Information Technology and Organisations, viewing affordances

January 3, 2008

I was reading a paper that super-fits to the task what i have in hand, elaborating some pedagogical IT aspects for extended organizations formed by cross-border interactions of universities and industries. Plus, it is well in accordance with my affordance-affinity and ecological aspects of affordances:

At its core, an affordance perspective recognizes that a technological object has some recognized functionality but needs to be recognized as a social object. As a social object, its influence on organizational functioning and performance cannot be separated from expertise, jobs, processes, or structures.

Authors raise the question: How do novel combinations of IT and organizational features create new affordances and how affordances impact on organizations’ boundaries.

The article is from the special issue dealing the interrelations of technology and industries.

Zammuto, RE, Griffith, TL, et al.
Information technology and the changing fabric of organization
ORGAN SCI 18 (5): 749-762 SEP-OCT 2007

Organizing no longer needs to take place around hierarchy and the collection, storage, and distribution of information as was the case with “command and control” bureaucracies in the past. The adoption of innovations in information technology and organizational practices since the 1990s now make it possible to organize around what can be done with information. These changes are not the result of information technologies per se, but of the combination of their features with organizational arrangements and practices that support their use.

Earlier theories:Common to these models is the underlying premise that the structural forms of organization (e.g., functional, divisional, matrix) are defined by hierarchies because they specify authority relationships, determine information flows, and serve as the primary mechanism for the coordination and control of activities. Hierarchy was the original thread from which the fabric of organization was woven.

* Increasing technological complexity requires greater structural complexity for effective performance (Woodward, 1958,1965).
Woodward, J. 1958. Management and Technology. H. M. S. O., London, UK.
Woodward, J. 1965. Industrial Organization” Theory and Practice. Oxford University Press, New York.

*The number of exceptions in a work flow and the extent to which exceptions were analyzable would impact the location of discretion and power within an organization, the interdependence of work groups, and how they were coordinated (Perrow, 1967, 1970).
Perrow, C. 1967. A framework for the comparative analysis of organizations. Amer. Sociol. Rev. 32 194–208.
Perrow, C. 1970. Organizational Analysis: A Sociological View. Wadsworth, Belmont, CA.

* Decision-making uncertainty could be reduced by decreasing the amount of information required through the provision of slack resources, by buffering, or by increasing an organization’s capacity to process information. Increasing information capacity could be accomplished using formal hierarchical information processes and through lateral integrating mechanisms. Galbraith (1973, 1977) saw information technology as a tool to enhance vertical information processing whereas horizontal information processing could be increased by creating linkages between people who possessed part of the information required for a specific decision-making activity.
Galbraith, J. 1973. Designing Complex Organizations. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA.
Galbraith, J. R. 1977. Organization Design. Addison-Wesley, Reading,MA.

The contingency theory debate about the relative merit of technology versus size and environment as determinants of organizational structure in the 1960s and 1970s.

Institutional theory (Meyer and Rowan 1977), population ecology (Hannan and Freeman, 1977), and resource dependence theory (Pfeffer and Salancik 1978).

By the mid-1990s, technology had virtually died out as a theme in the study of organizational form and function within the organization science literature.

Technology’s relationship to organizational form and function.
1996-2005 13 articles examined the relationship between IT and organizational phenomena such as communications, teams, learning, the nature of work, and interorganizational relations.

While the field’s interest in the relationship between technology and organization declined, IT’s penetration
of everyday life and the world of organizations increased dramatically.

Manufacturing resource planning (MRP) systems during the 1980s
In 1980s IT was primarily used to automate existing operations and to increase the speed of
Automation within organizational functions meant that routine information collection and storage tasks were taken over by IT, replacing paper and people with electrons, without fundamentally changing the way work was done. Managers relied on upward flows of information to surface problems with the ongoing operations and downward flows of instructions for making adjustments. Zuboff’s (1988) seminal research demonstrated, automation increased managers’ sense of certainty and control over both production and organizational functions, thereby reinforcing hierarchy.
*Productivity paradox suggested that information technology was not significantly affecting organizational form and function as reflected by outcomes.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems during the early 1990s
In 1990s research began to report a positive relationship between IT investment and productivity in industries and firms. Greater investment in IT is associated with greater productivity growth (Dedrick et al., 2003). IT as enabler of organisational changes – the wide range of performance of IT investments among different organizations can be explained by complementary investments in organizational capital such as decentralized decision making systems, job training, and business process redesign.

