Toward Enabling IS Agility with Initiatives
Wanda Opprecht, Anastasiya Yurchyshyna and Michel Léonard
Institute of Services Science, University of Geneva, 7 rte de Drize, 1227 Carouge, Switzerland
Keywords: Initiatives, IS Agility, Agility Enabler, IS Evolution, IS Steering.
Abstract: The uncertain, unpredictable and ever-changing conditions of the information system (IS) enterprise
environment require adaptive and holistic approaches from the IS engineering methods. As an answer, the
agile paradigm has emerged in the business as well as in the software and IS development. In this context,
we consider the idea that initiatives could play a prominent role in the IS evolution steering, particularly to
the enterprise IS agility. IS evolution initiatives should be considered as opportunities for an IS to
sustainably evolve, to support the enterprise transversal and value-creating activities and to be part of the IS
steering methods. In this paper, we define the notion of initiative and propose an approach based on a set of
inter-related IS steering meta-models and method components where initiatives play the role of agility
In order to deal with the uncertain, unpredictable and
ever-changing conditions of the Information System
(IS) enterprise environment, adaptive and holistic
approaches must prevail in the IS engineering. It is
not possible to acquire or plan all the needed
information that changes with the environment.
Indeed, contingency may arise from any parts of the
IS: organizational (with, for example, new business
processes, units re-organisation, companies mergers
and acquisitions), technological (with the
introduction of new hard or soft technologies) or
ontological (with law abrogation, law modification
or new industrial standards). Consequently, we
claim the importance of developing IS engineering
methods toward building agile IS, and to this
purpose we introduce here our approach based on
However, enabling IS agility is not an easy task.
This can be explained by several reasons: the need
for signals capture and exploitation, the co-existence
of multiple ISs in the organisation and the need for
balancing decision making between IS stability and
adaptation, to mention but a few. Therefore, to
enable IS evolution in a coherent and sustainable
way, IS steering is necessary. IS steering relies on
the informational space models which interoperate
the ontological, the organisational and the
technological spaces models. Its task consists in
assuring that all models are coherently articulated,
and in managing the IS development toward this
purpose. In order to cope with agility, we believe
that IS steering must take into account the initiatives
of IS evolution. Initiatives represent a pre-project
phase where the IS stakeholders are empowered to
make a proposal of IS evolution.
Organisation-wise, the home grounds of our
approach are organisations with organic
characteristics (Sherehiy, 2007). System-wise, our
approach takes into account possible multiple ISs
supporting the organisational activities (e.g.
Marketing IS and HR IS) and possible multiple
informational services (e.g. Training Service,
Recruiting Service). We argue that initiatives play a
role of agility enablers for the IS development,
thanks to their embedded agility allowing guiding
the management towards the purpose of IS
Section 2 introduces the key concepts of
initiative. Section 3 presents related research works.
Section 4 outlines our approach of IS Steering with
initiatives with our IS Steering meta-models and sets
of method components. Section 5 summarises the
contributions of the paper.
Opprecht W., Yurchyshyna A. and Léonard M..
Toward Enabling IS Agility with Initiatives.
DOI: 10.5220/0004093202780282
In Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems (ICEIS-2012), pages 278-282
ISBN: 978-989-8565-12-9
2012 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
2.1 Initiatives of IS Evolution
An initiative is defined in (Opprecht, 2010) as a
proposal leading to the actions and mechanisms
allowing to place the stakeholders concerned by the
development of an IS in a situation of exploration
for the discovery of new IS services. It can concern:
a "request for discussion" (a tacit need and a not yet
defined situation, such as an intuition), a "request for
answer" (a defined situation without a proposed
answer) or a "direct proposition of action" (a
situation with a possible answer to be discussed and
validated). Initiatives may arise from the different
spaces of our reference model and for different
reasons: organisational, ontological, technological or
informational. Moreover, they may originate from
multiple spaces (for example: both organisational
and informational).
