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MIS Careers-- A Theoretical Perspective
1. INTRODUCTION In their paper about the work of MIS managers, Ives & Olson  noted that the largest portion of these managers' time is spent dealing with personnel issues--recruiting, training, counseling, and retaining staff. Surveys of the critical success factors (CSF's) of MIS managers consistently show personnel issues to rank among the top concerns of these managers . Further, our own discussions with MIS executives provide anecdotal support for the importance of these issues; human resource questions are continually raised as among the most critical to the successful functioning of the information systems department.
DP/MIS careers are an important area for study. Organizations that are unable to create opportunities for career fulfillment are likely to find that they are unable to maintain an adequate supply of skilled employees to fill critical jobs; this may result in organizationally dysfunctional outcomes . The initial rapid growth of data processing in organizations provided numerous promotion opportunities, varied assignments and an abundance of novel and challenging development work. As the function is maturing, organizations are turning their attention and resources to maintaining the systems previously developed . Often, the result is less interesting work and less challenging job opportunities for a young and mobile systems workforce. Organizations are, therefore, confronted with the difficult and often conflicting tasks of defining job opportunities and careers within the IS department that will provide the organization with cost effective data processing support while maintaining an adequate supply of qualified IS personnel.
The category IS personnel includes a wide cross-section of individuals with a diversity of skills, ranging from data entry clerks through the chief information officer. The problems are not identical for all of these categories. We have chosen to focus on traditional systems development personnel working in a DP/IS department. While there are obviously a large (and growing) number of people in other roles (for exmple, micro-computer support personnel, information center staff, IS planners) who face different job conditions and have different career prospects , the traditional development roles still form the core of the IS activity in most organizations. There were more than 500,000 personnel in these roles at the beginning of the decade, and there is no evidence that this number has decreased .
Given this apparent importance of personnel management in the information systems area, one might expect to find substantial guidance in the MIS literature. Such guidance, however, is lacking. To a large extent this is due to an inadequate base of research on IS personnel management. Our purpose is to identify the gaps or problems in the existing research base, and to point out some important directions for future research. To accomplish this objective, we proceed as follows. Section two reviews the available literature about DP/MIS personnel management to determine what information it does provide to MIS managers. This review shows that the existing DP/MIS personnel literature does not provide adequate information about personnel management and career planning to meet the needs of either the MIS manager or the MIS employee. Section three reviews the organizational careers literature, and focuses particularly on studies of engineering careers. It is shown that the organizational literature uses a much broader set of constructs when examining careers than have been applied in the DP/MIS area. the implictions of this broader set of constructs for DP/MIS careers are examined in section four. Finally, section five develops ten research propositions which should serve as a roadmap for future DP/MIS career research. Answering the questions implied by these ten propositions will take us a long way toward providing useful guidance for the DP/MIS manager who must build and manage the careers of his or her staff.
2. CAREERS IN THE INFORMATION
It is often suggested that a key problem facing DP/MIS personnel is the lack of attention to careers and career planning within the DP/MIS field [2, 6, 25]. Indeed, the literature on DP/MIS careers is not extensive, and it shows that little attention has been paid to this important issue. A review of over twenty years of proceedings of the annual SIGCPR Conference, the major outlet for DP/MIS personnel studies, turned up few articles addressing DP/MIS careers. Early conferences were primarily concerned with the selection, development, motivation, and productivity of DP/MIS staff. Disuccisions of careers were generally restricted to the specific skills to be acquired or courses to be completed in order to progress to the next DP position [3, 13].
In general, the work that has been done on DP/MIS careers has focused on career paths. At least two empirical studies of DP career paths have been conducted. Kaiser , in the describing her study, begins by stating that "to many people, the phrase 'career paths of system professionals' is an oxymoron: a figure of speech combining contradictory ideas ..." Her results indicate that this may indeed be the case. She found little evidence of formal career paths, and there was a general consensus among those studied that you make your own career path in DP, often covering multiple organizaions. Somewhat surprisingly she found relatively high organizational loyalty (perhaps due to the relatively high average age of her sample, 42 years), and a trend towards crossover, movement from positions in DP to positions in user departments. This latter finding, she suggests, may be due to a lack of adequate career paths within the data processing organization.
Tanniru  also suggests that little attention has been paid to career paths and career jplanning in DP/MIS. The results of his study suggest that there is substantial movement across paths by DP personnel and that some paths which are alleged to exist do not really exist (for example, he found operations personnel seldom move up to operations management or to DP management). In contrast to Kaiser. Tanniru's results showed little organizational loyalty and little movement of DP personnel into user areas, though it did show crossover from the outside into DP. Movement from the outside in was particularly common for DP management. Some of these differences may be due to the fact that Kaiser's study consisted largely of systems analysts while Tanniru's sample included many programmers. However, supporting some of Tanniru's findings is a study of …