Developing a Research Model to Analyse the Relation Between AIS Integration and Transparency
The model, which the authors developed on the basis of the literature to explore the relation between the AIS integration and transparency in government organisations, focuses on the following areas:
- • Integrated information systems (IISs)
- • Transparency in public organisations
Public transparency has been analysed in the previous sections of this paper. Therefore, in this section, we focus on the aspects regarding the IIS (how previous studies have examined and evaluated the IIS) and on the model construction.
IS integration consists of an integrated technology by which data and applications, through different communication networks, can be shared and accessed for organisational use . The main scope of IIS is to provide significant information support in the organisation to react to continuous challenges in the market.
IS integration is also considered a process that develops step by step and in different firm levels. According to this definition, IS integration is considered not only a tool to facilitate the use of data and applications “but also provide the flexibility to meet future business demands in information and applications” .
Research on IIS has evolved in recent years, and it has principally analysed the impacts of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems on IS quality. Other studies have attempted to analyse the impact of ERP systems on managerial reporting and control [36-38].
IIS can be described by components and characteristics .
IIS components represent all the elements that enable the support of management accounting. Examples of components are ERP systems, data warehouses as well as executive portals.
IIS characteristics instead are analysed by utilising two different approaches.
A first approach considers the general characteristics of integration: flexibility, system scope, complexity, functionality, user-friendliness and the level of effort needed to implement the system. A second approach analyses the characteristics of integration that consider different dimensions.
Booth et al.  identify three dimensions of integration: data integration, hardware/software integration and information integration. The first refers to the feature of IIS in which data are stored and maintained in one place only. Hardware/ software integration regards the technical aspects of integration, whereas information integration refers to the business aspects and the interchange of information between different departments.
In examining the role of IS integration on business process improvement, Bhatt and Troutt  re-elaborate the model of Booth et al.  and examine two interrelated dimensions of IS integration: data integration and communication network integration. Communication network integration can be further separated into different parts: communication network connectivity and communication network flexibility. Therefore, IS integration is valuated through three elements: data integration, communication network connectivity and communication network flexibility.
Data integration refers to data standards and logical coding schemes. The firms need to develop common data resource management policies to share data in the organisation and between suppliers and customers. An organisation can gradually improve integrated systems by using standards in data definition, logical coding and data structure.
By using integrated communication networks, information can be easily transmitted.
The communication level between two or more integrated information systems (ISs) depends on two factors: communication network connectivity and communication network flexibility. Communication network connectivity regards the level in which various systems, in and between different firms, are connected to sharing information. To geographically connect ISs, a firm can use, for example, local area communication networks (LAN) and wide area networks (WAN). Communication network flexibility refers to the level to which an organisation utilises common standards and protocols to promote compatibility between various ISs. The compatibility between systems enables companies to meet the existing information needs and helps to address future demands (alliances with several other companies).
Considering the literature review, the framework used to assess if and how the AIS integration influences the transparency level in public organisations is shown in
The framework articulates AIS integration and transparency on three levels and defines hypothetical relations that could be developed between the different levels.
A starting point to analyse the three AIS integration levels is to define the following dimensions of AIS integration [35, 39]:
- • Data integration
- • Network connectivity
- • Network flexibility
Fig. 1 Research model
“Data integration” is the first integration dimension; it refers to two features of IIS. The first concerns the existence of one common database for all applications, by which data are stored and maintained in one place only. The second features relate to the use of standards in data definition, logical coding and data structure, which permit sharing data both inside and outside the organisation. This aspect requires the development of data resource management policies.
“Network connectivity” is the second integration dimension. Network connectivity consists of hardware and software integration and considers only the technical dimensions of information management. On this level, the integration refers to the degree to which various systems, in and between different firms, connect to share information.
“Network flexibility” represents the third integration dimension. Although “network connectivity” considers only the technical aspects of integration, this level also considers the quality of information. In the model, we introduce the “network flexibility” as synonymous to information integration to describe the scope of interchange and the use of data and information generated by enterprise applications and functional areas. Network flexibility refers to the degree to which organisations utilise standards and protocols to promote compatibility between various IISs.
To define the AIS integration levels, a three-point ordinal scale was developed by considering the feasible combinations of these dimensions.
The AIS integration levels are the following, defined from lowest to highest:
- • Part Integration (PI): a high level for “data integration” but a low level for the other two dimensions
- • Full System Integration (FSI): a high level for “data integration” and “network connectivity” but a low level for “network flexibility”
- • Full Information Integration (FII): a high level for all the dimensions
To define the transparency levels, we begin with three dimensions. According to the literature analysed, the authors consider transparency not only as the publication of information on the website but also other information characteristics that can guarantee effectiveness and interactivity. Therefore, we considered the following dimensions:
- • Publication of information
- • Accessibility, information effectiveness and usability
- • Interactivity
The first dimension refers to the existence or the nonexistence of the information that the public administration must publish on the website, according to the regulation. “[...] for publication means the publication in the public administration web sites of documents, information and data relating to the organisation and activities of public authorities [...]” (Dlgs. 33/2013, art. 2).
Accessibility regards the facility to achieve specific information that the law requires local governments to publish. To increase the access to the information disclosed on the websites, we adopt Decree No. 33/2013, which states the following: “For the full accessibility of the information published on the home page of the institutional websites has placed a special section called ‘Transparent administration’, in which are contained data, information and documents published under the current legislation” (Dlgs 33/2013, art. 9). Information effectiveness refers to all of the characteristics that each data item that is published must have. Usability regards the possibility to directly download data from a website in a format that permits its reuse and aggregation.
Interactivity regards the existence of tools on the website that ensure a direct and mutual interaction between users and the public administration. In addition to the integration levels, a three-point ordinal scale was developed by considering the feasible combinations of these dimensions.
The three transparency levels are the following:
- • Formal Transparency (FoT): a high level for “public information” but a low level for the other two
- • Quality Transparency (QT): a high level for “public information” and “accessibility, information effectiveness and usability” but a low level for “interactivity”
- • Full Transparency (FT): a high level for “public information”, “accessibility, information effectiveness and usability” and “interactivity”
The theoretical framework supposes the existence of specific relations between the AIS integration levels and the transparency levels. According to previous studies, we hypothesise the following:
- • A part integration (PI) matches with a formal transparency (FT).
- • A full system integration (FSI) matches with a quality transparency (QT).
- • A full information integration (FII) matches with a full transparency (FT).
The model emphasises these relations, which highlights that higher levels of AIS integration enhance the performance characteristics of transparency, whereas a lower AIS integration level determines the minimum requirements of transparency. Greater success in the transparency initiatives is achieved when we have a high level of “data integration”, “network connectivity” and “network flexibility”.