Modern information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been heralded as a key enabler of more integrated, flexible, network forms of organizing, thereby promoting the “free and unfettered exchange of information across boundaries” and inspiring “the transformation of all types of institutions” (Conference Theme, ICIS 2004). In this paper, we critically examine such claims and suggest that optimistic proclamations about the transformative potential of ICTs need to be approached with great caution. By drawing on evidence from an in-depth, longitudinal, interpretive study of the strategic use of IT within the Irish credit union movement, we point to the dangers of popular assumptions about the promise of ICT-enabled strategic change and the ease with which it may be achieved. While various economic and technological factors had contributed to the emergence of an impetus for organizational reform and modernization in some quarters within the movement, the realization of such changes was complicated by historically constituted contradictions and ideological differences. IT, however, appeared to offer a relatively painless solution to such problems by promising the prospect of significant organizational change without substantial institutional reform. Here, we argue that the allure of unproblematic and flexible IT-enabled organizational integration encouraged credit unions to embark on a disastrous implementation effort while conveniently ignoring fundamental contradictions within the movement. Interestingly, while the implementation attempt was unanimously regarded as a costly failure, the process associated with its development and demise brought the contentious issue of reform to a head. The result seems likely to be a significant transformation in the organization of the movement. Paradoxically, the failure of the strategic implementation effort triggered this transformation by accident rather than by design.
Mangan, Anita and Kelly, Séamas, "Reinforcing Boundaries and Undermining Institutions: Information Systems and Strategic Change in the Irish Credit Union Movement" (2004). ICIS 2004 Proceedings. 48.