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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Corporations and the Management of Information Technology, 1964-2000


In an analysis of data on the failed institutionalization of a top management position for Management Information Systems (MIS), among 430 large American public companies between 1964 and 1994, I find an effect of both rhetorical advocacy for MIS and technological change. While factors associated with functional demands for MIS can explain some of the variance in the diffusion of MIS positions among corporate offices, media promulgation of MIS, the rise and fall of strategic planning, and the steep rise of microcomputer use affect the adoption pattern over time. The likelihood for office creation varies with the extent to which management knowledge entrepreneurs promulgated MIS as a fashion. In the 1980s, public support for MIS began to fade. Data processing experts proved unsuccessful in sustaining top executives’ interest for this organizational technique. MIS had aroused top management attention through an emphasis on the benefits of computers for strategic planning. When executives’ interest for strategic planning waned, so did MIS. Tying the MIS concept closely to the use of mainframe computers, MIS propagators underestimated the threat posed by the diffusion of decentralized computing in corporations. The advent of PCs at the workplace had a significant negative effect on the propensity for a firm to create an MIS office. The paper adds to new institutional theory by exploring the conditions under which the institutionalization of an organizational form fails.

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