Archive for the ‘Technological Change’ Category

Socio-Technical Systems: Users are the Kings and Queens of Information Technology

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Users are the kings and queens of information technology. One research model, Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) (Davis, 1989), predicts that approximately 40 percent of a system’s use is determined by what people think, and what their peers think about the system. People will use an information system if:

  • It helps them achieve their work objectives
  • It is easy to use
  • The quality of the system, particularly response time
  • Social pressure is positive to the use of the system

These factors are not sufficient to ensure full use of a new system. Effective change management is a critical factor (Al-Mashari & Al-Mudimigh, 2003) including addressing the needs of key stakeholders. This research highlights the critical need to develop strategic implementation frameworks that focus on key cultural and social factors.

So what does all this mean? Users are the kings and queens of information systems. Information technology groups that ignore this research risk implementation budget blowouts, non-acceptance of new technology, alienation of the IT group from mainstream culture and social systems, loss of credibility and unnecessarily high costs for maintenance and ad hoc fixes.

Davis, F. D. (1989). Perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and user acceptance of Information Technologies. MIS Quarterly, 13(3), 319-340.Dallas Burgess

Al-Mashari, M., & Al-Mudimigh, A. (2003). ERP implementation: Lessons from a case study. Information Technology and People, 16(1), Business module, 21-33.

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Technological Change: It’s Time to Revisit Socio-Technical Systems Approaches to Technological Change

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

“There is nothing so practical as a good theory” Kurt Lewin

 Both technology and people are critical to the delivery of strategic objectives in organisations. However the balance seems to be in favour of satisfying the technological imperative to the neglect of harnessing the full potential of people to effect significant change across the organisation.

 It is time to revisit the application of socio-technical theory in leading change in organisations.

 This is the first of a series of articles on the critical role of socio-technical approaches to change in the complex modern world of organisations.

 What is a Socio-technology System?

 The free encyclopedia “Wikipedia” states:

 “ The term socio-technical systems was coined in the 1960s by Eric Trist and Fred Emery, who were working as consultants at the Tavistock Institute in London.

 In organizational development, socio-technical systems (or STS) is an approach to complex organisational work design that recognises the interaction between people and technology in workplaces. The term also refers to the interaction between society’s complex infrastructures and human behaviour. In this sense, society itself, and most of its sub-structures, are complex socio-technical systems.”

 The dictionary of sociology published by Oxford University Press in 1998 extends the working definition of Socio-technical Systems:

 socio-technical system A term devised to avoid the rather simplistic technological determinism in much mainstream organization theory. It was coined by the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in Britain, and used in the theory of organizational choice which guided their programme of applied research.Though accepting the conventional wisdom of industrial sociology and the

Human Relations Movement

 

that in-plant technical factors affect the quality of social relationships at work, the Tavistock researchers argued that technology merely constrains human action, rather than rigidly determining behavioural outcomes. Conscious choice can build good human relations into the technical workflow. Indeed, for any productive problem there is typically a range of technologically equivalent solutions, with differing implications for human relations.By emphasizing the element of choice, and the mutual influence of technology and the social systems of the workplace, the Tavistock researchers sought to move away from technological determinism towards greater appreciation within management of the need for consultation, innovation, flexibility, and an open mind in the design of work processes and procedures. The consultancy and action research work which led to the formulation of socio-technical systems was carried out in the coal-mining and textiles industries in Britain and India in the 1940s and 1950s, and seemed to show that work teams which operated a flexible allocation of tasks and jobs achieved higher
 
productivity
 

 

, lower absenteeism, and fewer accidents than work teams with a rigid division of labour and inflexible ‘segregated’ task groups.The Tavistock studies were criticized for underestimating the difficulties of reconciling economic, technical, and social efficiency. However, the idea of the socio-technical system (though not the term itself) has passed into conventional thinking about work organization, flexibility issues, and the impact of technical change. “
 
 

 

 

© A Dictionary of Sociology 1998, originally published by Oxford University Press 1998.

