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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Behind the terminal : the critical role of computing infrastructure in effective information systems development and use


Contemporary approaches to systems analysis ignore the importance of computing infrastructure -- the kinds of resources necessary for making computerized system workable and effective. Infrastructure includes "hard resources" such as electricity and physical space; it also includes human resources such as the skill levels of systems users and maintainer.

Systems analyses which account for infrastructure can help lead to more effective recommendations. The key organizing ideas of this paper, web models, are based on almost 20 years of empirical studies of the ways that people and organizations adopt, develop and use computerized systems. It is based on an understanding of how people and organizations actually behave rather than upon a model which prescribes how they should behave.

Web models draw "large" social boundaries around a focal computing resource so that the defining situation includes: the ecology of participants who influence the adoption and use of computer-based technologies, the infrastructures for supporting system development and use, and the history of local computing developments. Web models help explain the actual leverage of computing developments, their carrying costs, and the ways that systems are valued by different participants. Web models are contrasted with conventionally rational "discrete-entity" models which are a-contextual, a-historical, and assume that adequate infrastructure can always be available as needed.

The web approach to computing infrastructure is illustrated with a rich longitudinal case study of the use of desktop computing in a dynamic work group. The chapter also examines ways that infrastructure designs influence the choice of computerized systems which are appropriate for specific groups of users.

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