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This article presents the work system life cycle (WSLC) model, according to which a work system, an information system, or a software product passes through one or more iterations of four phases: initiation, development, implementation, and operation and maintenance. Although this descriptive model is both clear enough to understand readily and specific eno ugh to apply easily, it encompasses a variety of other models commonly used to describe information system life cycles, organizational change processes, projects, and the life cycles of software products. The explicit inclusion of both an operation and maintenance phase and iterations allows it to cover both continuous and discontinuous change. This article explains the need for this type of model and shows how it spans more than a dozen descriptive and normative models that appear in the IS literature.

The WSLC model could help bridge the communication gap between business and IT professionals, could help both do their own system-related work, and could help students grasp the broad alternatives for building and modifying systems. Comparison of the WSLC phases with the phases of other models shows that many of those models might be misleading to people who are not primed to understand why their goals and assumptions are quite different. Both Communications of AIS Volume 7, Article 17 3 Which Life Cycle – Work System, Information System, or Software? by S. Alter software-focused and organization-focused models in the IS literature tend to emphasize development activities and de-emphasize implementation in the organization and ongoing operation and maintenance. Instead of providing clarity, use of some of these models in practice and teaching might reinforce common misunderstandings and naive expectations that stereotype information system projects as either IT projects performed by technologists or as organizational change projects in which technology plays only a secondary role. The WSLC model encourages a balanced view that includes both the organizational and technological viewpoints without minimizing either.


Originally published in Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 7(17), 2001


DOI: 10.17705/1CAIS.00717

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