Making sense of information systems failures

PhD thesis

Drevin, L. 2014. Making sense of information systems failures. PhD thesis Middlesex University School of Science and Technology
TypePhD thesis
TitleMaking sense of information systems failures
AuthorsDrevin, L.

Information systems (IS) are used almost everywhere around us and we cannot even conceive of a world without computerised systems. IS support essential functions in most areas and levels of society. These include education, business, leisure, and medical and scientific areas. Moreover, IS add to the competitiveness of companies and support the continuous change that takes place in business and its environment. Literature frequently reports on Information systems that fail or are abandoned in many domains and in many countries. Often IS are seen by users as underperforming, failing to meet expectations and not delivering value to customers. In order to reduce IS failures numerous studies have been conducted resulting in solutions being offered to improve the situation. Post-project reviews are often used to learn from mistakes.
Social sciences regularly use narrative analysis methods to analyse stories to understand the experiences of people in settings such as psychology and education. This study borrows from the social sciences and proposes the use of narrative analysis in investigating IS failure research.
A case history was identified in which IS stakeholders were asked to share their experiences regarding the development and use of the IS. Three narrative analysis approaches were applied in this study to analyse the accounts of the stakeholders taking into account the perspectives of multiple user groups. This was done in order to study the thesis statement: narrative analysis methods can be useful to make sense of Information systems’ failures. A multi-perspective framework for analysing IS stakeholders’ accounts was constructed, during the study, which could be used by developers to gain insight from the users of previous systems in order to learn from mistakes for subsequent systems. It is shown in this qualitative study, where narrative approaches were followed to gather, analyse and interpret the rich, multi-voiced and incoherent stories of IS stakeholders, that each approach helps to make sense from the accounts of stakeholders in different ways and highlight important elements.
It is shown that narrative analysis methods that were used in this study can produce deeper insights into the experience of involved stakeholders. The insights obtained from applying narrative methods can be used for internal learning within organisations as well as externally within the discipline. It is shown in this study that all voices must be heard; the small stories of stakeholders should also be taken into account when listening to users. Reading between the lines reveals information that cannot be ignored if IS are to be developed to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. Indeed, systems become alive and take on a character of their own when the accounts are analysed on a deeper level and systems can therefore be designed in new ways that enable developers to address a wider set of constraints representing multiple groups of stakeholders.
The contribution of this work is on more than one level. Information systems development practice can be influenced and enriched by gaining deeper insights that address the concerns of the diverse groups of stakeholders. The research methodology field of IS has also been impacted upon by the successful importing of methods from another domain and has thereby also given back to the discipline it has borrowed from. Narrative practice and theory can make use of the new insights gained in a new area of application, namely IS failures. The conclusion of this study is that narrative approaches and storytelling can be useful and applicable when investigating IS failures and improves the understanding of IS development and users’ concerns taking into account multiple perspectives of stakeholders.

Department nameSchool of Science and Technology
Institution nameMiddlesex University
Publication dates
Print20 Feb 2015
Publication process dates
Deposited20 Feb 2015
CompletedSep 2014
Output statusPublished
Accepted author manuscript
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