organizations
Improving the information flow among the trading partners. Application of the information sharing practice to increase the trading partners’ visibility along the supply chain.
Customer information requirements analysis. Plan for sharing technical information via a portal and providing customized information (service ticket, status info …).
Network Information Resource Management
Solution design: shared applications, services …
Web based collaboration platform for improving project monitoring and coordination.
Transaction support (order-replenishment) and management information support.
Service design and related application and infrastructure development.
Network Information Systems Management
Infrastructure, standards vs. competitive edge
Distributed information infrastructure.
Institutional and technical platform for the information exchange.
Proprietary vs. standardized solution elements. Customized integration solutions.
Network Information Infrastructure Management
Managerial integration, process integration
Building relationships, establishing organizational routines, lowering asset specificity of ICT infrastructure as preconditions for acceptance.
Establishing collaboration and information partnerships among the trading partners
Aligning technology and business relationship. Multi channel management.
NIM is considered to be a very powerful tool for the analysis and deployment of management practices in the field of IOISs. NIM has various perspectives to examine network phenomena as presented earlier. However, NIM (and consequently, the perspectives) is not able to address all the management challenges and issues, because it, in principal, focuses on information requirements of the IOIS setting and does not examine organizational or strategic issues of the network (English, 1996). In more detail, management issues like the motives of developing an IOIS, the development of a revenue model for the network business model, the contractual agreements between the trading partners, the collaborative behavior, or the social ties between people are not originated from the NIM. Thus, NIM is seen as an integral part of a broader, more comprehensive network management.
Network management deals with the coordination of activities and sharing of resources between the network participants (Konsynski, 1993). Normally, network management addresses organizational and strategic concerns. Nevertheless, the role of the ICT as an enabler of inter-organizational relationships creates a link between information management and network management (English, 1996). Regional and international organizations across different sectors utilize the ICT capabilities to organize their supply chains more efficiently (observed in the grocery retail industry) (Holland, 1995). Some settings where network management is applicable are as follows: knowledge and learning networks exploit mediation platforms for disseminating knowledge and announcing research results (observed in the biotechnology industry) (Barley, Freeman, & Hybels, 1992). Organizations operating with many suppliers introduced collaborating platforms to monitor activities and restructure the existing relationships (observed in the construction and automotive industries) (Korezynski, 1994). In all these instances, NIM acquires different roles and provides manifold contributions to network management.
On the one hand, the adoption and the acceptance of the IOIS, the preconditions for information partnership, and the relationships between the trading partners are usually factors of network management that affect the function of the NIM (Hagedoorn, 1993). On the other hand, the technical capabilities, the coverage of the information requirements, and the end-user acceptance and engagement are factors coming from NIM and influencing the network management level.
NIM has been highlighted as a distinct and focused part of management with an emphasis on managing information, systems, and infrastructures. However, as Figure 2 illustrates, NIM is seen as closely linked to network management.
Network management introduces the requisite concepts, views, and distinctions for NIM.
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