The Influence of IT on Organizational Behaviour

Buchanan and Huczynski (2010, pp.8-9) discuss the difficulties in providing a strict definition of an organization arguing that any group of like-minded individuals in pursuit of a shared goal could potentially be considered an organization. However, for the purpose of this discussion, we will consider an organization to be a legal entity such as a business or public sector body which is responsible for delivering a service.

Woman sat in front of an eighties computerUnlike other innovations in the workplace, the modern computer has only been around for a relatively short period of time and the widespread adoption of information systems and computing technology in organisations has been a relatively recent innovation (White, 2002)

The implementation of information technology systems has resulted in fundamental changes to the way organizations operate and organizational behaviour. Some of these influences can be considered positive while some can be considered to have had a detrimental impact.

Often, the benefits which are perceived when a software product is implemented are not fulfilled in the long term, as is demonstrated by the notorious failure of many organizations to successfully implement ERP systems (Chen, Law and Yang, 2009).

An example of a system where the effects of implementation have had both a positive and negative impact is the advent of electronic communication technology.

Positive Effect

Although email has existed in varying forms since the 1960’s, the implementation of email and instant messaging for all employees was a process that started in many organisation as recently as the early 2000’s.  At the time it was implemented, it was a highly sought after technology as it was only a minority of users who had access to these software tools, and the roll-out was welcomed by the majority of employees. As time has progressed, the technology is still a fundamental communication mechanism in many large companies and public bodies.

Indeed, Kock (2001) identifies that electronic communication, specifically email, has had a positive impact on communication around process improvement as everyone gets the opportunity to contribute and comments and recorded.

Negative Effect

Conversely, the impact of electronic communication has been that fewer people will pick up the phone or leave their desk to speak with a colleague, preferring instead to email or instant message a colleague, often sat in the same room as them.

This appears to be a commonly found negative effect of electronic communication. Rocco (1998) identifies that the over-use of email as a communication tool can lead to mistrust. However, Rocco goes on to describe how initial face-to-face meetings can lead to improved communication in the longer term.

Implementation of social networking has been met with similar concerns. The aspiration is that the technology will enable more efficient communication but there are concerns that the technology will distract employees from the primary goals and functions of the business and a breakdown in face to face communication just as there has been with email.

 

References

Buchanan, D. & Huczynski, A. (2010) Organizational Behaviour. 7th Ed. London: Pearson.

Chen, C., Law, C. & Yang, S. (2009) ‘Managing ERP Implementation Failure: A Project Management Perspective’, IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 56(1), pp. 157-170, IEEEXplore [Online]. Available from: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=4757373 (Accessed: 13 January 2013).

Kock, N.  (2001) ‘Compensatory adaptation to a lean medium: An action research investigation of electronic communication in process improvement groups’, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 44(4), pp. 267-285, IEEEXplore [Online]. Available from: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=968108 (Accessed: 13 January 2013).

Rocco, E. (1998) ‘Trust breaks down in electronic contexts but can be repaired by some initial face-to-face contact’, Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 1998, pp.496-502, ACM Digital Library [Online]. Available from: http://dl.acm.org.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/citation.cfm?id=274711 (Accessed: 13 January 2013).

White, S. (2002) A Brief History of Computing – Complete Timeline [Online]. Available from: http://sophia.javeriana.edu.co/~ochavarr/computer_graphics_history/historia/computers.html (Accessed: 13 January 2013).

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IT Doesn’t Matter

Carr (2003) in his paper entitled ‘IT Doesn’t Matter’ seeks to assert that IT is becoming less of a commodity providing a strategic advantage to businesses and is moving toward a utility no different from electricity supply or railroads. In his article, Carr surmises that the trends seen in IT are no different from previous technological rollouts such as the industrial revolution in the 1800’s.

Carr argues that companies who used new and innovative IT systems to their advantage in the past are now no longer able to exploit these as all companies are now using the same technologies. Keefe (2003) describes this as giving everyone “a level playing field”.

It is difficult to argue against many of Carr’s observations and it is true that IT is now ubiquitous, used in virtually every product, every service and every industry in the World. It is also true that in many ways IT has become a consumable just like electricity, gas or water. Indeed, Vance (2012) seeks to qualify this position by stating that it has taken “less than ten years for IT not to matter”.

However, in my opinion, that is where the similarities end. I do not agree that the importance of IT systems has diminished and find Carr’s article to be short sighted and self-indulgent to deliberately evoke a strong reaction from the reader, as shown by the proliferation of articles providing a counter-argument.

Keefe (2003) argues that companies are indeed practicing maintenance and good risk avoidance with IT systems as identified by Carr, but that forward-thinking organisations are looking to the future and continuing to search for the next breakthrough in technology. While it is true that there has been a consolidation of IT systems into the infrastructure (which in my opinion needed to happen), there has been no such reduction in innovation.

Carr’s article was written nearly 10 years ago and Gonzales (2012) puts the article in perspective, reminding us that when first published, Facebook did not exist and that the Apple App store and Google’s Gmail were still a long way from being launched. These web-based technologies have fuelled period of innovation of which there is no end in sight.

Lohr (2003) describes software as “a medium without material constraints”. What Lohr means by this is that unlike railroads or electricity grids, there are not the same physical constraints of laying track or cables, so software developers can be more creative, not being constrained by physical limits.

Hassel (2012) provides four reasons why IT matters more than ever, citing that IT departments are as fundamental as HR or Finance and it is IT who are best positioned to ‘Navigate Ever-Changing Technology’. With the advent of web 3.0 and even web 4.0 in the next few years, if IT doesn’t matter, then who will embrace, develop and innovate with these technologies?

In the current economic climate of cuts and recession, IT is proving not only essential for ‘business as usual’ activities, but innovation in IT is becoming essential for future success.

References

Carr, N.G.  (2003) ‘IT Doesn’t Matter’, Harvard Business Review, 81 (5), pp. 41-49, Ebscohost [Online]. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cmedm&AN=12747161&site=eds-live&scope=site (Accessed: 4 October 2012)

Keefe, P. (2003) ‘IT Does Matter’ [Online]. Available from: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/81094/IT_Does_Matter (Accessed: 5 October 2012)

Vance, A. (2012) ‘It Took Less Than 10 Years for IT Not to Matter’ [Online]. Available from: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-06-28/it-took-about-a-decade-for-it-to-not-matter (Accessed: 6 October 2012).

Lohr, S. (2003) ‘A New Technology, Now That New Is Old’ [Online]. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/04/business/yourmoney/04TECH.html (Accessed: 5 October 2012)

Gonzalez, A (2012) ‘Revisiting “IT Doesn’t Matter” (9 Years Later)’ [Online]. Available from: http://logisticsviewpoints.com/2012/07/11/revisiting-it-doesnt-matter-9-years-later/ (Accessed: 6 October 2012)

Hassel, J. (2012) ‘4 Reasons Why IT Matters More Than Ever’ [Online]. Available from: http://www.cio.com/article/711873/4_Reasons_Why_IT_Matters_More_Than_Ever (Accessed: 6 October 2012)