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Due to the different environments in which companies operate including the impacts and interactions between both macro and industrial emerging forces the meaning of management is arguably dependent upon the specific set of circumstances to be found in particular operational contexts, (Mullins, 2005). It is thus useful to consider management in terms of organisations facing different particularities at different business levels originating from different business functions. This is to say that strategic management at corporate levels which can be seen to be more focused on potential future directions of the entire business is different from management at the business level which is focused on creating abilities in generating possible profits through such measures as best value services and value for money goods through cost control techniques, (Johnson & Scholes, 2002). A core consideration for these management processes then is the creation and maintenance of competitive advantages in the marketplace as this plays a significant role in management routines. Managers at this level then need to be concerned with sustaining competitive advantages through low price, better quality goods and service and differentiation of products.
As with the dynamic environments which a company’s management must confront within the mobile computing context there has been a growing attention both in the academic and practical field on the issues brought by such environments due to the significant growth in this industry, (March, 2005). According to Grant (1995) the variables which management can influence necessitate awareness by business managers of analysing competition and demand in such a way that they are able to define the most advantageous competitive position in a particular industry. In addition particular characteristics of mobility industries as identified by Anderson and Williams (2004) suggest that the variables such as network management, customer service, marketing and costs and competitive pricing are important to such businesses since management must not solely be a strategic fit but also must be an operational fit with the overall elements of the business’s market. In this case managers pointed towards problems related to continuous network maintenance that had to be achieved in maintaining mobility based services at all times for customers, a suitably qualified staff needed to deal with ‘front-line’ customer requests and costs and marketing innovation in terms of R&D through making mobility ‘integrated yet invisible’ yet in tune with the fashions of the marketplace.
The first objective was to assess the extent to which mobile computing business segments would benefit from recruiting fashion or brand consultants in the development and marketing processes related to products. The key ideas here were to explore the notion that fashion is about creating and changing hence managers in responding to trends and fashion are especially influenced by external market forces expressed in consumer demands, (Easey, 2003). A linked issue to this was how responding to fashion and consumer demands could be met effectively and efficiently in order to maintain competitive position in the industry and what utility fashion and brand consultants would have in assisting IBM in tackling this challenge.
The second objective was another exploration of a personnel related issue, that of exploring reasons why a high turnover of staff was experienced in the system administration functions and how recruitment was fitting with strategic and business needs in terms of personnel recruited. Retention of qualified staff is a problem for many high-tech industries generally with a growing awareness of the role of human resources as essential to the implementation of policies aimed at achieving corporate goals such as enhanced security, (Signorini, 2005).
The final objective of this research aimed at bridging the investigation of the challenges outlined in the first two objectives by considering technical advances originating from GUI and HCI developments in relation to identified consumer demands, (Yuichi, 2005). This was done from two perspectives, first by considering this issue on a broad and general scale as faced by the industry entire but also on a specific scale within the IBM business units selected for this research to see how the issues were addressed in terms of personnel and product capacities within the business units.
A guiding principle of the research in considering these objectives was that the purpose of management is not about reviewing past good performance companies have achieved but that it is concerned with development and strategic planning for the future competition (Mullins, 2005). Such a view was particularly relevant in this case as while IBM generally has a historical precedent of good performance in the computing industry the particular challenges faced in mobile computing, the dynamic changes which were faced as a result of the growing industry meant that already developed capacity in the organisation only provided a solid base. Innovation needed to happen not only in research and development of project but also in business strategies which would allow IBM to come to terms with the problems it faced in the mobile computing industry.
Theoretically management is a heavily debated and contested field in surmising the key factors which can be said to contribute to best management practices. Thus there is a sense of a progressive and evolutionary development to management perspectives in understanding contemporary management behaviour, (Sheldrake, 1996). The development of management practices from the 19th and 20th century onwards managers have increasingly tended towards learning from developments in academic management theorising in order to improve their performance in various aspects of management as well as responding to and adapting to changing attitudes and practises related to the concept of management, (Flores & Utley, 2000). Yet it is necessary to view the relationship between developments in management theory and the practice of management in the real business world as while the generalities may be well expressed within theoretical frameworks the specific instances of business operations and the particular contexts of markets and industries may often illustrate gaps between theory and practise.
