Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has developed on an unprecedented scale to usher in a revolution in the way people work, live and communicate with each other. ICT has pervaded almost all walks of life and work areas spanning diverse nations and cultures. The implementation strategies of ICT systems have however had to take into consideration the influence of existing work cultures as well as the cultures of the societies and people in which they have been applied.
The effort to introduce electronic trading in the London insurance market (Walsham, 2001, p: 150 – 160) is presented as an ICT endeavor that did not gain full acceptance by its intended users because it failed to address some of the interpersonal requirements inherent in the conventional system. The difficulties faced in implementing a western MIS in China are discussed in the context of cross-cultural collaboration in the article on Western MIS in China (Walsham, 2001, p: 221 – 227).
In the case of the London insurance market, the introduction of ICT was triggered by the huge losses that the market suffered in the late 1980s and the early 1990s and increasing global competition in the larger commercial and wholesale insurance business. ICT was
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The two endeavors therefore not only differed in their situational and cultural contexts, but also in their orientation, objectives, stakeholders and prime movers. Work Culture and Societal Culture The players in the London insurance market had a well-developed work culture oriented around the traditional way of doing business. Personal interactions between underwriters and brokers played a crucial role in decision making and risk taking in the system. The London Insurance Market Network (LIMNET) Electronic Placing System (EPS), or LIMNET EPS, eliminated the need for personal contact.
Both the brokers and the underwriters perceived this as a handicap because they feared that that depending only on data on the LIMNET EPS would restrict their ability to conduct the delicate negotiations required for complex risk assessment to a great extent. The concept of depending entirely on electronically processed and transmitted data did not seem adequate for the purpose of their business. This feeling of inadequacy of LIMNET EPS was enhanced by the system’s inability to transmit supporting documents required for risk evaluation, such as images and spreadsheets.
The resistance to LIMNET EPS was therefore primarily because of perceived change in crucial elements of the work culture that had developed around the traditional way of operation of the London insurance market. On the other hand, resistance to development and implementation of the MIS for CFAA was more deep-rooted and stemmed from the socio-cultural moorings of the Chinese society. Chinese societies are based on networks of relationships. The individual identity is primarily as a member of a collective.
Chinese business culture therefore also puts a lot of emphasis on personal relationships. This results in more reliance on informal or verbal communication rather than on formal or written communication. Since any MIS works on the principle of formalizing and streamlining the flow of information, it goes against the essence of the Chinese culture. We observe that in both the cases a major objection to the introduction of ICT tools was the perceived lack of personal or face-to-face interactions in the ICT system.
In both the cases a change in orientation of users was required. A comparison of the situational aspect of the two examples brings to light that similar change in orientation may be required not only because of socio-cultural factors but also because of the way in which the traditional work culture had developed. The practice of centralized decision making in China reduced the need for exchange of information between managers, and therefore reflected negatively on the relevance of an MIS.
In the case of the London insurance market, however, even though there was no centralized decision making, and the EPS’s ability to make relevant information at all level would be considered to be of high utility, there was doubt on the relevance of the information itself. The brokers and the underwriters did not believe that the LIMNET EPS could provide them with the quality of information required to base their complex risk assessment on.
Again, it becomes evident that unlike in the case of the Chinese experience, the resistance to LIMNET EPS was not inherent in nature and arose more out of a reluctance to set aside a conventional work practice in favor of a change. In the Chinese society, information is treated more as an instrument of personal power. Information is owned by the powerful, and it is their privilege. The idea of making broadcasting information or making information available through an MIS is contrary to the norms of Chinese culture.
The article on the London insurance market however fails to examine the value of exclusive information for the brokers and the underwriters. In any given circumstance, a business such as of insurance would rely heavily on obtaining added and exclusive information in order to override the competition. This is indirectly implied in the rule of Utmost Good Faith wherein a broker must display all known relevant information about the client and the insurance risk to underwriters on presentation of the risk to them.
Hence, it can be inferred that the tendency to treat access to information as the exclusive preserve of a few could be present even without a cultural predisposition. Highly contextual communication and decision-making based on intuition and experience are two similar characteristics of the examples under consideration. When underwriters and brokers speak of accessing cues such as body language and tone of voice to assess risks, it implies that they are essentially making decisions based on contextual interpretations, intuition and experience.
ICT tools such as MIS and Inter-Organizational Systems could therefore face similar obstacles in implementation irrespective of the cultural context in which they are being located. Traditional work practices could lea to the same kind of resistance to introduction of ICT tools and services as societal culture. In the example of the MIS for CFAA, the cultural attitude of the Chinese people to adapt to the environment rather than attempt to control it posed hurdles in the form of reduced need for business planning and scenario development and analysis.
This factor is however completely absent in the London insurance market. Finding Validation through Cultural Dimensions Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions (Hofstede, 2003) provides an interesting perspective to the examples under consideration. Hofstede’s five Cultural Dimensions give a measure of the attitude and response of the people of a particular culture, broadly demarcated according to countries and regions, to different aspects of life including business and change.
Hofstede’s Power Distance Index (PDI) gives the extent to which the less powerful members of the society accept the authority of those in power and expect unequal distribution of power. China rates a high 80 on this scale while the United Kingdom scores a low 35. This implies that the British Society is largely unbridled by acceptance of any accepted system of unequal power distribution, while submission to a dominant central authority is the hallmark of the Chinese society.
This lends credence to the centralized structures of the Chinese firms where key decisions are mostly made by the proprietor or by a close relative. Information dissemination throughout an organization may not be preferred in such an organizational structure. The London insurance market is unhindered by any such inclination against information flow, but the power equation between the brokers and the underwriters was still a cause for concern at the face of a facility that could promote unrestricted information dissemination and access.
Both feared undermining of their respective spheres of influence. The Hofstede Cultural Dimensions are also applicable to the other visible aspects in both the examples. China scores only 20 on the Individuality scale, whereas Britain scores a high of 89. This would support the view that the individual Chinese identity is more as a part of the collective. Again, on the Hofstede Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), both China and the United Kingdom have the same rating of 35. This implies that tolerance for change is basically same in both the societies. Conclusions
A critical evaluation of the example of the LIMNET EPS for the London Insurance Market and the development of the MIS for the CFAA shows that introduction of ICT tools and services broadly face the same type of acceptability problems irrespective of their cultural settings. Resistance to the changes stem more from work cultures, and all ICT endeavors should attempt to address the specific requirements in attitudinal and work practice changes through customized training and orientation programs. There are however certain resistances that can be linked to the cultural background of the users.
These changes can also be easily surmounted by convincing the users of the high practical effectiveness and utility of ICT tools and applications. The crux of the solution is to incorporate the essential elements of the prevalent work culture and blend with the demands of the culture of the society.
1. Hofstede, G. , 2003, Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions, China, ITIM International, Kluwer Law International, Retrieved February 16, 2008 from http://www. geert-hofstede. com/hofstede_dimensions. php 2. Walsham, G. , 2001, Making a World of Difference; IT in a Global Context, Chichester, Wiley.