Study finds more to bug than technology

February 18, 2000

Organisations that rose to the challenge presented by the millennium bug could use similar strategies to ensure other wide-ranging changes happen more smoothly, according to research published by Warwick Business School.

The research, based on a study of NatWest Bank Global Financial Markets' Y2K experiences, suggests the Y2K problem is a socio-technical problem.

"Its solution requires a comprehensive understanding of organisational processes as well as technological skills. The main challenge is posed not simply by the technological solution, but by the daunting task of implementing this solution throughout the bank, in particular across all overseas branches," the study says.

Jimmy C. Huang, a doctoral student at Warwick, said the lessons learned from Y2K could be applied not only to other global IT projects but also to organisation-wide initiatives such as business process re-engineering and cultural change.

"Most reviews of work on the millennium bug focus on the technology, but the Y2K programme in NatWest GFM ... also posed a social and emotional agenda," he said.

"The project team had to overcome cultural differences as well as technological barriers. Organisations that use the lessons learnt during their Y2K projects could really start to change into 'learning organisations' where knowledge is valued and used to inform future developments."

Mr Huang and co-researchers Sue Newell of Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University and Shan L. Pan of the National University of Singapore identified three lessons from the study.

First, a standardised procedure for implementing change needs to be initiated and agreed. This improves communication and eases the task of monitoring performance across various functions.

"A standardised procedure also ensures that knowledge gained within the organisation is articulated and codified in the same way and it reduces the complexity generated when different approaches are used," the researchers say.

Second, the quality and skills of people involved in the project team should be taken into account. In addition to project management skills, team members need good interpersonal skills and at least one or two need to be senior people with a good knowledge of the organisation and broad personal networks.

Third, communication needs to be high quality and frequent, especially where people are working in different time zones. This helps people involved to share knowledge and build personal relationships.

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