The classical theories within management studies have been set out by researchers such as Taylor, Mooney and Reiley and provide useful perspectives in understanding the purpose of management activities in an organisation, (Mullins, 2005). Within these frameworks attention is mainly put on the processes involved in the building of formal organisational relationships in ways in which work, duties and responsibilities are able to be divided in order to achieve efficient co-operation across parts of an organisation. However changing business environments generates challenges for these principles since organisational behaviour is complex and influenced by a range of factors with formal rigid structures and relationships being not able to offer total control over these circumstances. Woodward (1980) hence argues that the efficiency of classic management principles in the use of practical managing process can be questioned. Thus continued development of management concepts has seen a trend of moving towards a machine theory model in relation to the emergence of complex organisations dependent on and making use of new forms of technology. It is believed that a scientific approach to management is able to improve the relationship between management and labour where evaluation of work is largely related to measurable outputs since human resource are viewed as economic beings motivated by monetary rewards, (Locke, 1982; Mullins, 2005). However this model ignores the psychological well being perspective in understanding relationships between management and employees in that the performance of people in an economic and social sense is affected by other factors such as welfare, health and safety issues, (Bradburn, 1969).
The rapid development of technology and continuous impact of globalisation has resulted in growing attention in management research towards the role of human resources and the role of modern consumers in management practice and processes. Torrington, Hall and Taylor (2002) suggest that human resource as the most valuable resource in any company represents major challenges for traditional management theory. Job satisfaction and the efficient management of people at work is a critical feature in management agendas thus a human relations inspired approach is popular among managers. Drawing on this framework the employee training is directly related to achieving competitive advantages and this is especially true in the case of mobile computing where both technological developments are ongoing and customer requirements, needs and preferences are likewise changing, (Denton, 1998). Hence as discussed below in the results of this research continuous and responsive training was a consistent theme in manager strategies. Further additions to the human relations management model is seen in the Neo-human Relations approach which addresses managers’ attitudes to human resources and the degree to which they can affect motivation and satisfaction levels of employees within the organisation, (McClelland, 1988; Mullins, 2005). Again as discussed below with the high turnover rate of staff in network maintenance job satisfaction was identified as a critical issue.
Particularly in terms of high-technology industries such as the mobile computing sector organisational performance to a large extent is associated with the sales force in implementing superior customer service in addition to place, product, distribution and R&D related strategies. The linked supposition here is that an understanding of customer needs is a vital component of effective sales and importantly of developing as well as selling the right product to the right consumer. Kotler (1994) argues that management processes can be viewed as implementation processes within a value adding approach to business operations. As a result the efficiency of management comes more from efficient processes rather than products or goods. As a result people as the direct communication channel to customers are significant in the implementation process and this was true of the case investigated in this research. Therefore it is vital to be aware of the new characteristics of human resource and environmental forces best management practices in this context.
The basic format of this research was a series of semi-structured interviews with three managers within an IBM business unit. The three managers were a line manager from the Marketing, Sales and Design unit, a Systems Administration team leader and a line manager from the Software and Development team. All were familiar with one another from collaborative work on mobile computing projects with cross-team meetings in IBM being held every two weeks. Two interviews per manager were conducted after two cross-team meetings each of which lasted roughly 90 minutes. With the permission of the interviewees the sessions were recorded and later transcribed according to a coding system based on the research objectives in order to analyse the data. The use of a semi-structured interview allowed for particularly useful data to be collected from the managers involved as both pre-determined questions could be asked drawing on the objectives of the research but room was also allowed for a more in-depth discussion of anything which arose during the course of the interview, (Drever, 2003). Preliminary analysis of the data from the first interviews was conducted before a second set of interviews were conducted in which questions were based on the data already generated. This allowed for both comparisons with what different managers had said during the first interviews and also for particular topics to be discussed in greater detail which had not been explored in detail in the first interviews, (Silverman, 2005).
