In A Quest to Solve Information System Agility Problems : A SaaS Experience
Change is endemic in modern business competition. In an age of globalisation, with the rapid development of information technologies (IT), changes occur at a much faster pace, and are also more unpredictable. Being agile in a turbulent environment has been ranked highly by executives in surveys of business issues conducted in past five years. Today nearly all organisations rely on information systems (IS) to operate. IS Agility is critical in achieving overall agility and performance in business. However, despite the strong interest from the practitioner community, IS Agility in academia has often been perceived as an overly abstract concept that is difficult to study. Resultantly, despite its importance, little has been published on how to systematically solve IS Agility problems with theoretical rigour and practical relevance. This “how to” question is a challenging one to researchers and is the major motivation of the present study. A key difficulty to study IS Agility is the lack of a solid conceptualisation. In this thesis, based on a multidisciplinary literature review looking for a unified theory of IS Agility, we proposed the IS Agility Nomological Network (ISANN) as a holistic conceptualisation to be used for problem solving. Such a conceptualisation includes an IS Agility Cycle illustrating four stages (i.e. Sense, Diagnose, Select, and Execute) of the dynamic interactions between IS and its human agents (e.g. IS users and IS developers), a decision tree presenting four main IS Agility drivers (i.e. Change Frequency, Uncertainty, Information Intensity, and Time Criticality), and a pyramid incorporating four IS Agility Providers (i.e. Agile System-Development, Agile-System Architecture, Agile System-Operation, and Agile-System Configuration ). We classify IS Agility as having at least two sides, Dev Agility and Ops Agility. The former represents the agility of IS development function while the later refers to the IS operation function. We believe they are not the same, as agility in system development process doesn’t necessarily translate to agility in the resulting system operation. To be able to answer the “how to” question and design a systematic problem-solving approach, we then operationalised ISANN by developing data and task models in real-world settings. These models were used to investigate and analyse IS Agility problems faced by Software as a Service (SaaS) adopters. Such a SaaS environment, due to its multi-tenancy nature, provides a great opportunity to observe the interactions and trade-offs between Dev Agility (e.g. stories from engineers and developers) and Ops Agility (e.g. stories from operators and users), as well as an abundant source of IS Agility related business problems. Eventually, more elements and factors emerged from this SaaS practice and were merged into the final artefact created in this study: ISACAM (Information System Agility Causation Analysis Method). ISACAM incorporates all the dimensions and facts derived from the theoretical conceptualisation and the ongoing real-world problem-solving practice. The effectiveness of ISACAM in solving IS Agility problems has been observed through improved performance in real-life businesses. Furthermore, five technological rules have been synthesised to offer a prescription for designing solutions to improve IS Agility.