Journal of Information Technology

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 1–19 | Cite as

Design theory for dynamic complexity in information infrastructures: the case of building internet

Research Article

Abstract

We propose a design theory that tackles dynamic complexity in the design for Information Infrastructures (IIs) defined as a shared, open, heterogeneous and evolving socio-technical system of Information Technology (IT) capabilities. Examples of IIs include the Internet, or industry-wide Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) networks. IIs are recursively composed of other infrastructures, platforms, applications and IT capabilities and controlled by emergent, distributed and episodic forms of control. II's evolutionary dynamics are nonlinear, path dependent and influenced by network effects and unbounded user and designer learning. The proposed theory tackles tensions between two design problems related to the II design: (1) the bootstrap problem: IIs need to meet directly early users’ needs in order to be initiated; and (2) the adaptability problem: local designs need to recognize II's unbounded scale and functional uncertainty. We draw upon Complex Adaptive Systems theory to derive II design rules that address the bootstrap problem by generating early growth through simplicity and usefulness, and the adaptability problem by promoting modular and generative designs. We illustrate these principles by analyzing the history of Internet exegesis.

Keywords

design theory Complex Adaptive Systems information infrastructure Internet historical case study 

References

  1. Aanestad, M. and Hanseth, O. (2002). Growing Networks: Detours, stunts and spillovers, Proceedings of COOP 2002, Fifth International Conference on the Design of Cooperative Systems, St. Raphael, France, 4–6th June 2002.Google Scholar
  2. Abbate, J. (1999). Inventing the Internet, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Agresti, W.W. (1986). The Conventional Software Life-Cycle Model: Its evolution and assumptions, in W.W. Agresti (ed.) New Paradigms for Software Development, Washington, D.C: IEEE Computer Society.Google Scholar
  4. Arthur, W.B. (1994). Increasing Returns and Path Dependence in the Economy, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Attewell, P. (1992). Technology Diffusion and Organizational Learning: The case of business computing, Organization Science 3 (1): 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Axelrod, R.M. and Cohen, M.D. (1999). Harnessing Complexity: Organizational implications of a scientific frontier, New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  7. Baldwin, C. and Clark, K. (2000). Design Rules, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  8. BCS/RAE (2004). The challenges of complex IT projects, British Computer Society and Royal Academy Engineering Project [www document], http://www.bcs.org/upload/pdf/complexity.pdf (accessed August 2009).
  9. Benbya, H. and McKelvey, B. (2006). Toward Complexity Theory of Information System Development, Information, Technology and People 19 (1): 12–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks. How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Berners-Lee, T. and Fischetti, M. (1999). Weaving the Web-The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of World Wide Web by Its Inventor, San Francisco: Harper-Collins.Google Scholar
  12. Boehm, B.W. (1976). Software Engineering, IEEE Transactions on Computers C-25 (12): 1226–1241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Boland, R., Lyytinen, K. and Yoo, Y. (2006). Path Creation with Digital 3D Representations: Networks of innovation in architecture, engineering and construction, Organization Science 18: 631–647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bowker, G. and Star, S.L. (1999). Sorting Things Out. Classification and Its Consequences, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  15. Braa, J., Hanseth, O., Mohammed, W., Heywood, A. and Shaw, V. (2007). Developing Health Information Systems in Developing Countries – The flexible standards strategy, MIS Quarterly 31 (2): 381–402.Google Scholar
  16. Carpa, F. (1996). The Web of Life. A new scientific understanding of living systems, London: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  17. Cats-Baril, W. and Jelassi, T. (1994). The French Videotext System Minitel: A successful implementation of national information technology infrastructure, MIS Quarterly 18 (1): 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Chung, S., Kelly Rainer, R. and Lewis, B. (2003). The Impact of Information Technology Infrastructure Flexibility on Strategic Alignment and Applications Implementation, Communications of the Association of Information Systems 11: 191–206.Google Scholar
  19. Ciborra, C., Braa, K., Cordella, A., Dahlbom, B., Failla, A., Hanseth, O., Hepsø, V., Ljungberg, J., Monteiro, E. and Simon, K. (2000). From Control to Drift. The Dynamics of Corporate Information Infrastructures, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Contini, F. and Lanzara, G.F. (eds.) (2009). ICT and Innovation in the Public Sector, Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cordella, A. (2004). Standardization in Action, Paper presented at European Conference on Information Systems, Turku, Finland, 14–16th June 2004.Google Scholar
