PRODUCTION PLANNING & CONTROL, 2003, VOL. 14, NO. 2, 193–200
Aligning organizations and their informationtechnology infrastructure: how to makeinformation technology support business
cepts are: information technology infrastructure, information
development, information systems, information management
technology application, communication, message transmission,learning and knowledge, especially the variants of partialknowledge called risk and uncertainty. Also included is an
Abstract. A modern organization, in order to develop or
experimental conceptual ﬁtting of the theoretical reasoning in
survive, has to encounter decision issues that are simultaneously
the concept of solving information technology issues with meth-
complex and unpredictable. Such a decision-making or
problem-solving and information-processing properties of theorganization. The concepts of organizational problem solving
and information technology management are instantiated andthe problem-domain of organizational information technology
investments looked into. Referring to research mainly in theﬁelds of economics, organization theory, information theory
Living in an environment characterized by a wealth of
and information systems management, key concepts in thisproblem domain are explored and reasoned. The reason is
complexity and unpredictability, an organization of
that these very concepts are often misunderstood when actual
today must have simultaneous competences for compre-
decisions about information technology are made. The key con-
hensive analysis as well as for rapid adaptation. This
Authors: Pispa Juha, Helia Helsinki Business Polytechnic, Raietatiela¨isenkatu 5, 00520 Helsinki,Finland, E-mail [email protected]
ﬁ and Inger Ericksson, Department of Business Management,Box 7229, NC State University, Raleigh, NC27695-7229, USA
Juha Pispa Born in 1951. BA in Economics, University of Umea˚, Sweden, and studies in
Information Processing at the Stockholm University. Worked as Systems Engineer and SystemsAnalyst in Stockholm and Helsinki. From 1983, lecturer in System Management and related topics,ATK-instituutti (EDP-Institute), Helsinki. After the fusion of ATK-instituutti into Helia HelsinkiBusiness Polytechnics 1997, Senior Lecturer in System Management, Helia Helsinki BusinessPolytechnics, Helsinki. He is re-entering academic society according to the life-long learning con-ceptnow popular in Finland.
Inger V. Eriksson is Professor of Information Systems at the University of Turku (Finland). She
received her PhD degree from A˚bo Akademi University. Professor Eriksson was also on the facultyof the Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration in Helsinki for eight years. Shehas held visiting faculty appointments at The University of Arizona, The University of California-Los Angeles, The University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and presently The North CarolinaState University. Prior to her academic career, she was in business industry for ﬁfteen years. Shehas conducted research and written extensively in areas of knowledge management, user trainingand information systems quality. Currently, she is working on ethical issues in IT/IS and computerliteracy for national productivity.
Production Planning & Control ISSN 0953–7287 print/ISSN 1366–5871 online # 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd
stresses the problem solving or decision-making prop-
action while learning means adaptation of a system to
erties of the organization, which in turn directs the
attention to the organizational information-processing
Last, a brief comment upon how the reasoning might
properties. A typical way to answer the former challenge
be applied is made. Recent practical eﬀorts in investigat-
has been and still is to introduce new formulae or meth-
ing changes in organizational information technology, by
ods for problem solving. A typical answer to the latter
simulating rather than by assuming or deducing out of
challenge, again, has been and still is interpreted as a call
some setof precedents, can, as a case or an exercise, make
for information technology of continually increasing mass
one project one’s thinking on the simulation concept.
and sophistication. In such developments, there is a dis-
advantage. The modern solution-centred organizational
mental hypothesis, according to which a problem-solving
problem-solving or decision-making leaves a share of the
method based on simulation should conform to many of
problem domain unattended while categorical buying of
the conceptual ﬁndings in this paper.
information technology leaves open questions on the rela-tionship between the organization as a whole and theorganizational information technology as a whole.
