Managing New Office Technology

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9780029249703: Managing New Office Technology

The first book to combine in one account the technical and social aspects of office organization.
Eric Trist

The new electronic office technology has been much praised for the increased speed, precision, and memory capacities it offers office management. But do these improvements mean increased productivity? Not by themselves, says Calvin Pava. Equally important to the high performance of office work will be its organization -- not only of clerical support personnel and equipment, but of management and staff professionals.

This book is the first to define the organizational challenge posed to management by new office technology. Calvin Pava breaks the myth that these are simple issues for technical solution alone. Based on research conducted at the Harvard Business School, Managing New Office Technology takes a method of organization design with a proven track record in industrial settings, and shows how this organizational self-analysis and self-directed change can be applied successfully to offices. Using sociotechnical design -- a method that takes into account both the technology and structure of work -- Pava shows how changes in an office's organization can lead to more satisfying and productive results. The goal -- and the proven achievement -- of sociotechnical design is to organize people, work, and their tools so their efforts are efficiently complementary.

At the core of Managing New Office Technology are three detailed case studies that show the principles of sociotechnical design at work. These examples of the planning, designing, and implementing of organizational change in an order processing customer service department, a computer systems firm, and a payroll department, show step by step how to apply the procedure across a broad range of different activities.

Unlike other books on the subject, which deal principally with clerical work and show little interest in bridging the gap between theory and application, Managing New Office Technology extends to address the work of management and staff professionals, and shows how reorganizing is done. Moreover, recognizing that outside interests have a stake in the effects of technological development in offices, Pava provides a framework for addressing the concerns of such groups as displaced professionals, minorities, middle managers, clerical support staff, old workers, young workers, and organized labor. A glossary of terms and an afterword by Eric Trist, originator of the sociotechnical approach, round out this long-awaited work.

For managers concerned about astute deployment of new office technology and for those who are also anxious about the larger implications for society of the growth of automation in offices, Calvin Pava's Managing New Office Technology will be required reading.

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About the Author:

Currently an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Business School, Calvin Para holds a Ph.D. in Systems Science from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and is a former Assistant Professor of Telecommunications at New York University. He is also an independent consultant in organization design and planning with a diverse clientele that includes both users and vendors of advanced information systems.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Advanced Office Technology: The Challenge to Management

The "office of the future" is now the catch phrase of scholars, consultants, and entrepreneurs. Advertisements, periodicals, and seminars pronounce office equipment as the incarnation of tomorrow's efficiency today. Yet unfortunately, the prophets of new technology neglect issues that are crucial to the successful implementation of new office systems. Their enthusiasm for remarkable technology occludes any concern for the organizational learning and change needed to make new office tools most beneficial. Moreover, they do not yet realize that the responsibility to confront and resolve this challenge initially rests with management, and not just with experts in the technology. To bring about this realization is an important purpose of the present study.

This chapter embraces five topics. First, the revolution in office equipment is broadly sketched. Second, the need for organizational learning and change is defined. Third, this neglected area and the costs of such neglect are examined. Fourth, steps are suggested that managers can take to promote genuine organizational learning and change. Fifth, social trends are identified that complicate management's task of fostering organizational learning and change.

The Revolution in Office Equipment

The dramatic recent shift in the kind of tools used by office workers is in large part a result of the declining costs of integrated semiconductors, which are the basis of digital information processing. Many observers forecast a continued decline in microelectronics prices with a simultaneous increase in capabilities (Noyce, 1977; Shepard, 1977; Wise, Chan, & Yokely, 1980). The past few years have seen a proliferation of new devices for the office: smart typewriters and word processors, integrated voice/data switches, portable computers, and facsimile transmitters. The late 1980s should see even more remarkable developments: extensive networking, vocal input and output for command entry and information retrieval at desktop workstations, and software that is easier to use, more versatile, and equipped with partial discretionary capabilities (artificial intelligence) for a degree of automatic choice between alternatives. At the same time most nonoffice equipment will also use microelectronics to become more active, self-regulating, and interlinked (Pava, 1980; Skinner, 1979). Though the revolution in office technology is only one niche in this overall metamorphosis, it is particularly striking because of the immense opportunity taking shape. Office workers represent a growing segment of the labor force. The proportion of the U.S. labor force in white-collar jobs, 20 percent in 1978, will rise to 40 percent in 1988 (Uhlig, Farber, & Bair, 1979); the Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected 51.5 percent level in 1985 (Diebold Group, 1979). Some economists also have predicted the emergence of an informationbased economy (Ginzberg, 1982; Porat, 1977). If they are correct, work that processes information rather than raw materials will be a vital component of overall productivity. Office equipment sales will skyrocket, growing at 15 percent on an annual basis, with U.S. shipments alone reaching $13 billion by 1985 (Weft, 1982).

