Foundations of Information Technology Research

Subject: Company Information
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Study level: PhD

Information Systems Research

Ives et. al (1980) describe Management Information Systems (MIS) research as “the systematic investigation of the development, operation, use and/or impact of an information subsystem in an organizational environment.” On the other hand, Mason and Mitroff (1973) explain that Information systems research is an attempt to manipulate the five elements of an information system which are: a person’s psychological type, problem, organizational context, evidence for a solution, and presentation mode. Benbasat and Zmud (2003) believe that Information systems research includes manipulation of IT artifacts through technological, managerial, and methodological capabilities, the human behaviors that come out of the manipulation of the IT artifacts, the practices for using and developing IT artifacts through managerial, technological and managerial aspects and impact of the IT artifacts on humans.

Disciplines That Have Most Influenced IS Research

One of the most influential disciplines in Information Systems (IS) is Organizational Studies (OS). IS as a field is more dependent on OS than vice versa. IS by its very nature is an applied field that studies the interrelationship of technologies and organizational agendas. To this end, informational systems must incorporate concepts from organizational studies (Orlikowski & Barley, 2001).

Another important discipline that has influenced Information Systems is engineering. A lot of IS research will involve epistemological approaches from engineering and the design sciences. Typical solutions in IS regularly use models that aim at understanding the effects of an information system. Other methods and techniques used in IS are also typical of engineering because they involve designing and applying those tools to solve real-world problems. Essentially, information systems research is very similar to engineering research because it focuses on the practicality and the workability of an answer. In other words, both disciplines heavily focus on context. Theirs is never really a concern about the search for general knowledge as is the case with many physical scientific works; instead, engineering and IS would much rather discover knowledge that would address a real problem related to the use of it (Orlikowski & Barley, 2001).

Management studies also have another profound effect on IS because not only do they allow for an understanding of the organization and how it runs, they also allow for the development of an agency-based focus of Information Systems solutions. For IS to take shape then there should be a background o the organizational structures as well as the work practices that will be employing that technology. It should be noted here that information systems research involves both physical and social aspects so theories applied must incorporate both these aspects. There must be an understanding or at least an assumption made about the users of the information systems. Social systems, therefore, play a role in IS because human choices and human actions affect the outcomes of IS.

Current Status of the Field

There is a problem with hypothesis formulation within the MIS research field. Ives et al (1980) look at five of the most important models in MIS research and then place them in context by examining the research methodologies and framework to be utilized in each. The authors reveal that hypothesis formulation is a challenge because it is not done well or is not incorporated at all in some papers. This is especially true for those researches that entail conceptual analysis of variables rather than data-based research strategies. In this regard, such researches are failing because once the hypothesis has a problem then the significance of the whole study is compromised.

Most researchers tend to make assumptions about the five variables identified by Mason and Mitroff (1973). They assume that the person dealing with the situation has thought–sensation type of psychology and the problem under consideration is only a well structured one and that the kinds of evidence needed will be data-based or model bases, the organization under consideration is hierarchal, and that the presentation will only be a computer printout. However, these authors argue that all the five variables can alter in such a way that the research design will be different. The effectiveness of proposals made by researchers is therefore questionable once the concerned individuals make such assumptions. It would be better if the solutions offered were tailored to the psychology of the managers who require the information rather than the psychology of the IS designers themselves. Furthermore, MIS research should focus on actual problems undergone by managers instead of imagined ones by the same party.

Issues with variables in MIS have also been identified by Ives et al (1980). Certain categories of research seldom focus on the impact of their studies on a process variable yet this is crucial. Process variables such as information satisfaction and system usage are more dependent on other parameters than ISS and environmental variables. Consequently, research should relate its variables to the process. Many papers do not specify how their work will have an impact on the process and this makes them less useful. Furthermore, even actual examinations of process variables are lacking in the field yet they are central to MIS. For example, studies will measure user satisfaction as an outcome of a process variable but they will not analyze the process variable itself. This means that most will not focus on the reason behind user satisfaction or how user satisfaction is facilitated as a process (Ives et. al., 1980).

