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What does Zuboff (1989) mean when she argues that management might follow ‘informate’ (as opposed to ‘automate’) strategies for the implementation of new IT systems? How are these strategies reflected in the outcome of the PowerDoc case?
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Changes in technology are not something new. Both manufacturing and service sectors can be subjected to dramatic technological advancements over time. The early 20th century saw the Industrial Revolution eliminate traditional occupations and brought in changes in production that altered the occupational structure of major industries even before computer technology came to existence (Zuboff, 1989). The concern over the impact of technology is therefore not new to the industrial sector. Right from the 18th century, observers conducted research on the implications of advanced technology to the employment and the economic well-being. However much contemporary perception indicates that IT-related changes are unprecedented, the real issue should be on the relative magnitude and consequences of the change in relation to other patterns of change. A perception on the current scenario may be earned through understanding past concerns concerning the change in employment and technological frameworks.
Unlike in business strategies, organizations polarize their views regarding IT strategies. While some organizations consider IT to be a necessary cost and focus on managing and containing it, others consider IT to be a strategic resource therefore potentially exploiting it and creating business value out of it (Kharuddin, Foong, & Senik, 2015). Conceptualization of IT strategy can be done in multiple ways. Leading scholars define it as a shared aspiration on the role of IT in the organization. Considering the definition, two types of IT strategy have been identified, with each standing for a distinct role of IT. The strategies are automate and informate. Organizations considering the adoption of an automate strategy consider IT to substitute human labor therefore reducing operating costs. On the other hand, organizations that consider adopting an informate approach consider IT to be an avenue of supplying information to both management and operational level workforce with the sole intention of creating a clear understanding of business dynamics.
As depicted by Zuboff (1988), automating and ‘informating’ stand out as the primary and analytical effects brought about by the implementation of IT technologies in organizations. On the contrary, some of the organizational literature on automating and ‘informating’ argue that the duo is interrelated outcomes that originate from a common process. However, the effects of the two concepts among organizational researchers tend to be given unequal degrees of attention. To that effect, knowledge is considered to be the most sought after resource and asset in the current organizational setting. The concept of ‘informating’ therefore deserves more attention as it has a direct relationship to the acquisition, creation, and effectiveness of knowledge. Considering that knowledge is earned through interaction with external factors, an analysis of the relationship between the informating concept and organizational knowledge is necessary.
By implementing IT at PowerDoc, the organization targeted to increase productivity. This then called for an automation of organizational routines and processes besides an integration of already existing systems within the organization (Attar & Temizel, 2015). The case was driven by a primary objective of increasing efficiency. Automation, therefore, has a close relation to productivity, efficiency, and rationalization. The three subjects seem to occupy a greater attention of practitioners.
PowerDoc, however, seemed to be direct no attention towards the concept of ‘informating’ that relates to matters of effectiveness. Taking into account that the new ideas brought in by computerization and converting that information into important knowledge took the minor priority at PowerDoc (Attar & Temizel, 2015). This may, however, not be a surprise considering that raising organizational effectiveness by acquiring and creating new knowledge may end up being a complex, intertwined and difficult process as compared to enhancing efficiency through automation. Besides, ventures that enhance effectiveness entail a learning process with their results determined by return on investment are not seen immediately as well as not easily captured.
Subsequently, as argued out by most scholars, today’s organizations compete for more regarding their knowledge capacity than on any asset (Kharuddin, Foong, & Senik, 2015). Knowledge, therefore, stands out as among the most valuable resource for organizations which is manifested internally in the regular routines as well as externally through the organization’s products. Acquiring information and creating new knowledge would have then been essential for PowerDoc. It would have enhanced this for example by interacting with customers. An establishment of such relationships with clients would then offer the organizations the ability to meet the needs of the clients.
Organizations require deeper knowledge that includes being conversant with customer’s knowledge capacity. It is due to the organizations being consistently engaged in knowledge sharing with external participants not only with the intention of acquiring knowledge but also providing it (Kharuddin, Foong, & Senik, 2015). In simple terms, referring to automating and ‘informating’, it can be argued that being ‘informated’ leading to gaining knowledge requires the organization to both automate clients’ and end-clients’ processes and ‘informate’ these clients too. One requirement for ‘informating’ is to gain as much knowledge as possible about what the external actors know.
Based on the organizational case study of PowerDoc, it is easy to spot the effects of both automate and the ‘informate’ strategies of IT infusion. The same applies to the relationship between the respective effects. Starting with the concept of automate, there was a rise in output, but with a sharp decline in quality (Attar & Temizel, 2015). This is evidenced by the frequency of corrections on documents which happened to increase. Focusing too much on the concept of automate led to an adverse effect on the quality and accuracy of the documents. It was easier identifying the automate effect at first glance creating a latter need for the ‘informate’ effect considering the drop in quality. This portrays the relationship between the two concepts in practice.
These arguments suggest that the consequences of IT at the organizational level do not originate from the characteristics of the technology itself but emerge from the choices made by managers. Such choices are rooted particularly on the operating strategies and in the notion that technology may be incorporated in a manner that facilitates both managerial proficiency and productivity. An informated organization will always move towards the better direction. It will rely on human capacities like teaching, insight, learning, and criticism. The concept of informate is meant to improve businesses that depend on innovation as its core processes. It also reflects on the interdependence witnessed between human intelligence and sophisticated productions.
(1989) meant to suggest that strategically managing of information technology
by employing the informate concept will allow for future efficiency. It will
also determine the potential of creating a knowledgeable and healthy working
environment. The future of organizational efficiency needs to be mutually
related to the strategic management of IT. Organizations will, therefore, be in
a position to create competitive advantage information technology and in turn
develop positive working environments while at the same time benefiting from
automation of existing processes.
Attar, M., & Temizel, G. (2015). Strategic Choice Perspective to Technological Change. European Scientific journal.
Kharuddin, S., Foong, S. Y., & Senik, R. (2015). Effects of decision rationality on ERP adoption extensiveness and organizational performance. Journal of Enterprise Information Management, 28(5), 658-679.
Zuboff, S. (1989). Automatefin-fonnate: The two faces of intelligent technology. Organizational Dynamics, 14(2), 5-18.