Existing data are imprecise and specific figures can be misleading out of context, but most studies indicate that the rate of productivity increase has not grown much with the information sector's expansion. Throughout the 1960s and well into the 1970s rates of productivity growth for blue-collar work have been substantially greater than for white-collar work (Diebold Group, 1979; Purchase and Glover, 1976, Uhlig, Farber, & Bair, 1979). Moreover, the lastest estimates indicate a continuing rise in unit labor costs for office workers at an average rate of 10 percent per annum through 1992 (Booz Allen & Hamilton, 1979). Room for significant improvement in office worker productivity clearly exists.

At the same time, office work has been characteristically supported with relatively low levels of capital investment. Purchase and Glover (1976) estimated that in 1976 the average capital investment per worker was $24,000 for blue-collar but only $2,000 for white-collar employees. This discrepancy does not imply that office productivity will rise automatically with greater capital investment, but it does indicate that investment in information processing may be justified as new equipment comes to market and the proportion of white-collar workers nears half the labor force.

Together, the office sector's static productivity and low capital investment level suggest that new office equipment may confer a very real competitive advantage in the long run. In the short term, initial capital investments are likely to cancel out savings in labor costs. Over time, however, high technology will quicken response, increase flexibility, and create new economies of scale and new learning-curve effects (Pava, 1982a; Skinner, 1979).

Different Kinds of Organizational Learning and Change

The purchase of exotic technology does not automatically result in its productive utilization (Ackoff, 1967). There is a vital distinction between equipment functionality and tangible user benefits. One device may offer more memory, faster processing speed, and better quality graphics than another, but these attributes belong to the machinery itself and the relative efficacy of technologies around which it is built. Technically enhanced functionality, however, is not the same as tangible benefits from a user's point of view. Concrete advantages to specific operations can be realized only if changes are made that take advantage of the equipment's capabilities. In most cases, the translation of enhanced technical functionality into substantive benefits requires both learning and changing on the part of the user organization, which must take into account the following elements:

1. Operator skills. New knowledge and skills are required to operate new equipment.
2. Procedural enhancements. Often the work of nonoperators must change to accommodate limitations of a particular device; the most common adaptation is change in administrative procedures.
3. Structural factors. Changes in a unit's organizational structure -- distribution of responsibility, information flow, coordination of roles, incentives, and compensation -- are necessary to the effective use of new equipment.
4. Cultural fabric. Tangible user benefits may be realizable only with profound changes in the premises that undergird a collective enterprise, such as status differentiation, human resource management philosophies, definition of a unit's mission, and key basis of competitive advantage.

Figure 1.1 illustrates the problem of translating technical functions into operational benefits.

The more sophisticated the equipment, the more learning and change will be required in order to realize benefits (Figure 1.2). Consider an architectural firm using advanced computer-aided design (CAD). The equipment brings with it more than a need to train operators and alter procedures; many structural and cultural factors must also change if the system is to be cost-effective. As work flow becomes quicker, the associates must coordinate their efforts more intensely; and as they begin to do their own drawings and filing, support staff roles must change as well. Standards of work and methods of supervision must reflect these shifts. Likewise, new sources of professional self-image and self-esteem need to evolve and gain recognition. Even the scope of the firm's business may change as the system's great capacity allows new business lines to be pursued (selling excess capacity to other firms, planning projects beyond the traditional scope of architectural firms, and so on). This sweeping transf

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