A Case of an IT-Enabled Organizational Change Intervention: The Missing Pieces

A Case of an IT-Enabled Organizational Change Intervention: The Missing Pieces

Bing Wang (Utah State University, USA) and David Paper (Utah State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1655-4.ch010
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This case study documents an organizational change intervention concerning the implementation of a novel information technology at a university-owned research foundation (URF). It evidences the disparate expectations and reactions by key actors toward the change event, marking a mismatch between a new paradigm required by the new technology and existing information technology practices. Drawing upon change management and management information systems (MIS) literature, the authors discuss the perceived change management issues hindering the change process at URF. The discussion is tempered by a theoretical lens that attempts to integrate the literature bases drawn upon in this research. In particular, resistance from in-house IT specialists was observed as the strongest force obstructing the novel IT implementation. This study offers a forum to stimulate both researchers and practitioners to rethink the necessary elements required to enact change, especially with respect to novel IT implementations.
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Organization Background

The information technology (IT) enabled change process reported in this case is being implemented in a university-owned research organization (hereafter, the parent organization will be referred to as the university and the research organization will be referred to as URF). URF was formally incorporated in 1967 as a not-for-profit corporation with its origin as a space science and technology research laboratory that was created in 1959. URF was established primarily to provide an organizational structure for the management and physical support of applied research, the discovery of new ideas, and the advancement of new technologies. Since its establishment 40 years ago, URF has expanded from supporting a single-disciplinary research base to a multidisciplinary research base in space science and technology, small molecular systems, water science and technology, and associated information technologies; from owning one research laboratory to over 15 research facilities and laboratories; from having two university professors who started the first research laboratory to employing more than 400 scientists, engineers and administrative staff. Over the years, URF has evolved into a distinct research institute with international recognition and associated reputation as a world-class research facility. URF not only provides research administration, management, and stewardship of funds for university-wide research projects, but also undertakes much of its renowned research activities in space, water and bio-molecular science and technologies via its various research units.

URF currently has three research units and one technology commercialization office: the Space Unit (SU), the Molecular Unit (MU), the Water Unit (WU), and the Commercialization Office (CO). Each unit is characterized by its own identity in terms of management style, culture, finance, and research capacity. SU, as one of 10 university affiliated research centers (UARCs) in the nation, is the largest unit within URF and generates 94% of total URF research funding. The sources of funding by agency include: Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) 39.7%, Air Force 20.6%, Navy 18.6%, NASA 15.5%, Private 2.0%, other Department of Defense (DoD) 1.5%, other Federal 1.4%, National Science Foundation (NSF) 0.4%, and state funding 0.4%. A board of trustees provides oversight and direction for the policies, procedures and development of the organization. There are currently 16 members on the board with backgrounds in academia, industry and government. The president of the university (the parent organization) appoints URF’s directors with approval from the existing board.

Until about 5 years ago, URF was managed and administrated under the auspices of a university model in all operational aspects such as finance, human resources, and research/business development. The vice president of research for the university had played a key role in the management and administration of URF. A major portion of URF research funding was contract and grant-based and its financial structure followed A21 – a university accounting scheme.

However, during the past 5 years, URF has experienced tremendous growth that demanded transformation from a university-oriented organization to a business-oriented corporation. Moreover, the increased scrutiny by federal government audits required URF to move to a more independent business environment. As a result, the accounting scheme has recently moved from A21 to A122, a not-for-profit protocol, to reflect the standard adopted by many other major federal and industrial scientific laboratory operations. Also, the role of the vice president for research changed from active to inactive in terms of URF management responsibility. Instead, URF appointed a CEO to lead the organization. An orchestration of changes has thereby been enacted – namely changes in leadership, financial structure, organizational structure, business process management, and IT. Due to the rapid expansion of the organization, the contracts and grants URF procures with federal and private entities demands an even higher level of research, ideas, and competence to compete with other major scientific and private laboratories. In fact, 94 to 96% of the research dollars generated by URF are contract dollars, unlike in the past where grant-based dollars were more significant. The difference between contracts and grants is important. Contract procurement must be competed with private industry and a good or service must be delivered. Grant procurement is only competitive on the front-end. That is, once a grant is procured there are no deliverables, and thus no competition exists on the back end.

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