IRIS - Interdisciplinary Research on the Information Society
Group Details

Group leader: Dr. Nancy Pouloudi

The IRIS research group focuses on the study of interorganizational systems, that is, systems that link together different groups of people or organizations, using innovative information and communication technologies (ICTs). While in the past interorganizational systems were typically electronic data interchange (EDI) systems, they have evolved to include complex e-business and e-government systems as well as wireless and mobile communications linking together organizations and individuals. IRIS adopts such a broad view of interorganizational systems, that encompasses technology and the context of its adoption. These are therefore complex, socio-technical systems that are developed in response to management, business or social needs or that capitalize on the capabilities of state-of-the-art technologies to offer innovative, value-adding products and services to people and organizations.

IRIS focuses in particular on the study of the human and social aspects of these interorganizational systems. In view of their complexity and their immersion in a complex socio-technical context, their in-depth study shows a clear need to draw theory and methodological tools from a broad spectrum of social theories. In this respect, the acronym IRIS (Iris in Greek Mythology is the goddess of the rainbow) can be used as a metaphor. The visible spectrum, as seen in a rainbow, is a pretty spectacle observed when the white light of the sun is split into its constituent colors. By analogy, the study of a complex research topic, such as interorganizational systems, needs multiple disciplines to shed light on important issues and form a holistic understanding, while also allowing for interesting and stimulating scientific interactions among researchers with diverse backgrounds.

Thus, the study of technology and its implications is not only based on a technological perspective, which usually assumes that technology is an independent or neutral tool used to improve organizational processes. Rather, a more critical view of the role of technology is adopted, recognizing its interaction with the complex social and political context in which it is embedded. This is based on an interdisciplinary approach to the study of interorganizational systems, that in addition to computer science and information systems uses theoretical and methodological approaches adopted in organizational behavior, social, ethical and economic theories. The educational background as well as the research interests of IRIS members bears witness to the interdisciplinary identity of the group.

Further, the group collaborates internationally with researchers interested in e-business and interorganizational systems. During 2003 the IRIS group has collaborated with researchers from the London School of Economics, University of Bath, Copenhagen Business School, University of Cologne, Norwegian School of Economics and Business (NHH), University of Surrey, University of Jyvaskyla, University of Lancaster, Georgia State University, Southern Connecticut State University, University of Reykjavik, De Montfort University, Erasmus University, University of Budapest, INSEAD, University of Cambridge, University of Sofia, Brunel University and others.

Key areas of interest for the IRIS group include the following:

  1. Methodological approaches for the study of interorganizational systems Interorganizational systems, by definition, transcend organizational boundaries and therefore are shared by parties who are likely to have different needs and pursue different objectives. Because of the different needs and objectives of these stakeholders, the investigation of their viewpoints is essential for understanding, analyzing, and acting in a domain where interorganizational systems have been or will be used. Recognizing the importance of takeholder analysis in this complex domain, a key research objective of IRIS is to develop appropriate stakeholder analysis methodologies, within an interpretive research framework, for the study of interorganizational phenomena. Of particular importance for this type of study is the recognition that technology is socially constructed, and therefore systems can also be treated as non-human stakeholders, in the sense that they inscribe the interests and values of interested or powerful parties. Following these ideas, members of the IRIS group use key concepts of actor-network theory to observe the evolution of interorganizational networks through a series of transformations (or 'translations'), enabled or forced by diverse stakeholder interests. Interorganizational systems, in addition to multiple interests, are characterized by uncertainty. This is a result of changes in the business environment (particularly as multiple players take part, influencing one another) but also of changes in information and communication technologies, whose role is constantly re-invented in the organizational context but also in daily life. Research in the IRIS group employs and aims to develop the scenario planning methodology in order to draw possible futures of technology use and also to enable strategic planning and decision making under these uncertain conditions.
  2. Innovative, ICT-enabled organizational forms Technological progress, the quest for innovation and flexibility, emergent work ethics based on collaboration, globalization are some of the reasons that have led to the development of innovative business models and organizational forms. Virtual organizations, network organizations, ambient organizations, virtual networks, virtual communities , various e-business models have been at times questioned, developed, adopted, succeeded, praised, failed, criticized. The research work of IRIS is aimed at a better understanding of the context and circumstances under which such innovative organizational forms may be developed and succeed. The interdisciplinary membership of IRIS becomes a key enabler to the holistic study and understanding of these complex phenomena, as it draws attention to technical, individual, organizational, industrial and societal aspects.
  3. Information Resource Management At the core of interorganizational systems is the flow and exchange of information among partners. Managing the information resource is therefore a core interest in IRIS. The management challenges can be witnessed at a number of levels: individuals find themselves overwhelmed by the information overflow, yet unable to retrieve relevant data; knowledge workers strive to distill information into knowledge about their business environment; organizations question the role of information systems departments while adopting large integrated systems and invest in the management of inter-firm relationships; governments seek to create a business environment that enables innovation and growth. Within this setting, key issues of information resource management that IRIS members are studying include the role of information systems in supporting and benchmarking business processes, the management of inter-firm relationships and more generally the identity, role and responsibilities of information systems managers in contemporary organizations.
  4. Changes in Work Practices Technological innovation signifies change. As the changes in technology have become more spectacular over the years, their organizational impacts also become more profound, triggering further change. Changes in the work environment for example, triggered by ICTs, include teleworking and mobility, both taking new shape with the availability of wireless technologies that often enable (or force) the worker to be available to work regardless of time or location. These changes need to be managed, not least because they affect the interpersonal dynamics and work culture in the contemporary organization. IRIS is interested in the study of the change process as well as its impact. At the individual level, motivation and responsibility for the information systems professional, as well as for the knowledge worker may become different, as the technological interface and expectations change. For knowledge workers this means developing new skills . For the manager, this means revisiting, alongside business process, human resources policy and management practices. One such change is related to encouraging information sharing and collaboration. Thus, individual learning from the change process (learning about the process and about the results), learning from past success and failure can lead to organizational learning and more effective management of knowledge as a resource.
  5. Social, political and ethical issues in interorganizational systems adoption Pertaining to the other four areas, yet typically under-researched, is the social dimension in the study of interorganizational systems. However, there are many important and controversial issues for all stakeholders of the information society. As one example, a key aspect that has emerged as important, particularly in e-government is identity management. Identity is defined as all information associated with an individual. Identity management, therefore involves maintaining a person's complete information set, spanning multiple transactions and context while also protecting the individual form harm or misuse of personal data. This is of interest to individuals, organizations and governments. Globalization and terrorism have brought to the fore some of the most conflicting aspects of identity management: the need for authentication, exchange of information, data protection, the lack of harmonized regulation, questions of security and control, ownership of personal data and so on. The changes in the work environment, noted previously, have significant impacts on how individuals perceive their work and their personal time but also for the changes in work practices. This is a second example of issues researched by IRIS. Finally, an important social, political and ethical issue is social inclusion and exclusion, whether this includes individuals (some are more knowledgeable and have better access to technology), organizations (SMEs typically lag behind large organizations in the adoption of new technologies and thus have problems of competitiveness) or nations (developing countries often cannot participate as equal partners to the information society).

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