Before the Internet: The Relevance of Socio-technical Systems Theory to Emerging Forms of Virtual Organisation

Abstract:

Virtual organisations, in which the technology mediates the interactions in the social system, are an emergent form of socio-technical system. This chapter reviews the concepts and techniques of the 50 years of socio-technical systems theory development that preceded the internet to examine their relevance for the study of the virtual organisation. It first examines the socio-technical system concept of work organisation in relation to the quality of working life and relates these issues to contemporary forms of virtual organisation. It then examines work organisations as open systems and explores the implications of task interdependencies for the delivery of operational work. It questions whether socio-technical concepts are appropriate for emergent forms of virtual social community and concludes that many socio-technical characteristics are also likely to be found in these forms of organisation. The chapter then examines the implications of a technology that mediates communications between people in the social system. It concludes with a plea that we go beyond the design of technical systems to support virtual organisations and, in the tradition of socio-technical systems research, concern ourselves with the joint design of the social and technical components of virtual organisations.

The Emergence Of Virtual Organisations

We may define virtual organisations as enterprises in which people engage in a collective mission remotely from one another through the medium of information and communication technologies. Some enterprises started as virtual organisations in order to exploit the capabilities offered by the internet, i.e. they have never existed as ‘bricks and mortar’ organisations where staff worked and customers visited. In the commercial world, Amazon and eBay are examples of such organisations and in the social networking world, FaceBook and Twitter have developed in a similar way. The majority of organisations, however, originally operated and offered their services from physical premises and may be on a journey to becoming progressively more virtual. Several authors have used maturity models to define the stages through which organisations tend to pass as they become more virtual.

 

Knowledge Development and Social Change through Technology

IGI Global Publication Link

EASON K.D. Before the Internet: The Relevance of Socio-technical Systems Theory to Emerging Forms of Virtual Organisation, International Journal of Sociotechnology and Knowledge Development, April-June 1, 2 23-32

 

The National Health Service National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT): A Socio-technical Systems Perspective

From the book ‘Integrating Healthcare with Information and Communication Technology’ addressing the National Programme for Information Technology in the NHS

The book ‘Integrating healthcare with information and communication technology’ presents a collection of essays that discusses a set of challenges that arise when attempts are made to integrate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into health care services. By exploring the outcomes of the National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT) in the NHS in England the book attempts to learn from experience. It recognises that interoperable information systems are paramount for efficient integrated care, and contributions to explore ICT in the ongoing transformation processes towards seamless care should be of importance for the integrated care community.

The book consists of eleven chapters and the book is organised into three parts: Transforming Health Care Services using ICT, Electronic Health Records (EHR) and Global ICT Adoption and Implementation in Health Care. This national programme offered a wealth of learning about user-centred design, action research, understanding the intent of technology development and the impact of technology interoperability. The value of such learning is that by understanding where the approach was successful and not so successful future programmes could be better designed.

Information and Communications Technology National Programme for Information Technology NPfIT

Review in the International Journal of Integrated Care

Link to Amazon Listing

EASON K.D. The National Health Service National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT): A Socio-technical Systems Perspective. In Currie W. and Finnegan D. (eds) ‘Integrating healthcare with information and communications technology’ Radcliffe, Oxford 183-204

Socio-Technical Theory and Work Systems in the Information Age

Book chapter entitled ‘Socio-technical theory and work systems in the information age’

This chapter of the book set the traditional focus of socio-technical systems theory on primary work systems in modern context where information and communication technology (ICT) has a major influence in the way work is undertaken. The chapter begins with a summary of the original work of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations and critically reviews the major concepts to emerge from these studies. This is followed by a review of recent studies of the impact of ICT on work systems and how socio-technical systems are used to interpret these findings. Finally, concepts and methods of designing and implementing customisable and generic ICT systems in organisations. The authors call for a recognition and evaluation of socio-techcial systems as never completed but evolving over time; placing an emphasis on the emergent behaviour resulting from the use of new technical systems.

