Oiling the company machinery

Organisations and Technical Change
November 24, 1995

The adoption and implementation of new technologies, based on the use of microelectronics and microprocessors, is becoming increasingly common in all types of organisations. This is primarily because information and advanced manufacturing technologies have the potential to deliver a wide variety of benefits, including increased profitability, improved customer service or increased flexibility. It is now being recognised that in delivering such benefits new technologies are often fundamentally reshaping their host organisations. Technological change can often induce significant changes to, for example, an organisation's structure, working practices and culture, all of which in turn alter the way power and resources are distributed throughout the organisation.

Historically those responsible for the implementation of new technology have been primarily concerned with technical issues, usually at the expense of organisational and behavioural issues. The typical strategy is to deliver a technically sound solution, hopefully on time and within budget, and then worry about the organisational implications once the system is operational. Consequently, most literature on the adoption of technology has also been technically orientated. David Preece's book, which focuses on "the social, managerial and organisational processes" that accompany the adoption of new technology, is therefore a welcome and timely addition to the literature.

The book is well written, well structured and thoroughly researched and provides many interesting insights into the management of technological change by addressing the following three important questions. Why is technology being adopted? What is the process of adoption? Which members of the organisation will be involved in this process? The book is divided into two major sections to explore these issues. The first section concentrates on providing an extensive summary of the important research findings relating to the social, political and organisational aspects of technological change. This is followed by a section presenting four informative case studies, based on interviews with a wide variety of employees within the participating organisations. Two of the case studies focus upon the adoption of information technology by building societies, while the other two explore the adoption of new manufacturing technologies by engineering companies. Indeed, it is the author's decision to consider the impact of both information and manufacturing technologies in the same book, adding to its interest and originality.

The most interesting sections of the book are those in which the roles of the various actors in the adoption process are investigated. The introduction of new technology has an impact on the working conditions of various groups, often fundamentally modifying the relationship between management and the workforce. It is, therefore, important that the decision-making and consultative processes relating to the adoption of new technology should include a wide range of staff, including the intended users of the technology and their line managers, employee representatives and human resource and change management specialists. One of the book's most surprising findings is that far too often many of the individuals who should be involved are excluded.

The publicised target audience for Preece's book covers both undergraduate and postgraduate students in a wide range of disciplines. But the thoroughness of the annotations and referencing will probably make the book most appealing to the researcher and the experienced student. By contrast, while the manager or trade unionist will find much of interest in this book, they might find the academic style somewhat daunting, and may also be rather disappointed to find little in the way of explicit guidelines on the strategies and tactics that can be employed to increase the likelihood of the successful adoption of new technology.

Neil Doherty is lecturer in management information systems, Loughborough University Business School.

Organisations and Technical Change: Strategy, Objectives and Involvement

Author - David Preece
ISBN - 0 415 12514 6 and 10186 7
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £45.00 and £14.99
Pages - 284

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