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Power, Authority, Control, Obedience and Initiative in the context of IT

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Over the last decade, a pivotal theme within management and organisational research has been the identification of new industrial methodologies and technologies which focus on the generation of greater workforce commitment and flexibility. The hope is that the new information-based technologies will allow of the tenets and practices of Taylorism and Fordism, once the basis for industrial development, to be swept away, thus developing an environment of commitment and trust. This would be exemplified by "empowered" semi-autonomous units of production, where a highly trained and skilled workforce could exercise freedom and authority within a decentralised mode of control and co-ordination. (Wilson, 1995) The introduction of information technology (IT) into organisations has brought about a techno-centric interpretation of its affects on management-worker relationships and changes in structure. However, it is more reasonable to view the changes affected by IT as goal determinant rather than technology determinant. Many authors have sought to produce a singular theory of how IT affects relationships within the organisation and the structure of the same. However, this debate masks rather than clarifies realities about the differing roles of IT. This paper will present a conceptualisation of the uses of IT within organisations in relation to varying organisational goals and the corresponding management and worker roles. It will be shown how four different ways of categorising the use of IT within an organisation can be based on the level of worker empowerment provided by the IT and the amount of management control it is necessary to maintain. The definition of IT used for this analysis is of the broadest possible nature. The definition given by Scott Morton is useful, broadly siting IT to consist of "computers of all types, both hardware and software; communications network, from those connecting two personal computers to the largest public and private networks; and the increasingly important integrations of computing and communications technologies..." (Scott Morton in Sharpe, 1998). ...read more.


First, the analysis recognises the plurality of organisation types, people, and goals in a model that encompasses various organisational forms. And secondly, the model is of practical use in that it predicts the uses of IT that will suit certain organisational goals. The Control - Empowerment Matrix IT changes the relationship between the control exerted by management and the level of empowerment enjoyed by the worker. These two ideas can be thought of on a scale from high to low. Management either exerts a high or low level of control, and workers experience either a high or low level of empowerment. As discussed previously, those in control of the implementation of an IT system can determine the type and amount of information available to workers, and therefore can determine the extent to which they will be empowered. In a parallel sense, the level of empowerment of the workers will be related to the level of control that is desirable of management. These factors must them be considered within the parameters of the goals of the organisation. Thus, the two scales of control and empowerment can then be placed in a matrix to visually examine the relationship between the varying levels of control and empowerment and the resulting organisational structure (see Figure 1). The Control-Empowerment Matrix shows how combinations of worker empowerment and management exertion of control combine to produce differing uses of technology and different organisational structures. As shown in the previous discussion, levels of exertion of managerial control must be considered in reference to the level of worker empowerment. Thought management control maybe high or low, the qualitative nature of that control will change with the level of worker empowerment. When empowerment is low, management seeks obedience through commands, but when empowerment is high, management seeks influence through delegation of responsibility. The four quadrants represent four uses of IT and the resulting organisational structure. Where management exerts a high level of control, but worker empowerment is low, IT is likely used for surveillance. ...read more.


Secondly, this analysis has implications in relation to the productivity paradox. The productivity paradox is the term applied to, "the apparent absence of robust productivity gains2 in the 1990s ... despite the widespread introduction of information technology or computers throughout the economy ..." (Sharpe, 1998). There are several hypotheses that seek to explain the productivity paradox including the idea that "IT can only be used effectively when organizations have the appropriate environment" (Sharpe, 1998). Proponents of this view (such as Peters) believe that the productivity gains of IT will only be realised once organisational structures are radically changed to accommodate the technology. One form of radical change pursued in reference to this advice was the downsizing in the business community since the 1980's. As Sharpe points out, however, in many cases downsizing did not have a positive result. This serves to underline the point that the analysis presented in this paper highlights. Organisations have different goals and implement IT for different purposes. Therefore, singular solutions to the problem cannot be expected to achieve positive results in all cases. Furthermore, there is not likely to be one singular reason for the productivity paradox, but rather a multitude of factors that contribute to different problems in different organisations. Conclusions The goal of this paper was to present a classification of the uses of IT within organisations in relation to the level of managerial control and worker empowerment as mitigated by the goals of the organisational. The Control-Empowerment Matrix provides a conceptualisation of these relationships and demonstrates that the impacts of IT on an organisation will depend on the way in which IT is implemented and employed. Past interpretations of how IT affects organisations have been too simplistic in their attempts to develop singular theories. The Matrix incorporates these various interpretations in a form that is instructive of the how organisations with certain types of goals will incorporate IT. The Matrix is also instructive of overarching affects of IT on society and on organisations in general. ...read more.

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