“Technology presumes there’s just one right way to do things and there never is.”

– Robert M. Pirsig

Socio-technical theory design networking systems

Google Books Link

EASON K. AND ABDELNOUR-NOCERA J. Socio-technical theory and work systems in the information age. In Whitworth B. and de Moor A. (eds) ‘Handbook of research on socio-technical design and social networking systems’ Information Science Reference, Hershey New York 65-77

Information Technology and Organisational Change

A book addressing the need to consider technical and organisational change as a system in the implementation of information technology

The Preface for this book published in 1988 was contemporary and on reflection, nearly thirty years later, still applicable in many ways today to implementation of information technology. It opens:

It is widely acknowledged that information technology will revolutionise organisational life. And yet if you look at most organisations you will find that the pace of change is slow and that there is not much sign of a revolution. In many organisations expensive equipment seems to be making very little contribution to the goals of the enterprise. It seems that suppliers are always in the midst of editing new technological breakthroughs whilst potential user organisations are still trying to assimilate yesterday’s technology. The pace of technological development poses the end user with the perpetual headache of trying to decide what is worth using and how to use it.

Ken wrote – of nearly twenty years as one of the founders of the HUSAT research centre, I have been working with my colleagues to understand the difficulties people encounter when trying to harness information technology and then to build tools and techniques which will help them in the process. As information has advanced the methodologies and tools for technical systems design have become progressively more sophisticated and efficient. By contrast the techniques by which uses can specify their needs, evaluate alternatives, implement systems, make complementary organisational changes etc. have hardly progressed at all. Most design methodologies pay scant attention to these issues. It is almost a truism to say that we need socio-technical systems design; the joint design of the technical and social sub-systems in the organisation. However, many forces keep the two processes apart. Technical design is the province of technologists who know little of social system design. Technical tools do not address this issue.Organisational change is the province of management but is seen as separate from technical change and ether are few tools to help the fusion of the two kinds of change.

Information Technology and Organisational Change Ken Eason

 

EASON, K.D. Information Technology and Organisational Change, (1988) Taylor & Francis, London.

Google Books Link

Amazon Link to Book

Other Publications in this Area:

Understanding Organisational Ramifications of Implementing Information Technology Systems

1966 and All That: Trends and Developments 1956-1974 within UK Ergonomics

Development of ergonomics in the UK between 1956 and 1974

Abstract:
The 1960s represents a key decade in the expansion of ergonomics within the UK. This paper reviews trends and developments that emerged out of the 1960s and compares these with ergonomics research and practice today. The focus in particular is on the expansion of ergonomics as a discipline within industry, as well as more specific topics, such as the emergence of areas of interest, for example, computers and technology, automation and systems ergonomics and consumer ergonomics. The account is illustrated with a detailed timeline of developments, a set of industrial case studies and the contents of important publications during the decade. A key aim of the paper is to provide the opportunity to reflect on the past and the implications this may have for future directions for ergonomics within the UK.

The paper provides practitioners with an insight into the development of ergonomics in the UK during one of the most important decades of its history. This is especially relevant given the fact that in 2009 the Ergonomics Society celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Introduction:

The quote from the Italian writer Italo Calvino was made during a debate held on ‘industry and literature’ at the beginning of the 1960s. Calvino sums up what were to become dominant themes in later accounts of the period, namely, the growth of automation and the increasing role played by technology within society. Both of these themes are important within ergonomics and continue today as sources of debate in research and practical applications of the subject. Similarly, many issues have declined in interest or relevance as compared to 40 years ago. Much has been written about the origins of ergonomics, alongside other discussions centred around pioneers within ergonomics and the future of the discipline (e.g. Frederic Bartlett). By comparison, little detailed information is available covering specific periods within the development of ergonomics. This paper focuses on the 1960s within UK ergonomics for a number of reasons. First, the 1960s can be seen as a mid-point between the immediate post-war roots and birth of ergonomics and its subsequent development into a fully fledged discipline. Second, during the 1960s, ergonomics became firmly established within industry and made firm steps towards closer engagement with civil, government and industrial users and practitioners. The late Brian Shackel (1927–2007), in a paper written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of ergonomics within EMI, viewed the period as a bridge between earlier work on military ergonomics and a later focus on consumer ergonomics in the 1970s.

