As explored in my previous post, in this Digital Age successful organizations are evolving into vibrant knowledge webs made possible by the Internet, organizational intranets, and virtual collaborative tools. They are now self-organizing sociotechnical systems that utilize complex cybernetic information systems to enable conversations to occur and relationships to form as the need arises.
Organizational information systems (or IS) are a dynamic interplay between technology and workers that enable information to flow throughout an organization so jobs can be completed, customers served in a customized manner, and organizational missions accomplished. These sociotechnical systems enable:
- Relationships and networks to be established;
- Social networks and virtual teams to form and function regardless of location of members;
- Data to be collected, stored, and analyzed;
- Information transferred;
- Knowledge created;
- Organization-wide learning and mentoring to occur;
- Change and innovation fostered;
- Business to be conducted and organizational tasks to be completed efficiently and innovatively; and
- Supply chains to be managed in a manner where services and goods are provided in a timely fashion.
A central purpose of information, communication and collaboration technology (or ICCT) is to enable:
- Communication and connection, or enabling innovative conversations and the building of trusting relationships; and
- The networking of people and teams so new knowledge is created, problems solved and desired organizational outcomes reached.
An information system where people and technology are effectively woven together so a sustainable and dialogical work environment that fosters creativity is formed does not happen by chance. It takes understanding the workforce and technology as a single system as well as collaborative planning. It involves a critical in depth understanding of the organization’s goals and daily operational processes plus engaging the people who will utilize the technology in the design and application of the information systems. Such a holistic information systems analysis process does not apply innovative digital technology in a vacuum, but designs and implements it in light of a comprehension of the organization’s human systems, organizational systems and dynamics, operational processes, and communication channels.
While a shift in identity, today’s information systems (or IS) professionals are challenged to be communication specialists who enable information to flow, social networks to function, and communities of practice to form. More and more they are to be systems thinkers who work with managers to devise the organization’s knowledge sharing processes and its collaborative structure, culture, operating policies and workplace environments. In this manner, they are partnering with organizational leaders to create and facilitate the organizational mechanisms and procedures that unleash the organization’s communication and networking capital.
IS professionals are sophisticated strategists and architects of complex, flexible human-digital communication systems that are essential to accessing the organization’s collective intelligence, analyzing its knowledge, managing its workforce, reaching its markets, serving its customers, and maintain its distributed supply chain.
They are co-creators of the organization as a coherent enterprise that is responsive and adaptive. With managers and project leads, they co-facilitate teams, developing and maintaining the digital networks that establish collaborative work relationships. With senior executives they create business strategy and operational procedures, devising dynamic business structures for a global economy and facilitating lasting relationships with valued customers and business partners spread around the world. The workplace environment that they establish with other professionals is revolutionizing business theory and practice, reshaping the nature and locus of work and redefining the notion of organizational communication and innovation networks.
Introduction of new ICCT or updated versions of existing technology cause change. In their 2003 essay, “From Technical Change to Socio-Technical Change,” Neil F. Doherty and Malcolm King point out that new tools and systems impact the “design of the business, its economic performance and… working conditions.” Change can occur in:
- business processes,
- organizational structures and operations,
- organizational communication patterns and networking structures,
- work cultures,
- managerial styles,
- team collaboration methods,
- performance quality,
- job satisfaction, and
- job requirements.
So the application of new technology must be done in a thoughtful manner for information systems projects are ventures in organizational change. The planned and unintended resultant impacts must be identified and proactively addressed in the analysis, design, and implementation phases.
In the 2005 book Modern Systems Analysis and Design, authors Jeffrey A. Hoffer, Joey F. George, Joseph S. Valacich describe the systems development life cycle (or SDLC) as having five core phases:
- Planning: Identification of the organization’s information needs, then analyzing, categorizing and prioritizing them
- Analysis: Critical assessment of the organization’s systems and information processing practices resulting in a proposed alternative system
- Design: Development of a logical design describing the functional features of the new system independent of the technological platform, and a physical design depicting the system’s technological details. The latter is used by programmers to construct the system
- Implementation: Construction and deployment of the system, including coding, testing, installing and supporting the system in the organization
- Maintenance: Systematic repair and improvement of the system.
A sociotechnical approach to information systems analysis and development both complements and augments the traditional approach. Particular attention is paid to the user’s specific job needs, the technology’s impact upon the organization and user, and the user’s skill level. In his 2003 essay “Bringing Social and Organizational Issues into Information Systems Development,” David Avison noted that five key questions are explored in a sociotechnical approach:
- How is the information system supposed to further the aims of the organization using it?
- How can it be fitted into the working lives of the people in the organization using it?
- How can individuals concerned best relate to the computer in terms of operating it and using the output from it?
- What information processing function is the system to perform?
- What is the technical specification of the system that will come close enough to meeting
- the identified requirements?
In conclusion, as Russel Ackoff aptly noted, managers and their staffs do not need more information, but the information relevant to their jobs. Thus, information and decision support systems must be designed in response to personnel needs and actual work behaviors.