Results and Discussion
Based on the analysis of interview with three managers the most consistent feature of the data was the acknowledgment of the role of human resource management in the entire management process. In the case of the Systems Administration manager this was a role which had not been envisaged by the interviewee prior to commencing in the post. The managerial problems faced here concerned with means of maintaining employee satisfaction and motivation in the light of extremely repetitive and monotonous work. This was mentioned in the interview as an unacknowledged component of the position but one in which pressure was felt by the manager due to the high-turnover of staff. Not only was this a problem in terms of almost continual recruitment of staff but the manager personally felt that this reflected badly on management practises in the team to other managers in other teams. Other managers mentioned problems of the need to continually be aware of new trends and developments in the industry, such as technological and market ones, (Demma et al, 2005). There was a sense that along with a realisation of the need for employees to be in constant training a similar realisation needed to be made for managers. Overall all of the managers interviewed suggested that current training programs needed to be constantly reviewed and altered in light of developments as and when they occurred. They felt that this sort of responsive mode training would provide a strong competitive advantage for the company in the marketplace, (Lee, 2005). However the Systems Administrator manager also mentioned that within technical fields training might have negative consequences due to in-demand skills allowing employees find other jobs. Hence training should be viewed as one component of an overall strategy in retaining skilled employees for the company, .
The second key finding from the data was an identification of how organisational performance largely benefited from the building of relationships with customers. Or that namely customer service was ultimately the most important business activity for all of the managers. According to Egan (2001) relationship management relies on effective and efficient managing processes from suppliers to final customers and in this instance internal relationship management was critical in effectively managing and creating beneficial external relationships as well. As such whether it was in researching new products, maintaining existing networks and selling products human resources and people were the core resource and competency which each manager identified as being the object of their management processes. All of the managers noted that the major skill which informed their work was an ability to deal with people, both internally within the organisation and externally. The Sales Manager in particular identified the need to manage people in managing the way in which they dealt with people. The idea of understanding consumers by this manager was seen as a critical one in establishing good relationships with consumers. Furthermore this manager identified as the most critical manager role as communicating consumer preferences to employees in a way in which products could be matched to these consumers in the most effective manner.
The Software and Development manager in particular drew attention to a potential shortcoming in the organisation in the lack sometimes of efficient communication of consumer needs during the development of new software packages, GUIs and HCIs. Although organisationally the Software and Development team was often not seen as a front-line unit their products were in a key sense one of the primary interactions between the company and its products through consumer’s making use of the various software and interfaces development. Indeed the manager here drew attention to the fact that it was failure or difficulties in operating these which often brought consumers into contact with support functions of the business. The manager recommended a more formalised procedure of cross-dissemination of consumer related information as well as a more efficient one matching technological developments with market trends be seen a core strategy for the mobile computing segment in IBM, (Brockbank and Ulrich, 2005) .
In conclusion management in this particular case meshed with particular theories in that human resources were identified as a critical success factor to the unit’s business functions along with continued research on consumer demands and needs also being necessary. In linking these the managers interviewed here consistently suggested that the idea of relationship management was the main driving force in terms of style and technique in the way they managed. Relationships in this sense were identified as both external and internal ones. External in the sense of being able to respond to consumer needs through product development selling these products to targeted consumers as well as responding to technical problems efficiently as and when they arose. Internal in the sense of equipping employees with the necessary skills, retaining these through motivation and increased job satisfaction and aligning their internal capacities with the external threats and opportunities present within the industry. Management then for the managers interviewed here was suggested to be a dynamic interpersonal activity, an activity which needed to build links and relationships between a wide variety of resources within and outside the organisation.
Part b: Notes
The initial stages of this research involved a survey of end users of products provided by the company. This led to a personal consideration related to these products of how they came to be developed, and how far this development was in tune with the desires of end-users. A review of the literature on management identified a series of key themes which appeared relevant, that of human resources and the importance of marketing research. The first interviews brought to the researchers attention a wider spread of issues related to the delivery of products to end users in that internal resources needed to be managed as much as external relationships with customers. A key challenge of this research was in gaining the trust of the managers involved in order to reduce participant bias in terms of identifying and discussing negative aspects of organisational performance. By emphasising that the results of the research would be made available to the managers as well as the fact that it would have use in developing better management practices it was felt that given the content of the interviews that this challenge had been successfully overcome.
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