Information technology is now a ubiquitous and increasingly critical part of the fabric of the modern organization, supporting its day-to-day operations and all aspects of the decision-making process, as well as its strategic positioning. It is therefore not perhaps surprising that the implementation of a new technology or information system is likely to result in a wide array of impacts to the organization as well as the working lives of individual employees. There is a growing consensus within the literature that many such impacts are not deterministic and cannot therefore be easily predicted prior to a system’s implementation (e.g., DeSanctis & Poole, 1994). The corollary of this is that many of the consequences of an information system’s implementation will be unanticipated (Robey & Boudreau, 1999). While some of these unanticipated consequences, or incidental side effects, may be of a positive nature, negative impacts are also quite common, as IT-induced organizational change often results in user resistance and, in extreme cases, possibly even system rejection (Martinsons & Chong, 1999). Information systems projects may not be totally predictable, but it can be argued that many of their organizational impacts only remain unanticipated, because systems developers are reluctant to tackle the human and organizational aspects of IT (Doherty & King, 2005). Systems development projects have typically been viewed as exercises in technical change, rather than socio-technical change; “most investments in IT are technology-led, reflecting too technical an emphasis” (Clegg, 2000, p. 464). This is a dangerous strategy, because unforeseen and unresolved negative impacts may increase the likelihood of systems failure. Moreover, beneficial impacts, of both a planned and incidental nature, may not be fully realized without an appropriate program of organizational change. Indeed, Ward and Daniel (2006) argue convincingly that the unacceptably high levels of IT failures are largely due to the absence of formal “benefits realization” approaches that explicitly target the organizational change needed to deliver business benefits. Consequently, we would argue that if systems development projects are viewed as an exercise in organizational change, in which all potential organizational impacts are proactively and systematically analyzed, then many undesirable impacts could be avoided, while the planned benefits can be more effectively realized (Doherty & King, 2002). The importance of treating organizational issues may now be widely acknowledged (e.g., Clegg, 2000; Eason, 2001), but little progress has been made in the development of practical treatment approaches that have succeeded in making the transition from research laboratory to widespread commercial usage. The primary aim of this article is to present an innovative new benefitsoriented approach for their proactive treatment. However, in advance of this, it is important to establish the importance of treating organizational issues.
Background: The Need To Treat Organizational Issues
The information systems’ literature is very clear on two points; general levels of failure are far too high, and the primary cause of this problem is the failure to adequately treat organizational issues (Clegg, Axtell, et al., 1997; Doherty & King, 2001). In this context, the term “organizational issue” relates to those organizationally-oriented facets of systems development projects that need to be treated to ensure that the resultant impacts of an information system are likely to be desirable. A comprehensive checklist of important organizational issues, that was originally drawn from the literature but then validated over a series of studies (e.g., Doherty & King, 2001; Doherty, King, & Al-Mushayt, 2003), is presented in Table 1.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Socio-Technical Methods: Development methods that attempt to produce systems that are both technically efficient and organizationally sensitive.
Organizational Issues: Those issues that need to be treated during the systems development process to ensure that the individual human, wider social, and economic impacts of the resultant computer-based information system are likely to be desirable.
Incidental Impacts: Impacts that are unplanned by-products of the system’s development process that had not, or could not, have been envisaged at the project’s outset.
Benefits Realization: The process of proactively managing benefits to ensure that all the potential benefits that may arise from the introduction of a new information technology are ultimately realized.
Planned Impacts: The anticipated outcomes of a systems development project that were identified at the project’s outset, and are typically critical to its ultimate success.