Social informatics perspective as an integrative design method for information systems technology and business intelligence and analytics: a critical realist study

Dlamini, Noxolo Siphelele
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This study contends that Information Systems and Technologies (ISTs) fail to adequately provide for effective delivery of Business Intelligence and Analytics (BIA), which limits the value that organisations can derive from their data assets. In spite of the influence that each has on the other and their widely acknowledged and undisputed relationship and interdependencies, design and development approaches still promote a silo approach to IST and BIA in theory and practice. The evolution of the role of data in the digital economy not only compels academics and practitioners to collaborate on how to enable creation of good quality data at source but intensifies the requirement for an integrated approach to IST and BIA design. The research problem that the study addresses is that design methods commonly employed in both Information Systems (IS) research studies and practice do not advocate for an integrated approach to design and development of IST and BIA. While IS research accounts for both IST and BIA, IST and BIA design and development studies are approached independently and/or in isolation, with limited integration. The effectiveness of Social informatics (SI) as an interdisciplinary study of design, uses and consequences of use, puts it above the rest of the commonly applied socio-technical design theories and approaches. SI’s strength is in studying designs, uses and consequences of IST use after implementation. However, the theory versus practice inconsistencies presented by the interpretivist paradigm, which is an underpinning philosophy for classical SI, limit its use as a design method. Critical Realism (CR) offers the research study a viable alternative and is crucial in addressing both contextual requirements, while embracing the positivist, deterministic aspects of the study. CR is a pluralist approach based on sound research method principles; hence the study adopted it as both the theoretical paradigm and research method. The research study objective is to reconceptualise the SI perspective as an integrative design method underpinned by CR. The study adopts CR as its research methodology. CR is a philosophy of science that allows for the pluralistic approach to operationalisation of the research strategy, a catalyst in addressing the paradigmatic challenges of the research study. The ability to address the qualitative realist requirements of the study while effectively dealing with the positivist characteristics of the research was crucial in ensuring comprehensive results. The insights which could only be effectively gained through a qualitative realist process of enquiry were invaluable in advancing the IST and BIA design knowledge and practice. CR’s strength in focusing the research practice on the complexities of the real world is a critical enabler for an open system discipline such as IS. It ensures that the research is placed within the realist context of time, space and culture. CR is effective in allowing the researcher to explain the mechanisms that influence the social actor action at different levels of social organisations. It allows for the identification of non-deterministic tendencies in a complex, multidisciplinary and open system such as IS. It not only accounts for the varying social actor requirements at empirical level but reveals possible underlying causes and relationships of the observable or non-observable events and/or activities at play. This approach to analysis of IST and BIA requirements offers a unique ability to frame problems in meaningful and social actor-centred ways, at all levels of social organisation, enabling design and development of IST that are BIA centric. The development of new knowledge advances the field of IS design, a crucial step towards offering practitioners with a practical, structured and integrative design method. The critical realist approach is the most appropriate theoretical paradigm to adopt to address the theory-practice inconsistency challenges at the heart of the IS field. Its strength as a research methodology offers the researcher a unique ability to interact with data at a level that other research methods do not: that is, to examine the impact of data at the three fundamental levels of research – empirical, actual and real – thereby enhancing the effectiveness of its application in practice. Therefore, reconceptualisation of the SI perspective theoretical paradigm from interpretivism to CR offers greater benefits not only to this research study but to the IS field. This is yet another development in the field which seeks to address the long-standing challenge of IS value contribution that is constantly diminished by ineffective design methods and poor integration of the IST and BIA disciplines, which by design should be leveraging on each other’s strengths in a quest to deliver superior results to businesses. Business requirements analysed as input into the design process using the integrative CR-based design method account for BIA requirements, thus enhancing value derived from both IST and BIA.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of the Witwatersrand, Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, Wits Business School, 2016.
Dlamini, Noxolo Siphelele (2016) Social informatics perspective as an integrative design method for information systems technology and business intelligence and analytics: a critical realist study, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, <>