IS and Business Leaders' Strategizing: An Investigation into Organizational Learning Practice and Theory

Anne Mette Hansen

Publikation: Ph.d.-afhandling


IS strategy has become an important focus in both research and practice over the past decades. In research, IS strategy has traditionally been viewed as the use of IT to support a business strategy or the master plan of the IS function. However, more recent IS strategy research has increasingly adopted an alternative view in which IS strategy represents a shared understanding of the role of IS within the organization. The assumption in these studies is that IS and business leaders constantly negotiate their understandings of the role of IS and strategic objectives as a basis for investment in and utilization of IT within the organization. This dissertation is positioned in relation to this recent IS strategy research.

In practice, IS and business leaders’ constant development and repositioning of IS strategic objectives has become increasingly important over time as organizations face turbulent business environments characterized by changes in market demands, technology options, and government regulations. Under such dynamic conditions, IS and business leaders must constantly strategize and set new IS strategic objectives so that they can retain and improve innovation, competitiveness, and productivity. However, strategizing in such dynamic environments is not straightforward process. While IS and business leaders must develop new IS strategic objectives and move quickly towards new opportunities, they must also be good at exploiting the value of current assets and reducing the costs of existing operations. Drawing upon organizational learning theory (March 1991), this process involves two learning processes: exploration and exploitation. Leaders explore new strategic initiatives in response to environmental shifts while at the same time effectively exploiting what they have already learned from existing processes and IT capabilities.

The existing IS strategy literature recognizes that to establish a fruitful strategizing process, IS and business leaders must constantly “explore and exploit”. However, none of the existing IS strategy studies have studied how such learning processes empirically unfold. Against this backdrop, the first objective of this dissertation is to extend existing knowledge by empirically investigating how IS and business leaders explore and exploit during IS strategizing over time.

This dissertation applies the 4I framework developed by Crossan et al. (1999) as a theoretical framing. This framework provides an in-depth model of how exploration and exploitation unfold over time. Although widely cited, the empirical foundation for the 4I framework is still limited. For example, none of the existing studies have examined in detail the dynamic and iterative nature of learning processes in specific organizational settings. Moreover, none of the studies cover how organizational learning processes unfold across multiple episodes of learning shaped by contextual changes and interactions between episodes. Hence by adopting the 4I framework, the second objective of this dissertation is to reveal new insights into how the individual components of the 4I model becomes manifest and interact over time through empirical examination of multiple, related episodes of learning.

To empirically investigate the IS strategizing process from an organizational learning perspective, an interpretive case study was conducted from 2008 to 2011 in a Danish municipality. This organization had recently experienced a relatively large number of new environmental pressures requiring IS and business leaders to reposition their IS strategic objectives and practices. Based on direct observations, interviews with key stakeholders, and access to extensive documentation of the strategizing process, this study uses the 4I framework to examine how this strategizing process unfolded over the observed three year period.

The dissertation expands existing theory in several ways. First, it contributes to the IS strategy literature by providing a detailed and rich description of IS and business leaders’ learning during IS strategizing. Second, it informs organizational learning theory by providing fundamental new insights to the 4I framework, extending our knowledge of its core constructs and revealing a potential pitfall of using the framework. Finally, the dissertation informs leaders engaged in IS strategizing by providing detailed insight into IS and business leaders’ learning processes and offering recommendations for how other organizations may learn to adapt their IS strategy in response to dynamic shifts in the business environment.
StatusUdgivet - 2012