The Social And Technical Elements Commerce Essay


According to Land and Hirschheim (1983), a right balance of the social and technical elements of an organizational context is required for successful application of information systems. Therefore a view that takes both social and technical elements lnto consideration during information systems development such as the socio-technical view or perspective [Mumford, 1983] to understanding organisational context will contribute to the successful development and use of information systems. This view has been adopted for this research.

The images or organisational forms identified in section 2.1 represent different views of organisations based on their design. Existing research carried out in information systems have been categorised based on views of organisational design using Morgan's metaphors [Walsham, 1991]. In addition, literature reports on the use of metaphors to understand different views of information systems development [Kendall and Kendall, 1993] and information technology supporting clearly modelled business processes [Carlsen and Gjersvik, 1997]. It follows that the role of information systems can differ according to the organizational form a metaphor.

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As established in chapter one, this research is concerned with a specific domain or context, that is, government driven networks, in which the use of information systems is required and therefore the role of information systems needs to be delineated As a socio-technical view has been chosen for this research, the contexts being described in this chapter will be referred to as socio-technical contexts. Socio-technical contexts or contexts with a socio-technical view, for the purpose of the research being reported in this thesis, can be described as those consisting of human (social) and non-human (technical) elements and their associated activities as required by their purpose.

The human element consists of employees or stakeholders of the contexts at all levels as well as their skills, knowledge, culture, requirements, relationships and any other human related drivers of the environment being considered. The non-human element on the other hand, consists of principles, technology, policies, regulations, methods, machines and any other' non-human related drivers, which enable and enhance the activities that are required to fulfil the goal or purpose of the context being considered.

However, both human and non-human elements of a socio-technical context are not stagnant; they are in continuous interactions within and across each other [Mumford, 2000]. The interactions determine the kind and quality of output that is generated from the input provided. Interactions could be human-to-human (between social elements), human or social-to-technical or nonhuman, technical or nonhuman-to­-human or social and technical or nonhuman-to-technical or nonhuman purposeful or business activities and/or processes [Atkinson, 1987]. For example, human-to-nonhuman activity could be that of employees or stakeholders using relevant technologies that exist in the socio-technical context in order to achieve its goal or purpose.

2.3.1 Background to socio-technical view to information systems' contexts

The term "socio-technical" arose from advancement in the perspectives of views that have been taken by researchers to studying information systems in various orqanisotional contexts. These perspectives or views affect the way information systems are employed in its designated environment and most importantly, its role. The introduction of the socio-­technical view within the field of information systems can be dated back to the 1960s [Emery and Tristm, 1960; Emery and Trist. 1969]. The approach gives equal attention to both social and technical elements and associated issues such as economic, organisational, technical and social needs and objectives during the development of work systems [Mumford, 1995; Mumford, 2000].

As a result, information systems can be viewed as more than just a technical artefact but having more important roles such as giving social control [Land et al, 1983], for example through improving work systems for workers to create job satisfaction [Hackman and Oldham, 1980]; and management control [Mitev, 1996], for example, through ensuring that workers have access to the right information for their jobs in order that their focus is directed to the right priorities [Psoinos et al, 2000]. The approach has proved successful in addressing management problems pertaining to information systems [Mumford and MacDonald, 1989] and implementing information technology in work organisations [Eason et al. 1996] through its values which include the consideration of the needs and participation of humans during changes, whether technical or organisational; an organisational context [Mumford, 2000; Land, 2000].

Major problems and failures of the use of information systems have been attributed to the view of their organisational contexts [Keen and Morton, 1978; Mumford, 1981], which leads to failure of not addressing important organisational issues such as social concerns [Lyytinen and Hirschheim, 1987; Eason, 1988]; organisational behaviour problems [Lucas, 1975] or non-technical problems [Clegg et al. 1989]. In order to successfully delineate the role of information systems in a context therefore, technical elements (or non-human elements such as tasks) as well as human elements in the contexts and interactions between them need to be considered, that is, a socio-technical view of the context needs to be taken [Bostrom and Heinen, 1977].

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The key to the socio-technical view is recognising the human and non­human actors and the interactions required between both of the actors in these contexts within the contexts' structures. The structure of any socio-technical organisational context just like any organizational situation can be viewed as operating at three major levels: top management, middle management and those responsible for day-to­day activities operational management that implement activities on ground. The structure of the context is also an actor in the socio-­technical context as it drives the management of processes and activates within the work place or context. Fig. 4 illustrates the composition of a socio-technical view including the elements and interactions that exist within it.

On one hand, as illustrated in fig. 4, are the human elements consisting of the employees, workers or stakeholders of the context or workplace and their associated issues; and on the other hand are the non-human issues which normally include the tasks or activities necessary to fulfil the context's purpose and their enablers and enhancers, which could include policies. However, as identified before that these elements are not stagnant, the socio-technical view also includes the interactions within and between the human and non-human elements.

