Help, are we still relevant?

Academics tend to conduct theoretical work in order to be able to collect relevant knowledge. The acquired knowledge should be used to design artefact’s or to predict, explain and explore phenomenon’s in our field of information systems and thereby striving to make it a better world to phrase G. Walsham (Walsham 2012). However IS researchers often struggle with the relevance of their work. The academic discipline of information systems is indeed very young, at most 40 years and has its roots in engineering sciences like electronics, mechanics and applied physics. Its first appearance was under the umbrella of computer science. Only the last 30 years and mostly in the States, IS research has a focus on more on behavioral aspects of the discipline thereby heavily leaning on theoretical constructs coming from other scientific disciplines like sociology, anthropology, psychology, and organizational science. This has created a sort of a schism with the more traditional scientists drenched in a positivist tradition of the natural sciences. This is noticeable in education where we can see that most IT programs bring professionals on the market with mostly hard engineering (programming, system-building) skills but all too often with a lack of a deep and critical insight of what information systems can mean or not mean in organizations. The relation with the stakeholders of information systems is less studied at our universities. The creation and the use of the systems are too much separated. Too my humble opinion IS researcher are doing a great job in trying to make information systems understandable by applying a multitude of epistemological perspectives. Still their work is not well understood or even read by the practical kernel of discipline, the so-called IT practitioners.

A recent survey send to IT practitioners was astonishing. We asked to IT practitioners if they were familiar with the academic literature on IS research. We got 153 responses spread over small, medium-sized and large enterprises. Of all responses only 34% said they read academic journals on information systems. This means that 2/3 of all respondents do not read an academic journal at all! Even more amazing is that from the basket of top IS journals(*) not a single title is known for more than 15% of the practitioners. Best know is the Journal of Information Technology (15%), least known is the Journal of the AIS (5%).

A more elaborate paper will be developed on the results of this survey together with interviews with CIOs, but we can already conclude that there is at least a problem with the dissemination of academic output in the field of Information Systems. Maybe there is even a problem with the relevance of our work!



(*) The basket of top IS journals consist of: MIS Quarterly, Information Systems Research, European Journal of Information Systems, Information Systems Journal, Journal of AIS, Lournal of MIS, Journal of IT, Journal of Strategic Information Systems (see:

Walsham, G. (2012) ‘Are we making a better world with ICTs? Reflections on a future agenda for the IS field’, Journal of Information Technology, 27(2), 87-93.





About jangdevos
I'm an IT/IS professor, a late Baby Boomer, married with Ann and father of Hélène and Willem, a Stones fan and interested in almost everything. I work at the UGent (campus Kortrijk), Belgium. My research domain are: IT Governance in SMEs, IT/IS Security, IT Management, IT Project Management, IT Trends and IT/IS failures.

One Response to Help, are we still relevant?

  1. I subscribe to the view expressed by (Alter S: Recognizing the relevance of IS research and broadening the appeal and applicability of future publications, Communications of AIS, volume 6, article 3, 2001):
    • ”IS faculty members do not have a monopoly on IS research;
    • IS research obviously has had an impact by informing practice and teaching;
    • Like customers of any product, practitioners (and many IS faculty members) should be expected to avoid journals directed to a different audience;
    • There is a way to make academic research more relevant (on average) and academic journal more approachable.”

    One question: an article that is not quoted, or is not published in a top journal, is it also deprived of quality?

    “In publish-or-perish, the credit obtained from top journal publications provides the direct and often the only path to career advances. In this context, the goal of creating, preserving, and distributing knowledge ceases to become an end value. Instead, it becomes a means by which the scholar survives. The ultimate goal is tenure or promotion, and the top journal publications are the means. The focus moves from generating ‘great’ knowledge to creating and persevering in ‘strong’ publication cultures where reaching the top is the game.” – Why the old world cannot publish? Overcoming challenges in publishing high-impact IS research, European Journal of Information Systems 16(4), 317–326.


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