Descriptive studies are highly prevalent within the MIS field but the major problem is that these studies are very limiting. Most of the time, they lack dependent variables and only focus on the description of information content for a certain type of management information system. Consequently, such kinds of studies fail to make discoveries and thus substantially reduce the quality of research in MIS. This discipline would be better off if descriptive based researches were replaced by discovery-oriented ones (Ives et. al., 1980)

Generally speaking, the field is still in a crisis as explained by Bhattacherjee and Gill (2009) and Benbasat and Zmud (2003). The former authors claim that MIS is unable to inform its external clients because it has become disengaging. This means that practitioners are not benefiting from MIS research. Researchers and students from other disciplines are also not gaining much from MIS so there should be a reversal. Benbasat & Zmud (2003) believe that exclusion of IT artifacts and inclusion of non-IT artifact-based parameters has caused an identity crisis in the field. In essence, MIS is yet to carve out a niche for itself as an independent discipline.

Main Research Questions Being Sudied Now

Orlikowski and Barley (2001) explain that some research questions revolve around the impact of information systems either socially or economically. In other words, they attempt to discover whether individuals’ performance is improving or whether the nature of an organization’s structures is changing because of the IS solution offered.

Researchers are also looking at the application of management information systems. These aspects mostly dwell on the operationalization and implementation of an information system. Therefore most research questions here focus on how to better design information systems or how to make them highly efficient so that they can produce predictable results.

Many management information systems papers are working on strategic issues. For instance, a research question could be “how can legacy systems be maintained?” or “how can certain IS tools be applied within an organization?” these issues deal with the management of IS hence explaining why they are categorized as being strategic. The concept of a digital economy has also been addressed in MIS research because many papers have looked at IS systems and how they can best contribute towards a digital economy.

Differences and Similarities Between the Points of View of These Authors

While most of the other authors believe that management information systems need to focus more on practical and developmental use, Orlikowski and Barley (2001) believe that MIS should continue to borrow even more from another discipline i.e. organizational studies. To this end, they believe that management information systems research needs to shift away from the practical aspects of IS and embrace new developments in organizational studies. In other words, this author believes that the core principles within MIS have been unraveled and that the discipline would benefit more from studying concepts such as cultural frameworks, normative studies, and regulation concerning information systems. In this article, greater diversion from the core subject matter is endorsed.

On the other hand, Mason and Mitroff (1973), Benbasat and Zmud (2003), and Ives et al (1980) claim that research in MIS could not be more ambiguous. They believe that the discipline needs to be more systematic and more oriented towards the practical uses of information systems. Benbasat and Zmud (2003) believe that too many researchers are working on non-IT-based phenomena and this is harming the actual identity of the discipline. They claim that studies in MIS often commit errors of exclusion and inclusion. Errors of exclusion include those papers that focus on other variables but fail to include the effect of IT artifacts. This argument is quite similar to that of Ives et al (1980) who asserted that one problem in MIS research is a lack of emphasis on the impact or usefulness of a particular study on the process and this makes their relevance quite small.

Most of the authors differ in terms of their understanding of what MIS research is and this implies that their perception of what is important or what is missing from the discipline can also be highly affected by these definitions. For example, Mason and Mitroff (1973) believe that the major problem with most MIS research is that it fails to look at the possibility of differences in the psychology type, problem, organization structure, presentation, or the evidence involved in a certain study. On the other hand, Ives et al (1980) believe that research will be inadequate if it fails to fall within their framework. Benbasat and Zmud (2003) believe that studies in the discipline are faulty merely because they commit errors of exclusion or inclusion. Here, by failing to stick to the core definition of MIS explained by the authors, then those researches have been classified as misleading. All endorsements by the authors are different because they are all founded on different premises on the MIS research definition.


Benbasat I., & Zmud R. W. (2003). The identity crisis within the IS discipline: Defining and communicating the discipline¡¦s core properties, MIS Quarterly, 27(2), 183-194.

Ives, B., Hamilton, S., & Davis, G. B. (1980). A Framework for Research in Computer-Based Management Information Systems. Management Science 26(9), 910-934.

Mason, R. O., & Mitroff, I. I. (1973). A Program for Research on MIS. Management Science 19(5), 475-487.

Orlikowski, W. J., & Barley, S. R. (2001). Technology and institutions: What can research on information technology and research on organizations learn from each other?, MIS Quarterly 25(2), 145-165.

Gill, G. & Bhattacherjee, A. (2009). Who are we informing? Issues and recommendations for MIS research from an Informing science perspective. MIS quarterly 33(2), 217-235.