Electronic Markets

, Volume 20, Issue 3–4, pp 229–240 | Cite as

The difficulty of studying inter-organisational IS phenomena on large scales: critical reflections on a research journey

  • Kai ReimersEmail author
  • Robert B. Johnston
  • Stefan Klein
General Research


We argue that certain theoretical commitments that underpin much existing Inter-organisational Information Systems (IOIS) research at small scales become untenable when IOIS are studied at the scale of whole industries and over time periods greater than individual implementation projects. We make this argument by a detailed analysis of the problems we encountered when applying conventional research design methods in the early stages of a five year international comparative study of IOIS in pharmaceutical supply chains in four countries. We found that the large scale of our unit required a move away from the construction of discrete variables (dependent and independent) as well as from input-output process logic, to an alternate modelling approach derived from Structuration Theory and Practice Theory. We illustrate the revelatory power of this new lens by applying it to two cases. The paper will be of interest to IOIS researchers because we have systematically worked out the reasons for difficulties that limit IOIS research to unit and time scales smaller that the actual phenomenon. Because we refused to limit our own research object in this way, we ventured further into these problematic areas than others.


Inter-organisational Information Systems (IOIS) Research design IS theory Structuration theory Practice theory Pharmaceutical industry 

JEL Classification

I11 - Analysis of Health Care Markets 



The first and the third author would like to acknowledge support by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, grant number 1328/2-2.


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Copyright information

© Institute of Information Management, University of St. Gallen 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kai Reimers
    • 1
    Email author
  • Robert B. Johnston
    • 2
  • Stefan Klein
    • 3
  1. 1.Faculty of Business and EconomicsRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  2. 2.Centre for Innovation, Technology & OrganisationUniversity College DublinDublinIreland
  3. 3.Department of Information SystemsUniversity of MuensterMuensterGermany

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