UTFacultiesETEventsPhD Defence Ruth Sloot | Revealing the project and asset management divide - Why infrastructure agencies struggle with IT transformation

PhD Defence Ruth Sloot | Revealing the project and asset management divide - Why infrastructure agencies struggle with IT transformation

Revealing the project and asset management divide - Why infrastructure agencies struggle with IT transformation

The PhD defence of Ruth Sloot will take place in the Waaier building of the University of Twente and can be followed by a live stream.
Live Stream

Ruth Sloot is a PhD student in the Department of Integrated Project Delivery. Promotors are prof.dr.ir. L. Volker and dr. J.T. Voordijk from the faculty of Engineering Technology.

Aging infrastructure, rapid urbanization, and the impacts of climate change have made the management of infrastructures extremely challenging. Moreover, a sustained decline in public investment in infrastructure globally over the past decades has directly impacted the budget available for addressing such challenges. With the widespread adoption of digital technologies, infrastructure agencies aim to benefit from these developments in making more informed decisions about asset management, thereby enhancing the future provision of infrastructure services. However, the information technology (IT) currently used in these agencies does not match the requirements of data-driven asset management. Consequently, these agencies are embarking on transformation journeys to strategically change their existing IT.

To effectively support infrastructure agencies in realizing data-driven asset management, we need a better understanding of what this transformation entails and the challenges it brings about. The main objective of this thesis is to explain the challenges faced by infrastructure agencies in their IT transformation journey. Drawing inspiration from the social sciences, this thesis takes a socio-technical perspective to IT transformation, viewing technology as embedded within social structures and practices, and vice versa. The thesis hence considers not only the technical aspects but also the social norms, cultural values and organizational structures that shape an IT transformation journey. Furthermore, it adopts a multi-level approach in studying the challenges at the organizational level and their implications at the infrastructure project level.

The findings provide three key insights. First, the organizational context of infrastructure agencies is constituted by a combination of two conflicting institutional logics: a project organizing logic and an asset management logic. As infrastructure agencies organize most work in projects, the combination of project organizing and asset management created tensions in organizing, performing, learning, and belonging. These tensions may have been unperceived by actors in infrastructure agencies as projects and asset management were segregated into separate organizational units. However, the execution of the IT transformation program made tensions between project organizing and asset management salient, as it aimed to integrate project and asset management information.

Second, three new categories of equivocality – scope, needs, and priorities – persistently hinder the development of organized courses of action and, consequently, of further IT transformation. Equivocality in scope refers to the blurry and debated boundaries of IT development projects, making it challenging for actors to define the scope of the IT and the project clearly. Equivocality in needs involves the diversity among users and their difficulties in articulating and agreeing upon their needs. It highlights the challenges in understanding and addressing the varying requirements and preferences of different stakeholders involved in developing and transforming IT. Equivocality in priorities reflects the difficulty in determining the priorities and interdependencies of activities within the IT transformation program. It underscores the complex relationships between different processes and outcomes, making it challenging for organizations to allocate resources and make strategic decisions effectively. Resolving these equivocalities requires strategies that facilitate collective sensemaking. Failure to make sense of these equivocalities can lead to vicious cycles of ‘stuckness’, confusion, and conflict.

Third, IT transformation requires both a technical and an organizational revolution. The IT tools used for project and asset management are manifestations of the logics embedded in them, and can therefore be sources of path dependency and have lock-in effects. Transforming this landscape of IT tools means transforming project and asset management practices. Through the combination of multiple IT projects within one coordinating IT transformation program, changes can be bundled and coordinated. At the same time, changes are also compounded, resulting in a larger magnitude of changes. Organizations undergoing IT transformation must realize this scale and adjust their strategy accordingly.

These three key insights reveal why infrastructure agencies struggle with IT transformation. By examining these transformation challenges, this thesis not only provides deeper insight into the potential benefits of IT transformation but also highlights the substantial changes that such a transformation entails. The insights gained from these challenges can inform the development of more suitable IT transformation strategies that consider its complexity and scale. This, in turn, can better support infrastructure agencies in transforming from project-based organizations to future data-driven asset managers.