In 2009 the UK Ergonomics Society celebrates its 60th anniversary. It seems timely and appropriate to stand back and review trends and developments over the period and compare these with present day ergonomics.

Taylor and Francis Ergonomics Ken Eason developments 1956 1974 within uk ergonomics

Taylor and Francis Publication Link

WATERSON P. AND EASON K.D. 1966 and All That: Trends and Developments 1956-1974 within UK Ergonomics. Ergonomics 52(11) 1323-1341

Ergonomic Interventions in the Implementation of New Technical Systems

Opportunities for ergonomic and human factors in new technical systems

One of the most frequent sources of change in working life is the implementation of new technology. This can have many implications for the work system. There will be an immediate need for staff to acquire new skills and there may be potentially far-reaching effects on jobs and the way work is organised. There are many opportunities for ergonomic and human factors (E/HF) interventions, but what can be achieved depends on the way the new technology is implemented. This chapter examines the different strategies by which new technology is implemented into the workplace and their implications for E/HF interventions.

Technocentric Implementation Strategies

The prevailing approach to technical system implementation has bene described as ‘technocentric’ or ‘technology push’ (Balham 1993, Eason 1993). In this approach the objective is seen in entirely technical terms: to design or purchase a complete technical system, to install the equipment, get it ‘up and running’ and train the users in its correct usage. If therein recognition that there may be wider ramifications for the work system, this is often framed as ‘resistance to change’ on the part of the workforce and is to be overcome by such mechanisms as appointing ‘user champions’ to act as persuaders and using industrial relations procedures to deal with disputes.

Evaluation Human Work Ken Eason Ergonomics New Technical Systems

Google Books Link

Eason K.D. Ergonomic Interventions in the Implementation of New Technical Systems. In Wilson J. and Sharples S. (eds) Evaluation of Human Work 4th Edition, Taylor and Francis 837-853

People and Computers: Emerging Work Practice in the Information Age

A chapter in the book ‘Psychology at Work’ reviewing the impact of information technology on work practice and the link between people and work

 

Psychology at work Ken Eason People and computers emerging work practice in the information age

Amazon Book Link

EASON K.D. People and Computers: Emerging Work Practice in the Information Age. In P.B.Warr (ed) ‘Psychology at Work’ Penguin, London, 5th Edition pp 77-99 ISBN 0-14-100010-4

Exploring the Implications of Allocation of Function for Human Resource Management in the Royal Navy

Organisational requirements definition for information technology systems (ORDIT) to determine the responsibilities within the planned socio-technical system

Abstract:
Automation changes the allocation of function between machines and people and there can be many concerns about the effects on individual human performance. However, these changes also have wider consequences because the number of people in the system may be reduced and the skills they require may be different with consequential impact upon . These wider implications are rarely considered in a systematic manner when a new technical system is being developed. This paper presents a method for the assessment of these wider implications during the system development process. This method has been developed and demonstrated in a Royal Navy context to explore the impact of automation in a new class of warships on the manning of the warship and on human resource planning in the Navy. The paper describes the method and the results of applying it in the naval context. The method utilizes the approach of organisational requirements definition for information technology systems (ORDIT) to determine the responsibilities within the planned socio-technical system and a scenario-based workshop approach for establishing the implications and options at each stage of the analysis. The results demonstrate that it is possible to trace the implications of a technical change of this kind for a major organization but that it is a multi-stage and multi-layered process. There are within the process many options with different implications which reveals where the organization has leverage to plan for the future.

