Journal of Social Sciences

Understanding Information System Failures from the Complexity Perspective

Indranil Mukherjee

DOI : 10.3844/jssp.2008.308.319

Journal of Social Sciences

Volume 4, Issue 4

Pages 308-319


Problem Statement: Failure of computer based information systems had been a source of major concern in the modern technological era. Information System (IS) researchers have spent a significant amount of their time and effort in understanding the recurring failure of Information Systems. Studies in this regard have ranged from being primarily technical in their approach to those having a much stronger socio-technical bias. The purpose of this paper was to analyze information system failures using the lens of complexity theory. Approach: Complexity theory was proposed as an alternative paradigm for understanding and analyzing Information System failures. Other research frameworks within which system failures were studied were also discussed. The core concepts of complexity and the salient features of information systems were elucidated. It was shown that information systems could be interpreted as complex entities both from the structural and functional viewpoints. Pictorial representations were given to corroborate this point. Results: It was shown that the complexity framework could be utilized to understand the different types of system failures, viz. process, correspondence and interaction failures in a more meaningful way. The idea of recurrent failures was also examined in the context of complexity theory. It was shown how such failures could be tackled much better by using lessons drawn from complexity. The inadequacy of the systems approach was pointed out that necessiated the introduction of complexity. Conclusions: It appeared that adopting certain features of complexity in the analysis, design and management of information systems could help in avoiding certain failures related to information systems. Some of these features were facilitating the process of co-evolution, exploring the space of possibilities and encouraging self-organization and emergent behaviour.


© 2008 Indranil Mukherjee. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.