An organization’s competitiveness and ultimate success
In today’s dynamic and turbulent environment, responding to technological change can be pivotal to an organization’s competitiveness and ultimate success. It is for this reason that new technologies are continually being implemented into modern workplaces. Technology’s infiltration into the world of work has had the effect of modifying the purpose and design of many jobs. It has also facilitated the transformation of once rigid and hierarchically structured corporations into virtual organizations.
The impacts of technological change can be seen on an organizational, group and individual level. For individuals, technological change can arouse a variety of emotional reactions and behaviors, from delight at the ease and speed it brings to job tasks, to feelings of anxiety, stress and isolation. Within groups, resistance to technological change can occur if it clashes with group norms. Technological change can even have an impact on groups where change is accepted, as it often rearranges existing role structures.
On an organizational level, technological change can influence corporate culture, power and authority structures, decision-making processes and workplace communication. It is the imperative of management to minimise the negative impacts caused by technological change within their organization. This can be achieved through implementing the change in a series of stages,
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Technological change can be broadly defined as ‘changes to work procedures and equipment, job content and management structure and supervision and reward systems’ (Hubbard 1995:48). These changes have the potential to completely reshape the design of jobs (Hines 1994:9-13). Technology has had an impact on thousands of occupations by allowing workers to do more of their job through an intermediary, such as a personal computer (Hines 1994:9-13).
A futuristic example of this is given by Hines (1994:9-13), where farmers will increasingly become farm managers, spending much of their time working indoors where information on the conditions of their farm will be sent to them via sensing technologies. As well as radically altering many jobs, technology has also been responsible for replacing many jobs. In increasing speed, accuracy and productivity, technologies such as improved factory machinery, voice recognition systems and utility supercomputers have been of great benefit to many corporations (Hines 1994:9-13).
For the unneeded factory worker, handsard or meter-reader, however, the immediate effect of these technological changes is unemployment and a requirement for them to gain new skills (Hines 1994:9-13). Technological change has the ability to transform an organization’s structure. In fact, Joan Woodward viewed technology as the primary determinant of an organization’s structure, with her research finding that an organization’s success was directly related to a proper match between technology and the characteristics of the corporation (Bedeian & Zammuto 1991:193).
Trends in the modern organizational environment such as a high customer focus, increased competition and flexible working hours, combined with technologies such as facsimile machines, portable computers and e-mail, are leading to a shift towards a virtual structure in organizations (Buhler 1997, July:24-26). Technologies which allow information to be organized and accessed more readily are increasingly removing hierarchical structures in organizations, replacing them with autonomous work groups (Wetherbe & Vitalari (1994) cited in Chapman 1996).
The structure of the workplace is being transformed, from employees being grouped inside departments contained within large buildings, to teams of telecommuting employees roaming all over the globe, building strong customer relationships and remaining virtually linked with customers, suppliers and their organizations electronically (see Crandall & Wallace 1997, January:27-36). This restructuring of the workplace has been both necessitated by and facilitated by technological change. The impact of technological change on individuals can be both positive and negative.
New technology can be of benefit to workers by automating dull and routine tasks, making many jobs more challenging and rewarding, and creating new employment opportunities (Hines 1994:9-13). Advances such as telecommuting benefit employees by reducing the expense and stress of commuting to work as well as giving them the freedom to tailor their working hours according to their own needs, such as around times when care needs to be given to children or family members at home (Buhler 1997, July:24-26).
There also appears to be an increasing emphasis on user-friendliness as technology develops, increasing its ease and efficiency for workers. Hubbard (1995:48-54) states that ‘users of all forms of technology generally expect upgrades in functionality and friendliness with each new release, and the intense competition between vendors means they usually get it’.