This research has been initiated on the basis of practical experiences in developing a relatively large SGML system at the University of Oslo. This thesis contributes to the field of information systems, with a particular focus on document systems. The aim of this work is to inform the design of document systems by considering the transformation from paper to digital documents in organizations. The Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML, ISO 8879) approach is emphasized. The SGML approach takes the documents' structure and content as the starting point in design, and regards the document as a collection of structured information. This approach is challenged and tentatively improved by empirical studies of documents in use and theoretical considerations of artifacts at work.
The research approach has been an Action Case, as defined by Vidgen and Braa (1997). The interpretation of the transformation process from paper to digital documents is based mainly on an in-depth case study that was conducted at a Norwegian news agency from January 1996 to March 1998. The empirical findings are discussed according to theoretical concepts that emphasize the significance of artifacts at work to illuminate the various roles of documents at work.
Concepts from the Actor Network Theory (ANT) (for example, see Callon, 1986; Latour, 1987; Law, 1986) are applied to emphasize the interrelations of humans and artifacts, as well as the importance of artifacts' properties in these relations. The concepts of 'boundary object' (Star and Griesemer; 1989) and 'borderline issues' (Brown and Duguid, 1994) are applied to get various perspectives on the actor-network.
The study illustrates that it is challenging to substitute paper documents with SGML documents. Firstly, two different types of technology, with different properties and features, are exchanged. By removing paper documents, we also remove resources that go beyond the canonical meaning of the artifact. These resources are related to paper as a technology. Secondly, the document perspective in SGML is too restricted in relation to the various perspectives on documents in practical use. The emphasis on structure complicates the production of documents. Thirdly, the application of shared document models across work practices turns the various heterogeneous actor-networks into one network, which requires a common objective among the actors involved. The dilemma of "who does the job and who gets the benefits" (Grudin, 1989; 1994) arises as well.
The study indicates that an investigation of the actor-networks that include documents provides an insight into the more hidden aspects of work. By regarding documents' central, peripheral, local and shared properties, one can gain an understanding of how documents are embedded in work, including the importance of documents and related artifacts to aspects such as awareness, articulation and coordination of work. The properties determine how things become interrelated into heterogeneous networks. The research shows how a document's properties or inscriptions are essential to its production and application in use. Insight into these prerequisites helps us to understand how the computer system can fit into work practices, even if we do have no guarantees that it will be used in the way that we expect. According to design, work practices are improved by changing the technical properties or the technical fundamentals, by adding various inscriptions into the system. This thesis describes how an existing system was improved by the use of 'gateways'. In the design of the gateways, the idea has been to keep the technical possibilities that SGML provides, and at the same time take into account our knowledge about the paperwork.