The Dominance of Technological Determinism

 People often feel dominated by the technological imperative. Experience suggests this is a major cause of resistance to change. Moreover they believe technological change is techno-centric – change is implemented as though the organisation exists only as a technical system – devoid of people.

 This is particularly the case where centralised IT groups, with “Expert” cultures, impose technology on the wider organisation without any in-depth engagement with the people impacted by the new technology. People are instruments for interrogating and manipulating databases. Any people work eg satisfying customer needs, is considered separate to the core work of the organisation – which is satisfying the needs of multiple and diverse information technology systems.

 In-Depth People Engagement

 There is a paradox in many modern organisations. If IT groups are asked to explain their philosophy on change the discussion will inevitably revolve around some form of socio-technical systems approach. Similarly, if the same questions are discussed by HR groups, again the discussion will revolve around some form of socio-technical systems approach to change. Yet when feedback surveys are administered across these same organisations there is often considerable dissatisfaction expressed with the way technological change is implemented. Why is it so?

 Is it possible that technological change is just so complex, coupled with significant time and budget constraints, that it is simply not possible to ensure quality engagement with the people impacted by the change? And is this compounded by the dominance of technological determinism whereby technology is King and people are mere instruments of the King?

 Can organisations continue to just pay lip service to the implications of socio-technical systems? Or has the time arrived whereby organisations have no alternative but to tackle complexity head on and undertake in-depth engagement work with people. Rather than deny complexity it is not better to work with people to capture the whole complexity – people who know can help break down complexity into manageable chunks.

 These questions and others will be explored further through references to research and the experience of practitioners in the field. Suggestions for new ways of tackling technological change within the context of the socio-technical systems framework will be discussed in future articles.

 Dallas Burgess

 

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Technological Change: How to Avoid Resistance

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

When a new Information System is being implemented people need answers to the following questions:

 

  • Why it is necessary to implement a new system?
  • How will the new system work?
  • How will the system impact on individual roles?
  • When will the system need to be implemented?
  • What will people need to know about the system within the context of their roles?
  • How will they get this knowledge?
  • Who will do the training?
  • When will the training occur?

 Resistance to the new system will grow in proportion to how vague and general the IT group is about the change, and how much time it takes to answer people’s questions.

 

So how can an Information Technology group avoid the growth of resistance across the organisation?

 

1. Perception

 

People need to see the problems that the existing system creates. For this to occur their awareness needs to expand beyond their day-to-day use of the existing system. A shift in consciousness needs to occur. Such a shift is like the illustration of perception in Psychology 101. We first see a vase then a shift occurs and we see the profile of a young women – white to black.

 

People’s resistance will remain high when they cannot see how necessary it is to change to the new system.

 

2. Intellectual

 

If the perceptual shift has occurred people are able to accommodate and understand the reasons for the need to develop and implement the new System. At this stage IT groups need to focus on explaining the logic of, and demonstrating, how the new system will improve people’s working life.

 

Many IT groups jump straight to the Intellectual and focus on reasoning and logic  rather than first helping people to achieve the perceptual.

 

 3. Emotional

 

If people have experienced the perceptual shift, and have sufficient understanding of the reasons and logic for the change, then they are likely to be emotionally ready to change. This means they are emotionally committed to the change rather than just passively acquiescing. Passive acquiescence is not commitment and usually results in ongoing resistance, particularly passive aggressive behaviour, eg undermining the operation of the new system.

 

4. Behavioural

 

When people can see the need for change, understand the reasons and logic for the change and are emotionally committed to the change, they are ready to learn new ways of working. At this stage IT groups need to support learning. This includes helping to build people’s confidence in working with the new system.

 

Summary

 

Many instances of change failure are due to IT groups focusing on the Intellectual factors before the perceptual shift has taken place. This is often followed by a focus on training (Behavioural) before an emotional commitment has occurred.

 

If you are an IT manager experiencing considerable resistance it is worthwhile stepping back and asking a few questions:

 

·         Have I moved too far ahead of people’s conceptual understanding?

