The information society
Offices and organisations
- in the structure of the economy
- in the nature of work
- in career openings
- in the need for education and training
The inequality of work
Uneven distribution of work:
Differences in attitudes:
- work to survive
- work for money
- work for pleasure
- work that is absorbing
- work that is mind-numbing
There is no greater modern illusion, even fraud, than the use of the single term work to cover what for some is ... dreary, painful or socially demeaning and what for others is enjoyable, socially reputable and economically rewarding. Those who spend pleasant, well-compensated days say with emphasis that they have been “hard at work,” thereby suppressing the notion that they are a favored class.
J K Galbraith (1992) p 33.
Work in the USA
... the poor in our economy are needed to do the work that the more fortunate do not do and would find manifestly distasteful, even distressing. And a continuing supply and resupply of such workers is always needed. That is because later generations do not wish to follow their parents ...
Galbraith (1992), p 33.
- a class without work
- without money
- without education or healthcare
- without hope
There are individuals and families that, it is conceded, do not share the comfortable well-being of the prototypical American. These people, this class, are concentrated ... in the centers of the great cities or, less visibly, on deprived farms, as rural migrant labor or in erstwhile mining communities. Or they are the more diffused poor of the Old South and of the region of the Rio Grande in Texas. The greater part of the underclass consists of members of minority groups, blacks or people of Hispanic origin.
Galbraith (1992) pp. 30-31.
- symbolic analysts
- routine production services
- in-person services
... include all the problem-solving, problem-identifying, and strategic brokering activities ... can be traded worldwide and thus compete with foreign providers even in the American market.
Reich (1991), p. 177.
- research scientists
- design engineers
- software engineers
- public relations executives
- investment bankers
- creative accountants
- business strategists
- management consultants
Knowledge that exists in an organisation that can be used to create differential advantage.
K Hugh Macdonald (formerly with ICL)
- tailoring of goods and services
The visible hand
Consequently the need for:
- term coined by Alfred Chandler
- an alternative to the “invisible hand” of the market (Adam Smith, 1776)
- organisational coordination has proved better than the market to achieve results
- secretaries, clerks and typists
- like 'work' it has many meanings
- Taylorism/Scientific management extended from the shop floor
- division of work to increase efficiency
- application of technology to increase efficiency
The rise of the secretary
New roles for women.
- typewriter (1870s)
- telephone (1920s)
- dictaphone (1940s)
- Xerography (1950s)
Time spent by clerical staff.
Office information systems
- originally data processing was only for routine, well-defined tasks (e.g., payroll)
- extended as office automation to generic tasks through word processing, spreadsheets, etc
- driven originally for automation
- later modified to support people
- electronic mail
- personal organiser
- word processing
- data bases
- corporate information systems
- commercial on-line services
- data processing eliminated clerical staff
- word processing eliminated typing pools
- PCs and OISs caused a slow reduction in the numbers of personal secretaries
- in the early 1970s it was estimated (crudely) that office productivity was growing at 4% in a decade
- in 1980 Booz, Allen and Hamilton estimated that 15% of all labour costs would soon be eliminated by technology
- the actual rate of increase was important in assessing investments in office technology
Comparisons of productivity gains
- expansion of employment in offices across the economy
- relatively little expansion in individual firms, rather in the appearance of new firms
- a range of figures for productivity
- no single or easy measure of output
- enormous diversity of office-workers (from managing directors to office messengers)
US Federal government
Effects on the number of office jobs
Successful use of OIS
- requires organisational adaptation
- not just an issue for clerical and secretarial staff
- also for managers
- new work practices
- new structures
- no requirement for dynamism or flexibility
- employed for life
- trained for company culture
- long threatened by computers because their role was information processing
The middle manager of the core American corporation at mid-century was not, by most standards, a rugged individualist. Indeed, his tendency toward conformity was the subject of considerable comment at the time ... But conformity and tractability were perfectly consistent with the standardized, high-volume system of production he oversaw. The system neither required nor rewarded much in the way of original thought.
Reich (1991) p. 54.
The decline of the middle manager
- information systems as a means to improve control
- information systems to replace the information processing role of middle managers
- inability to change bureaucracies fast enough to keep up with external changes
- need for flexibility
Reforming the PTTs
Productivity of the PTTs
Massive structural change in PTTs:
- British Telecom
- France Télécom
- new technology
- new structures
- new cultures
- concern for customers
- international operations
The symptoms of the traditional organization’s inability to adapt are numerous. There are complaints from staff, workers and customers that decision making is very slow. Communications processes up and down the hierarchy are seen to be inefficient, with downward messages being distorted and upward messages failing to get through. Non-communication between departments, functions or specialisms is even more endemic, with the result that complicated problems needing multifunction input are difficult to deal with.
Colin Hastings (1993) p 3.
Flattening the hierarchy is not enough!
- are difficult to accept
- resistance to abolition of certainties
- no longer a ladder to climb
- no certainty of who your boss is
- increased responsibility
Need for network organisations
- global scope
- local responsiveness
- speed of change
- cost of people
- radical decentralisation
- high levels of interdependence
- demanding expectations
- transparent performance standards
- distributed leadership
- breaking down of boundaries
Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)
- large computer manufacturer based in Maynard, Massachusetts
- a global electronic mail network
- problems arise even in obscure parts of the organisation
- traditionally they were referred up the technical hierarchy
- for some years, DEC has encouraged staff to put problems out on the global electronic mail system
- solutions are obtained much faster and often from peers rather than experts
- developing responsibility
- encouraging individuals to accept responsibility for their work (e.g., stop the production lines)
- training to support individuals
- encouragement of change
- responsibility given to line managers
A pattern of basic assumptions - invented, discovered by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration - that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.
H M Treasury
- Victorian poorhouse
- located on Whitehall in quite impressive buildings
- inside linoleum and tiled walls
- a general impression of thriftiness
- “Big Bang” in the City of London
- merger with financial institutions
- ever greater automation
- Firstdirect (Midland)
- Directline (RBS)
- non-banks such as Ford, General Motors and AT&T
Artificial intelligence is the science of making machines do things that would require intelligence if done by men.
Prof. Marvin Minsky
- going beyond routine predetermined calculations
- expert systems
- natural language processing
- machine learning
Elimination of well-established categories of work:
Increasing capabilities of the technology:
- factory operatives
- typists and clerical staff
- now middle managers
- Data Processing (DP)
- Office Information Systems (OIS)
- Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- the often forecast demise of the middle manager is finally happening
- danger of creation of an underclass with no prospect of work
- careers in bureaucracies and large corporations are now endangered
- new, more demanding organisational systems have been developed
Galbraith, J K (1992) “The Culture of Contentment” Penguin, Harmondsworth.
Reich, R B (1990) “The Work of Nations” Knopf, New York.
Schein, Ed (1989) “Organizational Culture and Leadership; a dynamic view” Josey-Bass, California.
Copyright © Ewan Sutherland, 1995.