ERP incorporated supply chain management systems during the late 1990s, which allowed integration to occur across organizational boundaries.
These systems reduced the need to use hierarchy to manage information flowsand coordinate activities. As a result, these enterprise systems decreased the need to move information through a hierarchy, allowing people to organize around the work itself and what could be done with the information.

Process-oriented IT integration
In addition to automating work, activities, events, and objects are translated into and made visible by information (Zuboff (1988).
Opportunities for emergent patterns of interaction or, in other words, new forms of organizing. Everyone could “see” and understand the whole work flow.
Horizontal communities of work
These communities of practice organize work not through static vertical slices, but through emergent horizontal flows of work around core processes (Brown and Duguid 1991).

As IT takes over many coordination and control responsibilities from hierarchy, traditional hierarchical
views of organizational form become incomplete.
A conceptual shift—from “organizational form” to “forms of organizing”
Alternative forms of organisation:
– the adhocracy (Mintzberg 1983)
– the heterarchy (Hedlund 1986)
– the shamrock (Handy 1989)
– the boundaryless organization (Devanna and Tichy 1990),
– the hypertext organization (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995)
– the edge-of-chaos organization (Brown and Eisenhardt 1998)

We try to capture the interplay between IT and organization using the term “affordances” in the sense that new combinations of technology and organizational features continually create possibilities that affect organizational form and function.

Affordances are the result of the confluence or intertwining of IT and organizational features.
Using an affordance lens suggests that although IT and organization features may exist independently of each other, their value for explaining organizational form and function comes from how they are enacted together.
At its core, an affordance perspective recognizes that a technological object has some recognized functionality but needs to be recognized as a social object. As a social object, its influence on organizational functioning and performance cannot be separated from expertise, jobs, processes, or structures.

We describe five possible affordances—1) visualizing entire work processes, 2) real-time/flexible product and service innovation, 3) virtual collaboration, 4) mass collaboration, and 5) simulation/synthetic reality.

1. Visualizing entire work processes affordance is the ability to observe the entire work process in action from “end to end,” representing it through language, imagery, or physical artifacts to make decisions about next steps when alternative actions can be taken.
This affordance is enabled by the symbiosis of technology and organizational features. Visualization enables the collective sensemaking. This affordance makes the organizing process emergent and mutable.This affordance can make organizational boundaries more permeable yet able to be monitored.

2. Real-Time/Flexible Product and Service Creation affordance is the ability to create software-enhanced products and services by quickly recombining components in new and innovative ways. Several enabling technology features make possible the integration of components in innovative ways including web-based service-oriented architectures, standardized component designs, and open source software.Creation of a “common ground” of social action that enables people from diverse backgrounds and expertise to come together easily is needed to trigger this affordance.
Transactive memory systems is one example of shared understanding that must be able to allow for emergent cognitive structures as problem definitions and solutions dynamically evolve (Lewis et al. 2005, Majchrzak et al. 2007). Structures are needed to facilitate crossing thought world boundaries such as boundary objects that accommodate the kinds of knowledge being codeveloped among the groups (Carlile 2004), and boundary spanners of varying types to gather up information, scout out opportunities, or ward off unnecessary interference (Ancona and Caldwell 1992). These roles, coupled with help from intermediaries such as brokers, opportunity recognizers, and translators (Markus et al. 2002, Majchrzak et al. 2004), facilitate more creative mixing of the components.

3. Collaborating virtually affordance refers to the ability to share and integrate others’ knowledge when that knowledge is primarily conveyed through virtual media. Virtual collaboration can broaden participation in an organization’s work processes and decision making by including people located at its periphery.Virtual collaboration increases the potential for bringing people from different organizations and disciplines together dynamically for short periods of time.Virtual collaboration provides the opportunity to capture decision rationales and work processes as work is done, enabling future actors to reuse or learn from past work. Virtual collaboration enhances the potential for organizations to extend their boundaries.

4. The mass collaboration affordance is defined as the process by which people interact on a many-to-many basis via the Internet as opposed to a one-to-one basis (e.g., instant messaging), or a one-to-many basis (e.g., list servers) creating new unexpected content. Maintaining norms of reciprocity are critical (this is in accordance with Nonaka’s ideas of managing ba!).
A major implication of the mass collaboration affordance (like using wikis in organisation) for organizing is that it creates the potential for quickly developing temporary organizations.It affords the possibility of unbounded networks.

5. The simulation/synthetic representation affordance is defined as the capability to conduct what-if scenarios.Simulation can affect how people actually go about their work by giving them multiple simultaneous personas to play, e.g., a person may play an avatar at Toyota and a real marketing person at Toyota.


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