Fig.4 Elements and Interactions that exist within a socio-technical context [Adapted from Bostrom and Heinen, 1977]

The view taken to an organisational context forms a basis for the approach or methodology taken to delineate the role of information systems within the context. Therefore, the right view of perspective needs to be taken to ensure success. Bostrom and Heinen (1977), affirm the success of design or redesign of information systems in a context through taking a view, which integrates both human (social) and non-human (technical) elements. For the purpose of this research study, the author has adopted this socio-technical view in delineating the role of information systems in the context of government driven networks in the area of crime and disorder control being considered in this report, based on the following definition of information systems.

An information system is an amalgamation of all the activities and behaviours of human and non-human actors across a humanchine network(s) concerned with the capture, storage, manipulation, provision, interpretation and deployment of information (digital and/or analogue), by its human and machine actions in their interactions and in pursuance of individual and collective agency as networks across their time and space

[Brooks and Atkinson, 2004].

The above definition views information systems as a means by which the activities and behaviours of human and non-human actors in its environment, such as the contexts being described in this chapter (socio­technical), can be informated to improve the interactions that exist between them as actors in order to improve the effectiveness, efficacy and efficiency of the environment. The successful introduction and implementation of information systems into such contexts therefore require a thorough identification and clear definition of activities and behaviours of the environment in terms of its requirements.

Particularly, literature [Ackoff, 1967; Lucas, 1975] reports that failures of information systems have been as a result of the ignorance of problems associated with the behaviours of the context in which information systems are being introduced. Even when information systems are being evaluated, the evaluation process focussed mainly on technical issues with less attention given to social issues [Kaplan, 1977]. However, as information systems have been viewed as being socio-technical in nature [Kling and Lamb, 1999], a socio-technical view to delineating the role of information systems, as being adopted in this research, will bridge these gaps through the identification of both social and technical issues in the context in question.

2.4 Forms of socio-technical contexts

Having established that the view that will be taken to both information systems and organisational forms in this research will socio-technical and that both contexts can be viewed as socio-technical systems, the exploration and review of literature on existinq forms of socio-technical contexts will form a basis for the alignment of both systems. As both systems are socio-technical in nature, it follows that a nice fit of an information system or the maximal role of information systems within a particular context can be achieved through adopting a process, which takes a socio-technical view in delineating the role of information systems in the context.

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Using Mintzberg (1979; 1983)'s classification of organisational forms, socio-technical organisational contexts can be classified according to their driver and emergence, which shape their decision-making processes. One look at this is the widely known classification of organisational forms as public, private and voluntary/charity. The third form, which is the voluntary sector, can be private or public or both. Recently, with the government's need for improvement in services, public/private organisational forms have been introduced. Those socio-­technical contexts belonging to the public sector are government driven and not-for-profit; using government allocated funding and taxes from the public to administer public services. On the other hand, socio­-technical contexts in the private sector are geared at making profits from services they decide to provide to the public as directed by their various executive boards.

As the main focus of the private sector is to make profits, there is competition for the public or customers amongst one another as the public could choose from the contexts, deciding whether they want the services provided or not. This is not so with the public sector as the services offered in the sector are for all sections of the public (or consumers) without any intention of competing with any other socio- technical context in the private sector that might be offering the same service. However, there might a competition amongst peers in other locations in fulfilling performance targets set by the government. Generally, a socio-technical context whether in the public or private sector, or both, has a specific driver specifying rules and objectives that need to be met by both human and non-human elements engaged in the context for its purpose. The interactions between these elements are driven either centrally or de-centrally.

Mintzberg (1983) 's analogy of organisational forms as being centrally and decentrally driven reveal that centrally organisational forms or socio-technical contexts are not complex as activities are determined from one source but could be ambiguous or dynamic depending on the organisational image (that is, either bureaucratic or organic). Whereas with decentralised organisational forms or socio-technical contexts, the dynamic nature, complexity and ambiguity increases according to the skills employed and the nature of mutual agreement that emerge between stakeholders.

The study of information systems is generally moving away from traditional studies within single organisations and supply chain organisations to other forms of networks that have high dynamic, uncertain, and complex decision-making processes such as those facilitated and driven by technology (for example, Internet and PDAs) and other emerging forms of networks between organisqtions as mentioned earlier in this chapter. The forms grow in complexity, ambiguity and in dynamic nature as they emerge. However, a socio­-technical view of these forms however makes the development, implementation and use of information systems transferable within or beyond organisations.

An organisation can be described as "a suitable arrangement of people for effective work" or "a formal group of people working together to achieve a common or shared goal". One can infer from these definitions that an organisation consists of people or humans, activities or tasks, which are purposeful, a structure and things that would make its goal or purpose effective. With the definition of socio-technical contexts illustrated in fig. 4, it is clear that an organisation can be viewed as a socio-technical environment. The socio-technical view of organisational forms allows for organisations to be viewed as a network form of smaller sections such as departments, which are in themselves socio-technical contexts. Major activities or tasks of an organisation are usually determined by the number of departments or manageable sections that an organisation needs to be divided into for proper implementation of activities. This is the same with networks between or across organisations.

