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|The Impact of IT
This is an outline of a presentation first delivered in 1988, and which has been adapted and delivered to different senior management audiences over the ensuing years. While some of the details of the early presentations have changed the issues of alinging IT solutions with business, human and organisational factors are as relevant as ever. See our presentations pages for list of available presentations.
"Many of the impacts of Information Technology are straightforward. But they are not necessarily obvious, nor are they trivial" (Jack Nilles, Centre for Future Research)
Survey after survey has shown that many organisations are failing to grasp the opportunities that the continual improvements in information technology brings. This page outlines some of the key impacts of technology, taken from an executive presentation that has been delivered to audiences in a range of industries. It highlights the interactions between information systems and strategy, structure, culture, management processes, work, work environment and people. These interactions need the joint attention of business managers, human resource specialists, workers, and systems designers and implementers.
1. Why is this topic important ?
The field is littered with cases of failures, or where introduction of new systems unwittingly altered key organizational processes. Awareness and planning of the issues will help to ensure smoother implementations and increase the overall benefits of information systems.
2. It's a Changing World
We are in the midst of a fundamental transition - from the industrial age to the information age.Yet most of our paradigms and behaviours come to us from the old world. Being so close to this means that we sometimes cannot see the wood from the trees.
3. The Evolution of IT
Not just a response to the environment, but partly a cause of changes e.g. the Chairman of Matsushita says "without doubt the most powerful driver of all is technology".
4. Impact on Business Strategy
These trends open up exciting possibilities for using the resources of space, time and information. In particular information can be made immediately available elsewhere in the organization, it is reproducible at low cost, and is reusable many times.
A strategy planning framework: strategic advantage vs. rethinking deployment of resources
Today, much IT investment and thinking still going into getting on top of old problems. Some proportion needs to go into experimenting with these new opportunities. In the UK, companies like Direct Line have completely changed the shape of home and car insurance through their innovative approaches, while in Internet Commerce, Amazon.com, eBay and others are changing the rules of many traditional markets.
5. The Organisational Impacts
A similar evolution to strategy: efficiency, effectiveness, transformation. However, our understanding is not as advanced. We are into a complex world of individual and organisational behaviours - people are not as logical as computer systems!
We need a better understanding of:
We shall look at some of these in more detail.
6. Work - more knowledge based, more varied and less structured
Simple cybernetics - as variety in the environment increases so does the variety in the response mechanisms need to increase to build an effective response. We can automate the routine and standard, but can only hope to offer decision support and similar tools for less structured work.
Why do many IT systems and BPR initiatives fail? Because the IS tradition is one of formalisation and standardisation vs. providing flexibility to changing needs.
The main organisational challenge is to understand the nature of the work that is happening in various groups, and therefore what style of IT support is needed. Too often we automate what we think is routine, but our inflexible systems cannot adapt as the 'routine' changes.
7. Changing Organisational Structures
The hierarchy served us well in stable times. We still need the hierarchy for some aspects of management, but not for information flows.
IT enables adaptive structures. Think of organisations as neural systems, with sensing mechanisms, information and knowledge flows and responses to stimuli (e.g. customer demands). Our research has shown that too often the organisational aspects of new systems are ignored - job design, team composition, skill requirements all change.
8. People at Work
"People are our most important asset" - If so, then treat them as such!
Sociologists and psychologists can tell us a lot about people. Systems designers often ignore them .. which perhaps is not surprising if a systems design team has no psychologists or human needs awareness!
The basic principles of socio-technical design were established in the 1950s. Today they are too often ignored! We need to move from systems engineer designed systems to user centred design approach. This is not designing systems for the user, nor letting the user design their own, but designing systems together in co-operation. There is a wealth of information from the HCI community on this aspect of systems design.
9. Flexible Work Practices
Demographic and lifestyle changes are changing the shape of the firm - more contracting out, more temporary staff. IT can help with flexible work practices in several areas:
10. Working Environment
Traditional offices were designed for people and paper. More recent offices were built for information systems, computer rooms, cabling etc. But now we must rethink the office again - and shift from homogenised work spaces to heteregenous 'environments' for different types of tasks and socialisation e.g. for creative work, customer liaison and co-operative work.
This means more 'environments' (e.g. fully equipped meeting rooms and less personal space. Architects, designers, furniture specialists and ergonomics specialists are all part of the systems team!
11. Integration - Across IT, HOF and Strategy
Integration is the nub of the issue. If it were so simple we would have done it long ago!
We have developed a useful integration model that can be used in multi-skilled team development:
The best way forward for any organization is to go through a process of developing their own integration model or business architecture.
The impact of IT on organizations, or parts of organizations, depends on many factors including:
The main impacts are:
This is one of a series of presentations that can be delivered to executive audiences. We also offer strategic consultancy on issues covered in this presentation. Please contact David Skyrme with details of your requirements. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org . Tel: +44 1635 25 35 45.
Related topics on these pages are the following Management Insights: No. 5 The Impact of IT on Organizations, No. 6 The Hybrid Manager, No. 7 Getting to grips with Groupware, or see full list. There is also a Discussion Paper on the Future of IT and its implications.
Further Information (1999)
These developments are covered more fully in Chapter 1 of Knowledge Networking: Creating the Collaborative Enterprise. The developments are monitored and reported at the accompanying website for this book.
Management Insights are publications of David Skyrme Associates, who offers strategic consulting, presentations and workshops on many of these topics.
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