This paper focuses on the problem of investing in infor-
mation technology of an organization, which can be seenas an instance of both the organizational problem solving
The theoretical background is considerably inﬂuenced
and the organizational information technology manage-
by the theory of social organizations. The concept of
ment. From that perspective, the problem domain of
organization is understood practically in the same way
estimating possible outcomes of an information technol-
as the concept of work system, such as in ﬁgure 1. The
ogy investment is explored. It is expected that a bit of the
rather sociotechnical view, promoted by for example
‘conceptual environment’ of or ‘set of values’ for such
Engestro¨m (1987, compare also with Vartiainen, 1994),
estimating studies will be found, and it’s hoped that the
focuses in the interrelationships between a subject, an
ﬁndings could be viewed as some kind of axioms, or con-
object (in interpretation, a task) and a tool in a situation
straints, for actual investigations.
in which the subject performs a task with the tool in order
Such an approach is believable. First, in a situation of
to produce a product or a result. This model, originally
from Vygotski, has been elaborated by Engestro¨m with
the ingredient of interaction between the subjects. Such
Otherwise confusion in what is done, how, and how to
an elaboration brings forth the concepts of community,
interpret the consequences of the action probably arises.
diﬀerentiation (division of labour) and rules, in other
Therefore the concepts are stressed that have to do with
words the core phenomena of organization.
the problem and the context. Only after the concepts are
This article concerns information technology. The
fully understood, planning and managing the change can
conceptof subjectis visualized as a human user or utilizer
start. Secondly, the phenomena in the problem domain
of an information system and the concept of tool as the
inﬂuence the work of building, validating and imple-
information system itself. The concept of task means
menting models that are used in the problem-solving
those instances of the work of the subject, where he or
process. This can be veriﬁed by applying for example
‘well-founded’ principles of simulation such as Andersinand Sulonen (1974), Vartiainen (1985), or Law and
Kelton (1991) or by studying real ventures of estimating
Even in this context the concept of task, whether the subject is utiliz-
ing, serving, manipulating, regulating or developing the information
system, is seen in a perspective where every instance of having to do
The paper is structured as follows: First, after a brief
with the information system is seen as a measure of work initiated by the
note on the theoretical background, the distinction
subject and derived from the objectives that the subject experiences
between information technology infrastructures and
himself or herself to be fulﬁlling. ‘Oﬃcially’ the business objectives of
information technology applications is exposed, since
the organization are spoken of. Such a perspective can be traced back tothe ‘infurgic’ manifesto that was published in the year 1996, in the
the ﬁrst one relates to mere costs and the other one to
Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems. The conceptof infurgy (the
possible beneﬁts. The distinction between communica-
word itself symbolizing an organic compound of the concept of informa-
tion and message transmission is then approached. The
tion and the concept of work) relates to the information system labora-
fact that the need to improve communication in an
tory LABORIS and its predecessor, the ‘Knowledge and Work’ research
organization often is met by investing in mere message
project at the University of Turku. The main ingredient in the frame ofreference in the LABORIS research is, as presented for example by
transmission shows that these concepts are confused.
Nurminen and Eriksson (1991, p. 252, 1999, p. 87), the notion of infor-
Next, learning and knowledge are discussed, the latter
mation systems (computers) not being real actors but organic parts in
of which means basic foundation of all intentional
Aligning organization and their IT infrastructure
Figure 1. An interpretation of the work system (the structure of human activity) from Engesrto¨m (1987, pp. 78, 113, 120). This ﬁgureis originally an UML class diagram but it is best viewed as an entity-relationship diagram. The role names specifying the associations
are sentences that describe the relation between the two classes (entities) connected with the association. Each role name is located
near the object of the sentence. Only the most essential role names are noted.
Organizational infrastructures, in other words theorganizational
2.1. Information technology infrastructures versus information
utilizing, operating, developing or maintaining technical
infrastructures. The word computer system generallymeans a technical infrastructure, bought or leased and
The term information technology refers here to tech-
externally maintained, combined with an organizational
niques and facilities designed to enable the transfer, stor-
infrastructure represented by users themselves or an in-
ing and processing of data. Similar deﬁnition of the
house information system department.
concept of information system is given for example by
The infrastructures, the technical as well as the
Langefors (1973, pp. 195–96, 201–4). The facilities may
organizational, both support and delimit particular
be centralized or decentralized, and they include not only
computers but also facilities for mailing
the technical infrastructure is not equipped to han-
dle voice. The organization would then not be able
libraries, etc. As shown in ﬁgure 2, information
to take advantage of multimedia applications, even
technology infrastructures in an organization include
though they might be available and would support
technical and organizational types of facilities. Both are
the business objectives of the organization. Or sup-
needed to develop and use particular information
pose that a new computer-aided systems engineering
technology applications designed to enable, support
application is implemented without proper training.
and improve the business of the organization.
