Exploring the links between inter-organisational systems and flexibility
The attainment of flexibility has become increasingly important for organisations. Previous research shows that information systems can provide flexibility. This study investigates, at an exploratory level, the proposition that lOS and flexibility are connected. The research method combined a postal survey and two case studies of inter-organisational networks. A review of the literature shows that flexibility has never been operationally defined within the context of lOS. In carrying out the research flexibility is defined as 'the capacity to adapt'. In particular it is the ability to adapt along four dimensions; first, temporal, how long it takes an organisation to adapt; second, range, the extent to which organisations can adapt to foreseen and unforeseen circumstances; third, intention, whether the organisation is being proactive or reactive in its adoption and fourth; focus, whether the flexibility is gained internally within the organisation or by managing external relationships with trading partners. The first part of the study finds some support for the proposition that the technologies used for lOS provide flexibility. The second part of the study finds that organisations are obtaining flexibility from using lOS. In particular lOS are improving the efficiency, responsiveness, versatility and robustness of organisations. These improvements are occurring both within organisations and across the value chain. The degree to which organisations gain flexibility from lOS differs. Certain characteristics of organisations are found to have a positive relationship with the level of flexibility being gained from lOS. These are (i) adopting lOS for offensive competitive reasons, (ii) integrating the lOS plan with the IS plan, (iii) integrating the lOS plan with the business plan, (iv) initiating the adoption of lOS, (v) integrating lOS with other IS software in the organisation, (v) possessing high levels of internal IT expertise, (vi) operating in a competitive environment and (vii) longevity of lOS use. The size of an organisation is not found to be related to the degree of flexibility being achieved. Similarly the industry sector in which an organisation operates is not a good predictor of the extent to which lOS provide flexibility.