·         Have I been able to expand people’s awareness about the need for change?

·         What evidence do I have that people are ready to accommodate and understand the reasons for the change?

·         How do I know if people have an emotional commitment to the change?

·         Are people seeking support to learn new work behaviours?; Or

·         Are people passively acquiescing?

 

For more information on Technological Change See Technological Change: The Critical Role of Organisation and People Values posted on 7th September 2008 – Category – Technological Change.

 

 

Dallas Burgess

 

 

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Gerstein’s article has a serious hyperlink strong emphasis on experiential, hands-on learning activities

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Technological Change: The Critical Role of Organisation and People Values

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

Technology has the greatest impact on how people do their work. Yet too often the potential benefits of technological change are not realised. Why is this?

  

The Change Silo – (see Organisation Renewal – How to Avoid Change Silos – posted on 16th July 2008)

 

Information Technology Managers often struggle to escape the Change Silo problem. As a result critical technological change is conceived, planned and executed in an organisation personality vacuum. The technological “experts” consult with potential users at the technological level but often fail to explore and understand what, how and why people can directly benefit from the new system. This requires a deep understanding of the strategy and mission of the organisation. It also requires a deep understanding of the values of the people who work in the organisation – why people decided to contribute to this organisation and not a competitor.

 

Impact of Values

 

Technological Change Managers must first examine and understand whether the proposed system will be accepted by people. This requires an analysis of the values fit between the organisation, people and the impact that the new system will have on these values.

 

The first question is: Does the current values set contribute in a positive way to the achievement of mission and strategy?  If the answer is no, then considerable work is required before implementation of the new system is attempted. That work involves organisation wide values development and realignment. To impose a new system on an inappropriate value set will reinforce the anomalous values set, and because of the inherent rigidity of most information technology systems, will result in virtually no chance in the future to realign values without catastrophic intervention.

 

Alternatively, if people’s values are aligned to mission and strategy, then the Technological Change Manager must ensure the system is designed and implemented so that people can continue to work in ways consistent with their values. This seems obvious. However in many cases this factor is ignored – because the emphasis has been on the technological aspects of the change rather than the people aspects of the change.

   

Organisation Personality

 

Understanding the organisation personality is critical to realising the full benefits of new information technology systems. For example, the application of information technology to secondary education. Principals are the education leaders of their local community. They expect, and the local community expects, that Principals will have a major input into the design of information technology systems that impact on their school and children. Yet too often technological change is conceived, planned and attempted to be implemented from the “Expert” centralised perspective – “We know what’s best for you”.

 

In this example, the organisation personality is one of local independence – Principals lead their schools on a day-to-day basis, teachers are focused on the best interests of their students and expect to have control over the available information technology to deliver education outcomes to their students.

 

In this organisation environment, removing a Principal’s opportunity to influence technological change outcomes undermines his/her leadership in the local community, and prevents Information Technology Managers from fully understanding how to optimise information services to schools. The result is poor implementation outcomes, ongoing resistance and conflict with Information Management groups.

 

New Information Technology Roles

 

No longer is it sufficient, if it ever was, to just focus on the technological work of Information technology professionals. Modern organisations are complex with broad cross functional interdependencies (see Leadership – Effective Cross-Functional, Multi-Discipline Leadership Will Power Performance posted on 11th August 2008). This means IT professionals skills need to include:

 

{    Leadership, particularly cross functional leadership

{    Technological Change Management with emphasis on organisation renewal and people (see Page – What is Organisation Renewal)

{    Project Management

{    Problem Solving/Innovation

{    Technology Risk Management

 

Summary

 

The missing link in technological change management is awareness and understanding of the critical impact that values have on how information technology systems need to be conceived, planned and implemented. The failure in the past to acknowledge this factor has resulted in project delays, cost over-runs, less than optimum final implementation and work arounds ie people finding ways to subvert systems.

 

It is time for Information Technology Managers to rethink the skills set of their IT professionals.

 

Dallas Burgess

 

 

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