Key organizational benefits Essay
The choice of technology, its adoption, introduction, implementation and use within the organization, all takes place within a social, economic and political arena of contested interpretation, texts and meanings; in other words, in a socio-technical ensemble which is inherently unstable, and thus where any stabilization is at best temporary but in any event likely to be only partial, i. e. not organization-wide (Damsgaard and Scheepers 1999).
The texts which are ‘attached’ to the technology are constructed by certain people, with their particular bundles of experience, skills and knowledge, and with certain objectives in mind (organizational and/or personal), and the ensemble continues to evolve accordingly over time. It is necessary to preserve the facticity of the technology per se, and hence to talk about ‘technology and texts’, rather than ‘technology as text(s)’ (Newell, Scarborough, Swan and Hislop 2000).
At Grangers, customers were insisting that electronic links be established with them, while some staff, especially the new graduate entrants, were pushing for it both internally and externally. At the same time, senior management wanted to demonstrate that the company had entered a ‘brave new world’ quite separate from IBM, and the severing of the old technology’s umbilical link into IBM was one way in
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The IS department was charged with the responsibility of investigating the possibilities and alternatives, not least because it had the relevant locus of expertise and would be designing the basic ‘shell’ or ‘engineering system’ (Clark et al. 1988) of the new ICT configuration, within the parameters of which users would subsequently have to work. Thus this handed a lot of influence over the identification, selection and design of the new technology and the adoption process itself to the IS department.
Over time this influence over the intranet configuration diffused somewhat, in the main as a result of the organizational restructuring and the widening of the user network. The extent and quality of the latter was in part a function of users’ confidence in and knowledge of the technology. This had a lot to do not only with their particular job, but also with their previous experience of this and other related forms of ICT both inside and outside the organization – the familial situation appeared to be especially influential here (for example, wanting to teach/help one’s children or even learning from children in some cases!).
The IS Manager devoted time at the early stage of implementation to demonstrating the benefits of the new system to selected secretaries, in the expectation that they would readily see how the intranet could benefit their work. Similarly, the user representatives were selected by IS staff as, inter alia, likely enthusiasts. It was assumed – correctly, as it turned out – that both they and the secretaries would ‘carry the (positive) message deep into the organization’ (Pettigrew and Whipp 1991).
The response of some people was to choose (as compared to the situation with the previous ICT) non-ICT facilitated means of communication, for example by spending more time talking face-to-face with colleagues (Grint and Woolgar 1997). This may turn out to have been a short-term effect while people were adapting. However, senior managers frequently viewed this as a desirable state of affairs, insofar as email traffic is reduced and the talk is about work-related matters.
When the intranet had been in use for over six months, a conflict had emerged between the wish of some people for standard operating procedures and templates (for example, in order to facilitate the auditing process) and the view of some of these same people and also of others that precisely one of the key organizational benefits realizable via the intranet was the spur it was seen to be able to provide to innovative activity.
Thus, for example, it was seen as encouraging the sharing of data and information across the organization – but then there were limits as to how far management wanted to go in this direction. Even at this relatively early stage of ‘innofusion’ (Fleck 1994), a few people were representing the intranet to us in a way which effectively collapsed it into the organization and vice versa. Others identified certain dangers here, such as the fact that the information on the web pages had not been validated and/or was being ‘misinterpreted’ by users.
Data indicate that overall, the intranet undermines attempts senior management might make to relay and mediate in both information communication and its attached meaning (Blosch and Preece 2000). Increasingly, the transparency built into the intranet ensemble, allowing employees to select from the various domains of information directly available to them, means that in a sense they are constructing through usage their own view of the organization and its members. The intranet offers more possibilities than the old technology about what information is made available and how that information is mediated.
At the same time, there is much ‘sensitive’ information which senior management does not put on the intranet, and employees recognize this; equally intranet usage is being monitored by IS, both in terms of what is put up and by whom (and who is not putting anything up), and in terms of what members of staff are accessing through the intranet and internet. McLaughlin et al. (1999) comment that ‘there is considerable pressure by management to ensure that systems are “de-localized”, that is, deployed in standardized ways, precisely because this is where they see the value of MIS technologies lying’.
This is not always the case, however: yes, there are pressures in this direction from some managers, but they and other managers might also want to simultaneously encourage innovatory activity at the job level. There is an obvious tension here. The Manufacturing Director, for example, observed that business unit managers had been ‘encouraged’ to monitor who in their unit was using the intranet, and for what purposes (including innovative ones) (Bijker 1995). Of course, senior management did not want the intranet/internet to be ‘abused’ by, for example, ‘glossy pictures’ being pulled down.
Yet there was also a recognition that they could well defeat a key objective of intranet introduction, namely encouraging innovative behaviour related to business objectives and methods, if they regularly issued edicts about its use and either directly or indirectly (via IS) adopted a high-profile surveillance position. Over time pockets of expertise built up around the organization, and some of the business units came to be the main ‘drivers and shapers’ of the intranet configuration (KPMG 1998).
This was helped by the fact that the majority of IS staff were now working directly for the business units. At both the business unit and individual levels, it appears that one important reason why some people were using the intranet was that they perceived they needed to be seen to be doing so and/or that this would reflect positively upon management’s perception of them (KPMG 1998). Group and peer pressures were probably operating, at both localized (within business units) and wider levels (across the organization and in comparison with other business units).
The intranet was represented initially (Jackson 1997) by senior staff (not least IS specialists) as being a radical innovation and as symbolic of ‘how things have changed’ and ‘how they need to change’ from when the company was owned by IBM. This establishment of a new corporate identity was argued to be the main legitimation for the ‘top-down’ imposition strategy of introduction, to tight time schedules. None the less, some people experienced the intranet ensemble as an incremental change; they often commented that they obtained at least as much functionality from the old technology.
Organisation theory in IBM was constructed to be free from the ties of place and specific locations were transformed into sites for application of the design rules. Although the design rules gave a heavy weight to the contingent matching of the states of various sectors in the environment of the firm to the internal design, there was only slight attention to national features. The issue of the international political economy began to enter ‘competition between contexts’ that is the script of organization theory in IBM. IBM must continually (and do) rethink and redesign structure in order to achieve strategic goals.
Competitive conditions are changing at an accelerated rate and organization needs to make appropriate responses, or even more ideally be one of the drivers of these wider changes. Redesigning organizational structure is one of the ways (arguably one of the more strategic and far-reaching) in which managers can intervene in order to mobilize behaviour to attain desired goals. ‘Structure’ then might be seen as not only a pattern of relationships between roles and sub-units and as a means of co-ordination but may also be regarded as a framework for planning, organizing, directing and controlling.
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