It might then take years before it is productively
Technical infrastructures, in other words the technical
utilized. While advocates of information technology
types of facilities, comprise on the one hand hardware,
generally only mention its advantages, these two
such as computers, and on the other hand programs.
information technology infrastructures also have to
Before an application can successfully be used, the
users have to learn how to interpret its output and how
Figure 2 also shows that the users of information tech-
to apply it in performing their business activities. As a by-
nology encounter it through information technology
product of reﬂecting upon their interpretations and ensu-
applications. Moreover, it is the applications that help
ing actions they will generate ideas about how to use and
the organization reap the beneﬁts it is looking for.
improve the application and, at least occasionally, how to
Thus, investments in information technology infrastruc-
develop their workmanship. Not distinguishing between
tures result only in indirect beneﬁts. For beneﬁts to be
investments in information technology infrastructures
realized, applications must be developed but also used,
and information technology applications may, as con-
and the use of the applications must successfully be trans-
cluded by Brynjolfsson (1993), to some extent explain
formed into a change in business activities.
Figure 2. Distinction between the general information technology infrastructure and a particular application. This ﬁgure is best
Aligning organization and their IT infrastructure
why it has been diﬃcult to ﬁnd if and when information
take personal interpretations for granted. A check with
technology investments increase productivity.
the other party on the conceptual base for the interpreta-
The latter takes time and requires human eﬀort in
tions may be needed if it is felt that the other does not
unlearning and learning. Both individual and organiza-
tional learning will be involved, wherefore changes inways to communicate in the organization become topi-cal. As stated for example by Watzlawick et al.
(1967, 1974), changes in communication, aimed atimproved business practices, in turn entail much more
The change in an organization can be seen as learning.
than new technical ways of exchanging messages.
It can be said that changes in information technologyinfrastructures involve organizational learning on variouslevels of abstraction and in various time spans. As
2.2. Communication versus message transmission
indicated by Vartiainen (1994), the users of an applica-tion, for example, learn to technically use it or they learn
Business can be seen as a process of establishing and
a new way to work by using the application, or they learn
maintaining commercial and professional relationships.
new forms of co-operation and communication. A proper
Humans do this to a large extent by communication.
interpretation of the learning concept thus helps to
As can be seen in ﬁgure 2, when managers, staﬀ
ensure that the necessary organizational conditions for
specialists and workers use particular information tech-
nology applications they relate and interact via these
A conceptual connection between the concepts of
applications. In other words, they communicate.
learning and action, such as made for example by
In the context of information technology, the word
Argyris (1993, pp. 49–50), helps to outline learning as
communication is generally used to designate the
beneﬁcial in the context of business management.
exchange of letters, notes, faxes, telephone conversations,
Learning occurs when an error is detected and corrected.
ﬁles and so on. Such usage of the word emphasizes the
In other words, the basis of learning is a perception of the
technical side of transmitting messages. In order to
relationship between action and its environment.
remove the bias, it is preferable to speak of transmitting
The deﬁnition of the term error is broadened in the
patterns of signs. As this expression sounds clumsy the
direction suggested by Argyris (1993, p. 49–50) or
term message transmission will be used instead. The
Engestro¨m (1990, pp. 4, 12), that is, an error is not
important thing is that what is transmitted is not the
seen as a mere shortcoming in results. The broader deﬁ-
ideas or thoughts of the sender but rather patterns of
nition helps to avoid defensive reactions often triggered
signs. Before these patterns can inﬂuence any action,
by speaking abouterrors, and is, in a way, also more
they have to be interpreted. The meaning intended by
honest. Diﬀerences between what people intend an action
the sender and the meaning interpreted by the receiver
to achieve and what actually happens can be expected.
will generally diﬀer. Only when the sender and the
The essence of the deﬁnition of the term error can best
receiver broadly share the same social reality, the
be seen observing, for example, in whatmanner people
meanings coincide suﬃciently to make the interpretation
speak of errors. Is not there usually a search for the
work and the message exchange function satisfactorily.
scapegoat if the outcome was not as expected? Imagine
The signiﬁcance of the common conceptual background
instead thinking in terms of what new, even creative,
for successful human communication is veriﬁed (in the
actions such diﬀerences might call for, and what the
organization as whole could gain from them. Many
everyday and professional skills, whether individually or
Maintaining the distinction between the concepts of
organizationally oriented, are learned from practice. This
communication and mere message transmission helps to
way of learning works when rapid feedback is obtained as
remember that establishing and upholding genuine
soon as an outcome diﬀers from the expectations.