An example of IS evolution initiative could be
issued by a group of employees from several
departments following the launch of an
organisation's wide evaluation toward an external
qualification process. This initiative would request
the creation of a self-service platform as part of their
organisation's intranet, allowing anyone to create
virtual workgroups. Among the several concerns it
may raise, there are: the co-edited content
ownership, the mobile access to the platform, the
service's relationship to the organisation's ERP, etc.
2.2 Benefits of Initiatives Usage &
There are several reasons for considering the usage
of initiatives. First of all, an initiative aims at
answering to the IS evolution complexity with the
gathering of multiple stakeholders (who may
represent the different IS spaces) into a collaborative
process. Then, it ensures the acceptance of business
decisions through committing the stakeholders to the
decisions made. Finally, it represents a triggering
environment for the innovation.
Moreover, the management of initiatives brings
several benefits. It gives an environment for the
decision constructing leading to the decision taking
(Yurchyshyna, 2011). It also permits to regulate the
initiatives flow and consequently avoid the anarchic
situations. It allows one to acquire the IS evolution
requirements through stakeholders empowerment
that may not have been otherwise acquired with
traditional techniques. It promotes the
interoperability of the ontological, organisational,
technological and informational structures. Finally,
it allows the IS to be sustainable, that is to be
capable to adapt itself to its environment, to
dynamically integrate the ever-changing conditions
of its environment, and to be sustainably coherent
with its evolving challenges.
3.1 The Initiatives' Facets
The phenomenon of an initiative is explained by its
multi-faceted origin, which is characteristic for
different domains of science and business.
In the political sense, the initiative represents a
central device of the direct democracy (Trechsel,
1996). A popular initiative can be made either on the
federal, the cantonal or the municipal level, and can
be either promoting or rejecting (vetoing a
parliamentary bill). In the context of the design of
mixed-initiative AI (artificial intelligence) systems,
where both users and machines dialog together,
multiple theories explain the term of initiative
(Cohen, 1998): as a control over the flow of
conversation, as an exercising power to perform a
task for solving a problem, as seizing the control of a
conversation by presenting a goal to achieve or as
the first step of a goal-oriented process with a certain
level of strengths. In the context of the behavioural
psychology (Frese, 2001), personal initiatives
represent a behaviour which pursuits self-set goals
(contrary to assigned goals). Three aspects
characterize it: self-starting, proactive and persisting.
3.2 The Agile Response
Agility is the capability of a method to cope with
uncertainty in a reactive as well as proactive manner.
It forms a paradigmatic approach since the
beginning of the 1990s (Huumonen, 2011), in the
mainstream business literature first, then across
many fields and disciplines such as in the software
development (with the agile methodologies Extreme
Programming/XP and Scrum for the most popular)
and in the information system engineering.
Although many definitions of agility co-exist,
and may lack of conceptual grounding
(Abrahamsson, 2009) (Huumonen, 2011), several
benefits to embrace an agile strategy/methodology
can be listed: flexibility and adaptability,
responsiveness (quick and efficient reaction to
changing requests), speed, integration (of
information technology, personnel, business process
organisation, innovation and facilities), low
complexity, mobilization of core competences, high
quality and customized products, culture of change,
removal of non-value-added activities, stakeholders
satisfaction and finally unison of the enterprise
resources to compete with the changes in the
environment and to create business value.
3.3 Information Systems Agility
As pointed out by (Desouza, 2007), little literature
examines the concept of IS agility in an integrated
manner, with management and technological aspects
in concert.
As an answer to the problem of IS alignment to
the organisation's business strategy, (Galliers, 2007)
presents a framework for information systems
strategizing which comprehends exploitation,
exploration and change management strategies in an
infrastructure of knowledge creation and sharing.
For him, agility "is more likely to emerge from a
creative process of exploration, and not from
mechanistic, prescriptive, and commoditized
techniques and technologies".