A socio-technical view perceives organisational contexts as socio-­technical environments consisting of the integration of smaller socio-­technical situations, which are required to fulfil a purpose depending on their drivers and the required course of action. Departments within an organisation can be viewed as being socio-technical just as networks created within or across private, public or voluntary sectors can be viewed as socio-technical. This view allows for a general view of the contexts as consisting of human and non-human actors and the interactions required between both these actors within the contexts' structure. Distinctions between these would be single or pluralistic organisational forms as described in the previous section or the number of the drivers and locations of both organisations and networks.

Socio-technical contexts could have replicas in different locations; meaning that there will be replicas of human and non-human elements and associated interactions in more than one geographical location whose activities are controlled and driven centrally or de-centrally. Such organisations exist in both public and private sectors; for example, banks with branches in several locations in the private sector or in the public sector, the Police with replicas in different geographical locations. Even though the organisations are located in different locations, they still have the purpose (s) set through policies initiated by their different drivers, whether the government, with the public sector or the central office board with the private sector.

Socio-technical contexts could have one or more than one purpose as determined by its driver. The organisations or networks belonging to the category offer multiple services depending to their chosen audience, which could range from a particular segment of the community to the community as a whole, for example, from services for pregnant women or community groups or networks in a particular city to all women in a particular location(s).

From studies undertaken to date as part of this research, variations of socio-technical contexts within both individual organisations and networks either based in single locations or multi-locations having one or more purposes, which determine the complexity of organisational forms or socio-technical contexts have been induced by the author as having two forms according to their interactions:

Single driver socio-technical forms: The simplest types of this category are organisations or networks of one purpose. Interactions within these contexts are limited to their locations (whether single or multiple) and their purpose (s). However, in order to successfully implement the purpose (s), they are usually broken down into manageable sections, which are socio-technical in nature, for example, departments, to corry out various facets of the organisational purpose or various purposes. Departments may include those geared towards management of technology, marketing or customer service in the context, contributing to a part of or one purpose for delivering a service. These types of organisations include small and medium sized enterprises or networks, which exist to deliver their services as demanded by a centralised or decentralised authority.

Multiple driver and Single purpose socio-technical contexts: The category is characterised by socio-technical environments driven centrally responsible for managing smaller and non-interacting independent socio-technical contexts, each with its own driver. An example of an organisation in this context is the NHS, which is centrally driven by the government but are responsible for delivering health service to the public through hospitals and surgeries, which are in themselves independent socio-technical contexts having individual drivers for each surgery. Networks formed in each NHS organisation follow this route too.

With this category of socio-technical contexts having more than one purpose, on example of an organisation with this type of socio-technical context is the local authority. Every local authority is commissioned to deliver a number of services in response to a range of complex public needs such as social services, education, regeneration and community planning. However, each department responsible for each of those needs implement associated policies as directed by their corresponding Directorate under the central government (vertically) whereas some departments such as community involvement interacts with all the various public needs departments (horizontally). So even though they are all under the local authority, which is itself socio-technical, some departments have central drivers that are appropriate to them centrally and some are driven by the local authority itself. Networks under these local authorities too follow suit.

2.5 Summary

The U.K. Government is continually seeking improvement in all its areas of service delivery. Recently, there has been an adoption of the New Public Management approach [Turner and Hulme, 1997] to improve service delivery in the public sector resulting in different forms of socio-technical or organisational forms emerging from new ways of managing services from the private sector [Lane, 2000]. Incorporated into the New Public Management approach, are various disciplines of organisational reforms [Hood, 1991]. Including e-Government, risk management [Rouillard, 2004], networking amongst multiple agencies, evidence-based practice to improve accountability [Springings, 2002; Talib, 2003], and performance management [Christensen and Yoshimi, 2003]. Collectively, the disciplines exist to improve the quality of service delivery in terms of its efficiency, effectiveness and efficacy placing great focus on the maximisation of resources and improvement in performance of public sector organisations resulting in organisational reforms.

Information related to public needs and the effective or probable solutions to these needs lie at the heart of the disciplines or reforms introduced to improve the -quality of service delivery to the public.

As a result, the flow of information within such emerging organisational forms at any point in time needs to be efficient and laid out as necessary in order for them to be effective. Clearly, information systems has a vital role to play in enabling the public sector reforms or disciplines introduced by New Public Management; both in relation to changes made to the organisational environment or vision and the required changes to the content and flow of information within the change context.

Information systems have played various roles in different organisational forms [Kawalek and Jayaratna, 2000] as a result of the varied definitions they have been given resulting from the differing views of its associated disciplines. It is therefore important following the practicality of the field and the changing nature of organisations, that the organisational contexts in which information systems are to be introduced are well understood in order that the role of information systems may be successfully determined fund, 2005]. In particular, Hackney and McBride (1995) specified the proper understanding of the context and culture of the environment in which information system is to be introduced in the public sector, as one of the guidelines that need to be taken in maximising the role of information systems in the public sector.

This thesis seeks to explore the role of information systems in the socio-technical form that has emerged from the situation of a crime and disorder control UK Legislation and its realisation. Having introduced some of the existing organisational forms in literature and what is meant by the term 'socio-technical form' I in this chapter, the next chapter will be a review of literature on how the role of information systems can be delineated in socio-technical contexts. This will form a basis for delineating the role of information systems in the socio-technical context being considered in this research.