  22. Damsgaard, J. and Lyytinen, K. (2001). Building Electronic Trading Infrastructure: A private or public responsibility, Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce 11 (2): 131–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. David, P.A. (1986). Understanding the Economics of QWERTY, in W.N. Parker (ed.) Economic History and the Modern Economist, Oxford and New York: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  24. David, P.A. (2001). The Beginnings and Prospective Ending of ‘End-to-End’ – An evolutionary perspective on internet architecture, Working Papers 01012, Stanford University, Department of Economics [www document] http://ideas.repec.org/p/wop/stanec/01012.html.
  25. DeMarco, T. (1978). Structured Analysis and System Specification, New York, NY: Yourdon Press.Google Scholar
  26. Dooley, K. (1996). Complex Adaptive Systems: A nominal definition, [www document] http://www.public.asu.edu/~kdooley/papers/casdef.PDF (accessed 13th August 2009).
  27. Edwards, P., Jackson, S., Bowker, G. and Knobel, C. (2007). Report of a Workshop on ‘History and Theory of Infrastructures: Lessons for new scientific infrastructures’, University of Michigan, School of Information [www document] http://www.si.umich.edu/InfrastructureWorkshop/documents/UnderstandingInfrastructure2007.pdf (accessed 15th March 2007).
  28. Egyedi, T.M. (2002). Standards Enhance System Flexibility? Mapping Compatibility Strategies Onto Flexibility Objectives, http://www.tudelft.nl/live/binaries/0b330c26-def4-45e3-a367-43b61bf0ae45/doc/mapping.pdf.
  29. Eisenhardt, K. (1989). Building Theories from Case Study Research, Academy Management Review 14 (4): 532–550.Google Scholar
  30. Evans, D.S., Hagiu, A. and Schmalensee, R. (2006). Invisible Engines: How software platforms drive innovation and transform industries, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  31. Faraj, S., Kwon, D. and Watts, S. (2004). Contested Artifact: Technology sensemaking, actor networks, and the shaping of the web browser, Information Technology & People 17 (2): 186–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Fichman, R. (2004). Real Options and IT Platform Adoption: Implications for theory and practice, Information Systems Research 15 (2): 132–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Freeman, P.A. (2007). Is ‘Designing’ Cyberinfrastructure – or, even, defining it – possible? First Monday 12 (6), (June 2007) [www document] http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue12_6/freeman/index.html (accessed 8th August 2007).
  34. Funk, J.L. (2002). Global Competition Between and within Standards: The case of mobile phones, New York: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Giddens, A. (1984). The Constitution of Society, London: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  36. Greenhalgh, T., Stramer, K., Bratan, T., Byrne, E., Mohammad, Y. and Russell, J. (2008). Introduction of Shared Electronic Records: Multi-site case study using diffusion of innovation theory, British Medical Journal, (Clinical research edn) 337: a1786.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gregor, S. (2006). The Nature of Theory in Information Systems, MIS Quarterly 30 (3): 611–642.Google Scholar
  38. Grindley, P. (1995). Standards, Strategy, and Politics. Cases and Stories, New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Grisot, M. (2008). Foregrounding Differences: A performative approach to the coordination of distributed work and information infrastructures in use, Ph.D. Thesis, Departments of Informatics, University of Oslo, Norway.Google Scholar
  40. Hanseth, O. (2000). The Economics of Standards, in Ciborra et al. (eds.), From Control to Drift. The Dynamics of Corporate Information Infrastructures, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 56–70.Google Scholar
  41. Hanseth, O. (2001). Gateways – Just as important as standards. How the internet won the ‘religious war’ about standards in Scandinavia, Knowledge, Technology and Policy 14 (3): 71–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hanseth, O. and Aanestad, M. (2003). Bootstrapping Networks, Infrastructures and Communities, Methods of Information in Medicine 42: 384–391.Google Scholar
  43. Hanseth, O. and Ciborra, C. (2007). Risk, Complexity and ICT, Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hanseth, O. and Lundberg, N. (2001). Information Infrastructure in Use – An empirical study at a radiology department, Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). The Journal of Collaborative Computing 10 (3–4): 347–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Hanseth, O. and Monteiro, E. (1997). Inscribing Behaviour in Information Infrastructure Standards, Accounting Management and Information Technology 7 (4): 183–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hanseth, O., Monteiro, E. and Hatling, M. (1996). Developing Information Infrastructure: The tension between standardization and flexibility, Science, Technology and Human Values 21 (4): 407–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Holland, J. (1995). Hidden Order, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Reading.Google Scholar
  48. Hovav, A. and Schuff, D. (2005). ‘The Changing Dynamic of the Internet’ Early and Late Adopters of Ipv6 Standard, Communications of the Association of the Information Systems 15: 242–262.Google Scholar
