This paper documents a process of introducing new information technology within an organisation, using ideas from organisation theory applied by a consultancy firm. In this paper parts of the organisation has been analysed to identify some of the problems linked to the method adopted in the implementation process. The findings are compared with literature within the STS (Science, Technology and Society) field and the field of organisation theory. An emerging theme is how the organisational culture seemingly jeopardised the relation between the introduction of the information technology and the organisational development process.
It seems as if, the organisational ideas adopted and applied in this case, are as difficult in practise as they appear unclear and debated in literature. The research presented in this paper suggested that in the intersection between organisational theory and information technology,what emerges as most interesting is the organisational culture. This paper argues that the organisational culture of the Norwegian Army was in many ways a hindrance to a successful adoption of information technology.
In this paper a study is presented which examines the importance of the organisational culture and looks at the interaction between: OD, organisational culture and information technology. The study was of an information technology project within the Norwegian Army. In August 1995, one of the biggest IT project ever launched by the Norwegian Army terminated. This represented an end to a project which had lasted more than a decade and had cost approximately NOK 635 (i?? 63,5) mill .
Named the Electronic Data Processing in Local Administration (EDB i Lokal Forvaltning, EDBLF) project,the stated purpose was to make the Army more efficient by introducing an information technology system to be used by local Army units for administration purposes. The technology in question was to be distributed to 130 units and would affect 2000 employees. The adoption of the new information technology was to be done through an organisational development process, the idea behind being that changes in job procedures and thus changing the organisation should be done prior to the introduction of the information technology.
Within organisational theory literature there are diverging views regarding organisational development. Authors like Ebeltoft have argued that,’organisational development should encompass the whole organisation, it is questionable, he says, if educating managers or introducing new production technology, contribute to development of the organisation’ (Ebeltoft, 1975 as cited in Flaa et al 1995). Within the academic tradition of organisational theory as understood and explained by sociologists specialised in the area, several authors have attempted to give a definition of organisational development.
French and Bell (1984) say that ‘an organisational development process is a long range effort by the organisation to improve its ability to solve problems. The ‘effort’ involves a more effective and collaborative diagnosis and management of organisational culture’ (French and Bell, 1984, p. 17). French and Bell continue by saying that they cannot see an organisational development process undertaken without the assistance of a consultant facilitator. This person is necessary to orchestrate the process, freed from the prejudices and the history of the organisation(French and Bell, 1984, p.
17). French and Bell make a distinction between ‘organisational development’ and what they call ‘organisational change’. ‘The organisational development consultant does not make recommendations in the traditional sense; her end product is not a written report to top management, concluding with recommendations for the solutions of substantive problems. The client organisation, however, is assisted in the way it goes about solving problems. Basically, in most OD interventions the client group is assisted in generating valid data and learning from them’. (French and Bell, 1984, p. 22).
In this paper, French and Bell’s notions of OD and organisational change are used. The most dominating theme in this paper, organisational culture, requires a discussion. The definition of organisational culture used in this paper is based upon a definition by Keller and Matenaar. Culture they say is ‘ a result of collective societal behaviour and the thinking of individuals, culture embraces all kinds of cultural expressions as well as manners and customs, social organisations and institutions, and shared convictions, motives, values and attitudes'(Keller and Matenar quoted in Ernste, 1989, p.94).
Using this definition, culture is as broad as society itself. We as members of this society, are a product of its culture and have been assimilated by it. When we join organisations we bring this rucksack of culture with us. This cultural heritage is furthered, once inside the organisation, by the influence of internal problems and through interaction with others, giving rise to a ‘corporate culture’ (Ernste, 1989, p. 94). Thompson and McHugh say ‘that corporate culture is the core and glue binding the diverse corporate activities together’ (Thompson and McHugh, 1990).
A second dominating theme in this paper is information technology and its effect upon an organisation. ‘It is helpful to see an organisation as a delicate mesh between a social system and its technical system. The effect of change in one system will therefore be felt throughout the others’ (Winfield, 1991, p. 135). Winfield says that developments in technology alter the distribution of power and control in the workplace (Winfield, 1991). Gjersvik , on the other hand, claims that, ‘ what distinguishes IT are two main traits, one related to design, the other related to the nature of the machines’.
He continues by saying that, ‘the design of computer systems is based on the idea that organisations can be described often as a structure a set of rules the computer carries a representation of the organisation, and in computers the language is an integrated part. Software is what makes the computer work’ (Gjersvik, 1993, p. 213). Accepting Gjersvik definition information technology could be seen as contributing to the shaping of the organisation according to a particular organisational model embedded in the IT system.
Through IT, the organisational structure is embedded, and since the organisation can be defined as ‘being a culture’, IT could be seen a representation of the organisation and its culture. If we extend this further, the artefacts i. e. the software and the hardware, and the external requirements facing the organisation embedded within the software connected through electronic communication, becomes a representation of the organisation which might force the actors within this system to act in a certain way.
Thus, IT could be used to uphold a particular functioning of the organisation. Relations between information technology and the influence of individuals within the organisation on IT have been identified in the academic tradition known as, ‘the Scandinavian Approach’. Margrit Falck, writing within this tradition, says that there is a connection between organisation, work and information system, established through the regulation of human activity by individuals and groups.