In (Maurer, 2010), three dimensions of IS agility
are defined in order to develop a scale for measuring
IS agility: technical infrastructure agility (hardware,
platform, network, application and information
agility), IS process agility (maintenance process,
planning process agility, development, process
agility, monitoring & assessment process agility)
and human characteristics (behavioural, business
and technical skills). In (Lui, 2007), the authors
identify four components of an IS agility, namely:
technology, process, people and structure agility,
and propose a technique for measuring degrees of
agility in information systems based on fuzzy logic.
3.4 Research Contribution & Scope
Our present contribution addresses the question of IS
agility with the comprehension of the multiple IS
dimensions (i.e. organisational, ontological,
technological and informational). In contrast to other
works, there is no intention here to define a
methodology for business/IT, IS/strategy or
IS/business processes alignment. We rather propose
a framework for IS Steering which takes into
account the ever-changing conditions of the IS
environment, which empowers any IS stakeholders
to make a proposal of IS evolution, and, finally,
which gives to the information a central role. Our
principal focus is to build an agile IS, not to build
agile methods for IS engineering.
4.1 Initiatives as Agility Enablers
We argue that initiatives may play a role of agility
enablers because they share the following
characteristics of agility identified in the literature
(Sharifi, 1999), (Sherehiy, 2007), (Siakas, 2007),
(Huumonon, 2011), (Iivari, 2011), (Tseng, 2011)
and (Iivari, 2011): stakeholders’ empowerment,
holistic comprehension, change adaptation and
response, opportunities identification and
collaborative process.
Indeed, the IS Steering with initiatives allows the
self-seizure of a control (or empowerment) from the
IS stakeholders who endorse the role of initiators.
Our initiatives-based approach also comprehends a
holistic view with: (i) the interoperability of the
organisational, technological, ontological and
informational models; (ii) the transdisciplinary
practice which our initiatives-based approach
encourages. Another reason for considering the
initiatives as agility enablers, is because the IS
requirements for change are raised with the
initiatives environment in an organic manner,
allowing to capture requirements which may not
have been otherwise acquired. Moreover, with
initiatives, opportunities are identified and proposed
by the initiator(s) and discussed by the initiatives
participants as pre-projects. Finally, our approach
for supporting initiatives toward IS evolution also
comprises a collaborative process where the
initiatives are co-elaborated.
4.2 IS Steering Meta-models
In order to guide the IS steering with initiatives we
build a product model ("IS Steering Meta-models")
and a set of process models ("IS Steering
The IS Steering meta-models, which we can only
broadly present here comprehend: an activity model,
a technological model, an ontological model and an
informational model. The later is broken up into
three levels: Global, (Several) IS and Service levels.
Indeed, as we have already mentioned in the
introduction, we aim at supporting the IS evolution
in the context of possibly multiple ISs in an
organisation ("IS level"), and to the purpose of IS
steering, we propose to generate a global level "by
deduction" of the IS level. We also define a third
level ("Service level") for modelling the
informational services which are based on the
informational elements existing in on one or more
4.3 IS Steering Guidelines
Based on the previous meta-models, we build a set
of IS steering guidelines which can be adapted to a
given situation and assembled with one another.
Two sets of method components are considered:
method components for the IS steering, and method
components for the collaborative engineering of an
The first set of method components regards the
process of IS steering toward evolution. They
propose directives for instantiating the steering
referential, for identifying and characterizing the IS
evolution and for identifying the impacts of an
evolution. The following levels of coordination are
considered: several ISs, global (or federal) and
services. The second set of method components
regards the collaborative engineering of an initiative
with the following intentions: initiative launch,
initiative categorization, call for participation,
ideation, initiative abstraction, initiative concepts
description, initiative modelling, initiative
evaluation and build consensus.
In this paper we introduce the concept of initiative in
the context of the IS evolution steering where the
initiatives play the role of agility enablers. We draw
the outlines of our IS Steering meta-models and of
our sets of method components for IS evolution. The
question of IS agility remains complex, nevertheless,
we believe that agility is more inclined to emerge
from a creative process of exploration such as the
one we propose with initiatives, and not from a pure
mechanistic or prescriptive approach.
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