  49. Hughes, T.P. (1987). The Evolution of Large Technical Systems, in W.E. Bijker, T.P. Hughes and T. Pinch (eds.) The Social Construction of Technological Systems, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  50. Kahn, R.E. (1994). The Role of Government in the Evolution of the Internet, Communications of the ACM 37 (8): 415–419, Special issue on Internet technology.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Kahn, R.E. (2006). Personal interview on phone 6th December 2006.Google Scholar
  52. Kallinikos, J. (2004). Deconstructing Information Packages: Organizational and behavioural implications of large scale information systems, Information Technology and People 17 (1): 8–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kallinikos, J. (2006). Information out of Information: On the self-referential dynamics of information growth, Information Technology and People 19 (1): 98–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Kallinikos, J. (2007). Technology, Contingency and Risk: The vagaries of large-scale information systems, in O. Hanseth and C. Ciborra (eds.), Risk, Complexity and ICT. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 46–74.Google Scholar
  55. Kayworth, T. and Sambamurthy, S. (2000). Facilitating Localized Exploitation of Enterprise Wide Integration in the use of IT Infrastructures: The role of PC/LAN infrastructure standards, The Data Base for Advances in Information Systems 31 (4): 54–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Kling, R. (1992). Behind the Terminal: The critical role of computing infrastructure in effective information systems’ development and use, in W. Cotterman and J. Senn (eds.) Challenges and Strategies for Research in Systems Development, London: John Wiley, pp. 153–201.Google Scholar
  57. Kling, R. and Scacchi, W. (1982). The Web of Computing: Computing technology as social organization, Advances in Computers, New York: Academic Press, Vol. 21, pp. 3–87.Google Scholar
  58. Kozlowski, S. and Klein, K. (2000). A Multi-Level Approach to Theory and Research in Organizations: Contextual, temporal and emergent processes, in K. Klein and S. Kozlowski (eds.) Multilevel Theory, Research and Methods in Organizations, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 3–90.Google Scholar
  59. Latour, B. (1999). Pandora's Hope. Essays on the Reality of Science Studies, Cambridge, MA; London, UK: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Lee, C., Dourish, P. and Mark, G. (2006). The Human Infrastructure of the Cyberinfrastructure, Proceedings of CSCW’06 (Banf, Canada); New York: ACM Press, 483–492.Google Scholar
  61. Leiner, B.M., Cerf, V.C., Clark, D.D., Kahn, R.E., Kleinrock, L., Lynch, D.C., Postel, J., Roberts, L.G. and Wolff, S.S. (1997). The Past and Future History of the Internet, Communications of the ACM 40 (2): 102–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Lessig, L. (2001). The Future of Ideas: The fate of the commons in a connected world, New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  63. Lindgren, R., Hendfridsson, O. and Schultze, U. (2004). Design Principles for Competence Management Systems: A synthesis of an action research study, MIS Quarterly 28 (3): 435–472.Google Scholar
  64. Lyytinen, K. and Fomin, W. (2002). Achieving High Momentum in the Evolution of Wireless Infrastructures: The battle over the 1G solutions, Telecommunications Policy 26: 149–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. March, J.G. (1991). Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning, Organization Science 2 (1): 71–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Markus, M.L., Majchrzak, A. and Gasser, L. (2002). A Design Theory for Systems That Support Emergent Knowledge Processes, MIS Quarterly 26 (3): 179–212.Google Scholar
  67. Markus, M.L., Steinfield, C.W., Wigand, R.T. and Minton, G. (2006). Industry-Wide Information Systems Standardization as Collective Action: The case of the US residential mortgage industry, MIS Quarterly 30 (Special Issue on Standardization August 2006): 439–465.Google Scholar
  68. Mashey, J. (2009). The Long Road to 64 Bits, Communications of the ACM 52 (1): 45–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Monteiro, E. (1998). Scaling Information Infrastructure: The case of the next generation IP in internet, The Information Society 14 (3): 229–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Nickerson, J.V. and zur Muehlen, M. (2006). The Ecology of Standards Processes: Insights from internet standard making, MIS Quarterly 30 (5): 467–488.Google Scholar
  71. Olle, T.W., Soland, H.G. and Tully., C.J. (eds.) (1983). Information Systems Design Methodologies: A feature analysis, Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier Science Publishers B.V.Google Scholar
  72. Parnas, D.L. (1972). A Technique for Software Module Specification with Examples, Communications of the ACM 15 (5): 330–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Pipek, V. and Wulf, V. (2009). Infrastructuring: Toward an integrated perspective on the design and use of information technology, Journal of the Association for Information Systems 10 (5): 447–473.Google Scholar
  74. Porra, J. (1999). Colonial Systems, Information Systems Research 10 (1): 38–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. RFC (1994). The Internet Standards Process – Revision 2, RFC 1602, IAB and IESG, http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc1602.txt.
  76. RFC (1995). The Recommendation for the IP Next Generation Protocol, RFC 1752, IAB and IESG, http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc1752.txt.
