A critically systemic approach for understanding information systems failure in the UK public sector

Alqarni, Saad F.

December 2014

Thesis or dissertation

© 2014 Saad F Alqarni. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

In the United Kingdom, the implementation of large-scale Information System (IS) projects has led to multifarious problems over the last few decades, and this seems to be an ongoing situation. As a result, within the public sector organisations, a number of information systems have failed to meet their pre-specified goals in spite of the large amount money and effort spent on IS projects. Information system projects are highly complex and the complexity is varied based on the different aspects involved including technical, organisational, and social, while the traditional concepts have less of an effect when aiming to achieve considerable improvement to cope with the increasing complexity of the situation. This was apparent in the study of two examples of large-scale IS failures in the UK public sector, whereas the attention was on examining discrete elements without considering the potential relationships between the elements. The current study, therefore, proposes a system approach as an alternative to understanding the nature of large-scale IS failures in the UK public sector. The systems approach, as an advanced movement in management science, seeks to identify social context and organizational issues and to use a combination of methodologies, methods, tools, and techniques to help problem solvers better control problematic situations. Thus, the Systems Approach is privileged because it offers a holistic approach to look at the problematic situation rather than being focused solely on a particular aspect instead of the interconnected relationships among its parts. The alternative approach benefits from the new problem solving and practical intervention strategies toward a better understanding of the complexity, diversity, and change of the problematic situations, while providing a comprehensive insight into the real-world problem of IS failure. This extends to identifying the contradictory issues related to power, conflict, and culture affecting the situation. Within the Systems Approach the researcher employed critical pluralism to the current study, which is theoretically built upon a combination of methodologies and methods designed for a particular intervention.

Some findings of the research disclose that large-scale IS failure in the UK public sector is treated inadequately, and solutions proposed to reduce the rate of failure ignore this complexity. The findings also reveal that there are four factors affecting large-scale IS failure in the UK public sector: political factors; organisational factors; technical factors; and human factors. The founding related to the methodology, the researcher found that critical pluralism appears able to capture a set of systemic processes: appreciation; analysis; assessment; and action. All these processes were conducted collectively and supported by a particular type of collected data activities in the way of identifying the natures of the IS system and its associated sub-systems. Finally, by conducting a particular Systems Approach technique to assess the IS failure problem in the UK public sector context, it cannot be claimed that the solution is applicable to other situations in another context because the approach itself views any problematic situation as unique and hard to be generalised. Nevertheless, the discovery of such solutions leads to the accumulation of knowledge that contributes to reductions in the rates of IS failure in general.

Business School, The University of Hull
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