human communication takes a lot of hard work. The
Unfortunately, as observed by Senge (1990), the inherent
partiality of the success most often is due to the inherently
function of organizations often does not give this kind of
diﬃcult nature of the task. Neither party should be
blamed for failures. Instead of being disappointed when
The relations between the concepts of individual learn-
communication fails, a feeling of being encouraged
ing, organizational learning and action deserve a bit of
should be felt whenever it actually serves practical pur-
elaborating. Deducing from thoughts presented for exam-
ple by Resnick (1987), Miettinen (1997, 1998) or
The distinction between communication and message
Tuomisto (1997, pp. 35–36), it can be reasoned that if
transmission also points out that it is not always right to
an intended change of action is limited to one person,
individual learning is suﬃcientbutwhen a change of
pened before or does noteven have an understandable
action by a group is intended, learning at both levels
expression. It is preferred to enhance the conceptual
will be required. Individual learning thus remains one
character of this type of uncertainty by using the word
which in turn, as noted by Senge (1990), is of critical
Advocates of computer-supported data processing gen-
erally presuppose that it is preferable to be betterinformed. However, itis quest
been informed, or instructed, always helps in inﬂuencing
the action. Encountering questions of environmental pol-lution serves as a good example. Lip service may be paid
Maturana and Varela (1992) lead to an interpretation
to importance of those questions but organizations may
of learning, in other words change in action, as dynamics
still act practically without regard to the environmental
in the mental models that lie behind human action.
damage they cause. The concept of indiﬀerence is
When the business environment changes, some of the
proposed to describe the cognitive position taken in
mental models become obsolete and have to be reshaped,
such choices of action. The concept of indiﬀerence
in other words there has to be learning. Furthermore, the
makes it possible to distinguish the latter cases from
mental models have to do with knowledge, so reﬂecting
those where inadequate action is taken because of lack
upon the actions is important both because it reveals the
of knowledge. Such a distinction helps in recognizing
mental models and because it reminds people about the
cases where more information really will be an adequate
conceptual connection between action and knowledge.
To know something may simply mean to be able to
give an acceptable answer to a question. Informing tra-vellers about scheduled train departures illustrates this
sense of knowing. Buthow do the managers and employ-ees of the railway company know what departure times to
choose when they draw up a new timetable? Composinga timetable includes the tasks of design and redesign to
In the earlier reasoning it was suggested that human
which no advance answer exist. There are probably rules
action is based on models, that is knowledge. This is true
according to which an acceptable timetable has to be
also when the issues to act upon concern information
built. Such rules seldom limit the number of possibilities
systems. Rapid change in the organization’s environment
to one, though. It might be arguable that formal evalua-
resulting in uncertainty of goals in the issues together
tion of the features of all possible solutions always will
with continually increasing complexity of the issues pre-
result in just one timetable being selected. Who knows
sentconsiderable challenges on analytic and deductive
what features to include and what relative values to
modelling and knowledge acquisition approaches.
assign to each of them? Moreover, these values need to
The mismatch between the nature of the challenge and
be relevant for a time period in the future. Here is a form
the nature of methods to cope with it can very clearly be
of knowing that is quite diﬀerent from giving an answer
seen in decision-making or problem-solving processes that
leaders and managers in modern organizations perform.
As managers know well, decisions are seldom made
The key function of a leader or manager is to form visions
with complete knowledge. Plans and actions have to be
of the organization in the future. The visions often are too
made with reliance on partial knowledge, sometimes even
vague and ill structured to serve as a correct departing
in ignorance. The partial knowledge and ignorance
concepts are now explored. Economists, for example
weathering alternative visions and choosing between
Knight (1921, pp. 19–21, 233–36), distinguish between
them, it would be ideal to experience as much of the
the concepts of risk and uncertainty. In the case includ-
alternatives as possible and to experiment with them.