 

Human Factors and Ergonomics Ken Eason Organisational Requirements Definition for Information Technology Systems

 

Google Books Link

STRAIN, J. and EASON, K.D., Exploring the implications of allocation of function for human resource management in the Royal Navy, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Vol 52(2), pp319-334. ISSN 1071-5819.

Consumer Behaviour of Employees Using Information & Communications Technology Products in an Organizational Setting

Human Factors and Ergonomics in Consumer Product Design: Uses and Applications

Every day we interact with thousands of consumer products. We not only expect them to perform their functions safely, reliably, and efficiently, but also to do it so seamlessly that we don’t even think about it. However, with the many factors involved in consumer product design, from the application of human factors and ergonomics principles to reducing risks of malfunction and the total life cycle cost, well, the process just seems to get more complex. Edited by well-known and well-respected experts, the two-volumes of Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics in Consumer Product Design simplify this process.

The second volume, Human Factors and Ergonomics in Consumer Product Design: Uses and Applications, discusses challenges and opportunities in the design for product safety and focuses on the critical aspects of human-centered design for usability. The book contains 14 carefully selected case studies that demonstrate application of a variety of innovative approaches that incorporate Human Factor and Ergonomics (HF/E) principles, standards, and best practices of user-centered design, cognitive psychology, participatory macro-ergonomics, and mathematical modeling. These case studies also identify many unique aspects of new product development projects, which have adopted a user-centered design paradigm as a way to attend to user requirements.

The case studies illustrate how incorporating HF/E principles and knowledge in the design of consumer products can improve levels of user satisfaction, efficiency of use, increase comfort, and assure safety under normal use as well as foreseeable misuse of the product. The book provides a comprehensive source of information regarding new methods, techniques, and software applications for consumer product design.

Chapter: ‘Consumer Behaviour of Employees Using Information & Communications Technology Products in an Organisational Setting’ introduces the idea of seeing workers as consumers of IT

“Perhaps the most interesting chapter, though, is Ken Eason’s which makes a compelling case for regarding employees at work in an organisational setting as consumers of IT products.” – Gordon Baxter

Link to Review on Taylor and Francis Site

Human Factors Ergonomic Product Design Ken Eason Information & Communications Technology

Amazon Book Link

Google Books Link

EASON K. D. Consumer behaviour of employees using information and communications technology products in an organizational setting. In ‘Human Factors and Ergonomics in Consumer Product Design: Uses and Applications’ Eds. W. Karwowski, M. M. Soares and N. A. Stanton, CRC Press, Boca Raton p241- 253

Are ‘Human Factors’ Human Revisited

Comment from Ken Eason on the paper

‘This paper is a contribution to the 60th birthday celebrations for Niel’s Bjorn Andersen to recognise his many contributions to the development of information systems. In 1984 Niel’s wrote a paper called ‘Are ‘Human Factors’ Human?’ in which he challenged the human factors community, then helping to develop different forms of human-computer interaction, to be more humanistic in their approach and to take a more holistic view of people in systems. This paper reflects on developments in human factors since 1984 in the light of Niel’s challenges. It traces the history of research and design practice since 1984 and, although there are signs of a broader based approach to human beings in systems, it concludes that much of the work is still about specific issues, for example, the recognition of icons,. Major progress has been made in the way users participate in design work and on methodologies for usability and accessability evaluation. However, much less progress has been made in changing overall design processes from technical procedures where human and organisational issues are dealt with, if at all, at the implementation stage. The objective of sociotechnical sysems design. which takes a humanistic view of the people in the system, becoming mainstream practice is still a long way off.’

 

EASON K.D. Are ‘Human Factors’ Human Revisited In Andersen K.V. and Thanning Vendelo M. (eds) The Past and Future of Information Systems, Oxford, Butterworth-Heinemann, pp123-136