Pierre Hadaya & Philippe Marchildon, Department of Management and Technology / UQAM
Understanding the Constraining Effect of History on Information System Evolution: a Comparison of Path Dependency, Imprinting and Structural Inertia Theories. Making changes to an information system (IS) in order to respond to the growing and changing needs of the organization and maintain the strategic alignment of the IS can be a double-edged sword. Indeed, IS changes that initially provide benefits to the organization may later become barriers to future IS changes. As such, “history matters” in the evolution of an IS. Within the IS literature, the importance of history is most often conveyed via the concept of path dependence. Unfortunately, this usage is more metaphorical than theoretical in nature, devoiding the concept of its meaning and making path dependence theory (PDT) easily confused with two other theories, namely structural inertia theory (SIT) and imprinting theory (IMPT), that each portray a different understanding of history and its influence on how and why evolution and changes occur. In an attempt to clarify and distinguish PDT, SIT and IMPT as well as to go past the use of a single theoretical perspective to explain the complex phenomena of IS evolution (ISE), this research proposes to study the interplay between these three theories in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of ISE and the constraining effect of history that accompanies it. To do so, we conduct a congruence case study and analyze, over a 34 year period, the evolution of the IS supporting the management of patient information at a major Canadian university hospital. Results show that the evolution of an IS is characterized by three type of changes (complementary, substitutive, and independent) and that each theory explains the constraining effect of history for only one type of changes: PDT explains complementary changes, SIT explains substitutive changes and IMPT explains independent changes.