  77. Rheingold, H. (1993). The Virtual Community: Homesteading the electronic frontier, Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.Google Scholar
  78. Robey, D. (2003). Identity, Legitimacy, and the Dominant Research Paradigm: An alternative prescription for the IS discipline, Journal of the Association of for Information Systems 4 (6): 352–359.Google Scholar
  79. Rose, M.T. (1992). The Future of OSI: A modest prediction, in G. Neufeld and B. Plattner (eds.), Proceedings of the Usenix Conference 1992; Berkley USA: USENIX Association.Google Scholar
  80. Ross, D.T. and Schoman Jr., K.E. (1977). Structured Analysis for Requirements Definition, IEEE Transactions of Software Engineering SE 3 (1): 69–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Russell, A. (2006). Rough Consensus and Running Code’ and the Internet – OSI standards war, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 28 (July–September): 48–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Saltzer, J.H., Reed, D.P. and Clark, D.D. (1984). End-to-End Arguments in Systems Design, ACM Transactions on Computer Systems 2: 277–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Sauer, C. and Willcocks, L. (2007). Unreasonable Expectations – NHS IT, Greek choruses and the games institutions play around mega-programmes, Journal of Information Technology 22: 195–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Scacchi, W. (2009). Understanding Requirements for Open Source Software, in K. Lyytinen, P. Loucopoulos, J. Mylopoulos and W. Robinson (eds.) Design Requirements Engineering: A ten-year perspective, LNBIP 14, Berling and Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, pp. 467–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Schmidt, S.K. and Werle, R. (1998). Coordinating Technology. Studies in the International Standardization of Telecommunications, Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  86. Scott, R.W. (2001). Institutions and Organizations, London: Sage.Google Scholar
  87. Shapiro, C. and Varian, H.R. (1999). Information Rules: A strategic guide to the network economy, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  88. Simon, H. (1969). The Sciences of the Artificial, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  89. Stacey, R.D. (1996). Complexity and Creativity in Organisations, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.Google Scholar
  90. Star, L.S. and Ruhleder, K. (1996). Steps Toward an Ecology of Infrastructure: Design and access of large information spaces, Information Systems Research 7 (1): 111–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Stefferud, E. (1994). Paradigms Lost, Connexions. The Interoperability Report 8 (1).Google Scholar
  92. Steinberg, S.G. (1995). Addressing the Future of the Net, WIRED 3 (May): 141–144.Google Scholar
  93. Tilson, D. (2008). Reconfiguring to Innovate: Innovation networks during the evolution of wireless services in the United States and the United Kingdom, Ph.D. Thesis, Department of Information Systems, Case Western Reserve University.Google Scholar
  94. Tilson, D. and Lyytinen, K. (2006). The 3G Transition: Changes in the US wireless industry, Telecommunication Policy 30: 569–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Tuomi, I. (2002). Networks of Innovation. Change and Meaning in the Age of the Internet, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  96. Wagner, A. (2007). Robustness and Evolvability in Living Systems, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  97. Walls, J.G., Widmeyer, G.R. and El Sawy, O.A. (1992). Building an Information System Design Theory for Vigilant EIS, Information Systems Research 3 (1): 36–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Walls, J.G., Widmeyer, G.R. and El Sawy, O.A. (2004). Assessing Information System Design Theory in Perspective: How useful was our 1992 rendition? Journal of Information Technology Theory and application 6 (2): 43–58.Google Scholar
  99. Weick, K.E. (1989). Theory Construction as Disciplined Imagination, Academy of Management Review 14 (4): 516–531.Google Scholar
  100. Weill, P. and Broadbent, M. (1998). Leveraging the New Infrastructure, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  101. Wigand, R.T., Lynne Markus, M., Steinfield, C.W. and Minton, G. (2006). Standards, Collective Action and IS Development – Vertical information systems standards in the US home mortgage industry, MIS Quarterly, Special Issue on Standards and Standardization 30: 439–465.Google Scholar
  102. Williams, R. and Pollock, N. (2008). Software and Organisations – The biography of the enterprise-wide system or how SAP conquered the world, London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Yoo, Y., Lyytinen, K. and Yang, E. (2005). The Role of Standards in Innovation and Diffusion of Broadband Mobile Services: The case of South Korea, Journal of Strategic Information Systems 14 (2): 323–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Zimmerman, A. (2007). A Socio-Technical Framework for Cyberinfrastructure Design, in Proceedings of e-Social Science Conference (Ann Arbor, Michigan, October).Google Scholar
  105. Zittrain, J. (2006). The Generative Internet, Harward Law Review 119: 1974–2040.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Association for Information Technology Trust 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of InformaticsUniversity of OsloNorway
  2. 2.Department of Information SystemsWeatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA

Personalised recommendations