ing risk the outcome for a decision cannot be known but aprobability distribution may be known well enough toenable fair estimates of what to expect, in other words
partial knowledge is operating. Risks, or actually threats,can be prepared for as when for example an insurance is
Experience in information systems development has
bought to cover the risk of an expensive reparation due to
shown that prototyping, or applying the mock realization
a car crash. In the case of uncertainty, again, the out-
approach, i.e. simulation, has given the developers of
come itself or its expression is not known in advance. It
information systems new comprehensive insight into the
might be a question of something that never has hap-
real consequences of the proposed system solutions. The
Aligning organization and their IT infrastructure
users of the future information systems have, as noted by,
for example, Ehn (1985) and Martin (1985), an oppor-tunity to learn working with the systems already during
In this paper it is pointed out that decisions about
the development and an opportunity to communicate
information technology should be based on a comprehen-
their impressions to the developers.
sive and critical evaluation of its impact on the business
Both the humane aspect and the business-friendliness
as a whole. The evaluation should relate to the important
aspect in user inﬂuence in information systems develop-
concepts in the problem domain of the decisions and be
mentare recognized. As for example Eriksson et al.
expressed in a way that is understandable to all the par-
(1988) and Eriksson (1990) state, real, institutional user
ties involved. Thus, some points of view are presented
that hopefully will appeal to those responsible for orga-
humane because it enables a two-way adaptation
nizational information technology investments.
among a human subject and an information system heor she is supposed to live with. Boehm (1988) focuses in
(1) Information technology should always be related
business-friendliness instead. He breaks down a mono-
to the business objectives at hand, be they
lithic development process into many smaller cycles, as
happens in a typical prototyping venture. Such a cyclic
managerial planning and control, or current
approach gives the users a better insight into the
development process and thus a better alignment of the
(2) The distinction between the cost of information
whole process to reality. This in turn reduces the chance
technology investments and potential beneﬁts by
Modern computers with their elevated calculating and
technology applications should be distinguishedon conceptual level. It should be understood that
graphical output capabilities oﬀer the opportunity to
the mere existence of an information technology
form visions of information system solutions with due
application does not realize the projected income.
work processes in a virtual world of simulation models.
Productive use of an application more often than
The leaders or managers can play with these visions and
notalso implies considerable reshaping of work
gain ‘experience’ of how the system solutions would
function in certain important respects. The experience
(3) The very concept of looking upon the introduction
can concern both the outcomes of decisions under given
of new information technology as an investment
constraints and the constraints themselves.
will make one more sensitive to the often large
Senge (1990) has found that the primary threats to
time lags between the costs of such investments
organizational survival today come from slow, gradual
and the point at which they start to pay oﬀ.
processes. Such processes are seldom recognized in every-
These time lags are, as with all investments, of
day experience. In the virtual world of a computer simu-
critical importance for proﬁtability.
lation model, instead, there is a possibility also to
(4) The reasoning aboutcommunication shows t
manipulate the time-scale and thus within hours
the signiﬁcance of a common background, i. e.
‘experience’ activities spanning over a years or life cycles.
genuinely shared set of concepts, between the com-
The usefulness of a simulation model is, as Andersin
municating parties cannot be stressed enough.
and Sulonen (1974) state, hinged on the quality of the
This applies in all communication situations.
data that it is built on and the cost-eﬀectivity of the data
acquisition methods. The data must be valid, reliable
explaining the mechanisms through which the
and representative. It cannot be taken for granted that
the ‘free’ operational data of the organization are reliable
or representative enough for advanced analyses and
simulations. Going over the data sources and data
successful communication requires hard work.
acquisition methods for simulation models may, in fact,
(5) The concept of partial knowledge is two-dimen-
result in improvement in the quality of operational data
sional. The risk element in a decision that has to
in the ﬁrst place, which certainly is beneﬁcial for the
be made with partial knowledge, can be managed
primary purposes of operational data too. Entering
by analytical methods with increased information
the world of simulation models will demand some time
technology investments. The uncertainty element
of the leaders or managers. Still, it might turn out to
can as such not be encountered solely by stressing
be extremely beneﬁcial for organizational learning as
the method or the computing capacity since the
it oﬀers a potentially forceful way to ‘look before you
experienced uncertainty may be a consequence of
lack of rational goals or ways to express things.
Recognizing the uncertainty element helps in
directing the information technology investments.
method for supporting users’ comprehensive learning.
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Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2004 , 10, 3797-3811 Studies on Coumarins and Coumarin-Related Compounds to Determine their Therapeutic Role in the Treatment of Cancer Applied Biochemistry Group, School of Biotechnology, Dublin City University, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, Ireland Abstract: The Benzopyrones are a group of compounds whose members include coumarins and flavonoids. Dietary ex