It was a great pleasure to see Florian Allwein, my PhD student, successfully defend his PhD today. The thesis has significant lessons for practitioners interested in the role of their digital technology in promoting agility within large organisations.The abstract of Dr Allwein’s thesis:
Organizational agility has received much attention from practitioners and researchers in Information Systems. Existing research, however, has been criticised for a lack of variety. Moreover, as a consequence of digitalization, information systems are turning from traditional, monolithic systems to open systems defined by characteristics like modularity and generativity. The concept of digital infrastructures captures this shift and stresses the evolving, socio-technical nature of such systems. This thesis sees IT in large companies as digital infrastructures and organizational agility as a performance within them. In order to explain how such infrastructures can support performances of agility, a focus on the interactions between IT, information and the user and design communities within them is proposed. A case study was conducted within Telco, a large telecommunications firm in the United Kingdom. It presents three projects employees regarded as agile. Data was collected through interviews, observations of work practices and documents. A critical realist ontology is applied in order to identify generative mechanisms for agility. The mechanism of agilization – making an organization more agile by cultivating digital infrastructures and minding flows of information to attain an appropriate level of agility – is proposed to explain the interactions between digital infrastructures and performances of agility. It is supported by the related mechanisms of informatization and infrastructuralization. Furthermore, the thesis finds that large organizations do not strive for agility unreservedly, instead aiming for bounded agility in well-defined areas that does not put the business at risk. This thesis contributes to the literature by developing the concept of agility as a performance and illustrating how it aligns with digital infrastructures. The proposed mechanisms contribute to an emerging mid-range theory of organizational agility that will also be useful for practitioners. The thesis also contributes clear definitions of the terms “information” and “data” and aligns them to the ontology of critical realism.