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Solidifying Our Understanding of Integration

Still, despite these seemingly positive results, research on integration remains challenged in two fundamental areas: first, despite the consistency in results, the literature exhibits a stunning lack of cohesion in deriving a consensus definition of integration. This situation has yielded a plethora of operational measures of the concept, which constrains the ability of studies to offer truly generalizable results for practitioners and scholars to rely on. Authors have used several related (yet nevertheless distinct) terms to encapsulate integration, including coordination, collaboration, cooperation, “working together,” interaction, and information exchange/dissemination. However, a noticeable lack of attention to the similarities and differences across these terms has led researchers to define and operationalize integration in ways that are generally inconsistent.

For instance, some authors have defined integration in terms of coordinating activities across functional areas, and others have placed greater emphasis on the collaborative efforts needed to maintain common goals toward which activities are directed. Still others have used the terms “coordination” and “collaboration” interchangeably to define integration. Likewise, researchers have used terms such as “information exchange,” “information dissemination,” and “interaction” to describe integration. Researchers have used these terms generally to cover aspects of both formal information exchange processes and informal communications across functional areas. However, specific definition of variables has ranged from the extent to which information systems are integrated, to whether information is generally shared across functions, to the frequency or amount of communication, to the extent to which there is a common understanding of information. Moreover, there are indications in the literature that at least some of the more formal aspects of basic information exchange, such as having an integrated information management system, may play an antecedent or moderating role in relation to integration rather than constituting one of its dimensions.

The lack of a comprehensive definition of integration and the consequent lack of a reliable operational measure of the concept constrain studies on integration from offering broad-based and generalizable results for both practitioners and scholars. Researchers Frankel and Mollenkopf describe the situation in this way:

  • Cross-functional integration (CFI) seems to be one of those notions that we all ‘know it when we see it,’ but there does not appear to be a consensus about what integration really is... [T]he construct must be clearly defined in order for research results to be meaningfully interpreted across the many streams of literature that include notions of CFI... [A]lthough the concept of CFI has been around for decades, scholars are still in the early stages of genuine construct development.9
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