For the purpose of this article, the definitions of IT and IS are as follows:
- Information Technology (IT) – is the use of computers to create, process, store, retrieve, and exchange all kinds of data and information; and
- Information System (IS) – is a formal, sociotechnical, organisational system designed to collect, process, store, and distribute information.
Decades of research have established the role of information technology (IT) in the achievement of organisations’ strategic objectives. reveals that alignment is pivotal in organisations’ success – if not survival – especially in the wake of crises and transformation. In 2020, businesses that fail to innovate and leverage digital technologies succumbed to the restrictions of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. As noted by Daniel McGinn in an article titled ‘What did 2020 do to retail?’ (Harvard Business Review, 28 December 2020), “one of the legacies of the 2020 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns is the long list of retailers who’ve filed for bankruptcy”.
The is one of the key examples of why we need our information technologies to be aligned and effectively inform the actions that need to be taken on a large-scale; the core reason being that effective strategy and decision-making relies on quality, timely, and relevant information.
In the healthcare sector, the potential benefits from the integration of information technology into our health systems are immense. However, implementing large-scale enterprise level digital transformation is not easy, particularly in large-scale Information Systems (IS) implementations for public services. In the public sector, digital transformation programs are six times more likely to encounter roadblocks and fail. Even more so, in healthcare, it is estimated that 70% of healthcare IS implementations fail (Jonathan Leviss, 2019, Hit or Miss, Productivity Press). From a research standpoint, this is significant because if our strategic alignment frameworks do not align with the conditions of reality, organisations and in some instances, entire countries, will fail to reap the benefits of successful IS implementations. Even more concerning is the risk involved in implementing new technologies for healthcare. When an IS project fails, there are economic costs given the significant investments in these initiatives; but when a healthcare IS project fails, this can lead to possible harm or loss of human lives, hence it is imperative to get it right from the get-go.
For decades, business has been exploring and exploiting information technology mainly for economic value. Over the years however, we’ve seen how these information and communications technologies increasingly play a prominent role in not just business, but in society as a whole. In fact, many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being addressed with innovative solutions made possible through IT, such as mobile health solutions, or e-commerce in remote communities. SDG 3 (per Figure 1) specifically focuses on achieving health for all at all ages and part of the global strategy is to use information technologies to improve access to quality healthcare. However, healthcare is one of the most complex sectors where there are often tensions between the competing logics of generating commercial value and providing life-saving care – it always seems to be a choice between the two – but there should be a delicate balance. Finding this balance is the fundamental challenge of any practitioners in the sector. One that can only be achieved through coordinated and collective action.
Recently, there have been initiatives that promote the role of technology and business in achieving the SDGs. Sustainability is a core value of our education institutions and features prominently in their strategies. Realising the synergies between contemporary business objectives and the SDGs, the UNSW Business School launched the Responsible Business Research (RBR) Program. The program provides research grants to encourage higher degree research students to examine the role of business in achieving the . More specifically, in the field of information systems (IS), there is an emerging movement on Responsible IS Research; underscoring the importance of responsible business research principles in IS scholarship. Digital technologies have an immense role in addressing the SDGs, such as in telemedicine and health informatics, with notable partnerships like Digital Health for Africa, Be He@lthy, and Be Mobile taking the lead. Many other opportunities can also be explored across the sustainability goals.
Although current IS scholarship remains largely firm-centric, these emerging programs and initiatives such as the RBR provide a sense of optimism, and that social values such as good health, well-being, equality, and poverty will no longer take the back seat to productivity and economic gains in our research. However, the revolution begins with an acknowledgement that IT has an essential role to play in sustainability, and – as researchers, system developers, entrepreneurs, and educators – so do we.
ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Digital Enhanced Living PhD scholarship recipient
School of Information Systems and Technology Management, University of New South Wales
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Kevin Hoon, Hub Manager