The impact of information and communications technology on managerial practices

AUTHOR

Mike Healy and Jennifer Iles (UK)

ABSTRACT

This paper critically examines the effects of the widespread adoption of advanced information and communications technology (ICT) on the way that organisations are managed.

The Internet technology-enabled enterprise, with its emphasis on global markets and global partners, is often cited as the model for the future commercial development, with the implied or explicit assumption that as organisations strive for competitive advantage in a constantly changing environment, they will be forced to develop more open management structures in order to optimise the benefits offered by new technology. Previous research is cited which claims that the move towards a knowledge-based commercial environment demands the adoption of a continuous improvement paradigm which can only be delivered through a managerial philosophy based on a flattened organisational structure along with the decentralisation of resources and activities. The imperatives for managerial change apply both to new enterprises and to established companies that have implemented major reengineering of their business processes in response to the opportunities offered by ICT. Thus, it has been maintained, bureaucratic organisations – characterised according to the nature of their rules and regulations, impersonality, the division of labour, rationality, authority, and hierarchical structure – are being replaced by decentralised management practices that focus on notions of empowerment. ICT is therefore seen by many as a powerful driver undermining bureaucratic management. In this context managers are increasingly described as co-ordinators and facilitators, and traditional modes of management are seen to be replaced by a new, enabling managerial ethos drawing its inspiration from hands-off leadership and entrepreneurship.

This paper seeks to question those lines of argument by drawing upon the findings of surveys carried out over a period of three years on the use of codes of conduct governing the use of ICT by employees in a wide range of workplaces. The project investigates the establishment and enforcement of codes of conduct governing the use of Internet technology as a means of providing a basis of trust in the e-business context. The paper reports on the findings of a recent survey of over 120 London-based organisations, and investigates the relationships between factors such as organisation size and sector, utilisation of ICT, and the origination, content, enforcement, and perceived effectiveness of codes of conduct.

The findings confirm that that there has been a considerable rise in the number of employees with direct access to the Internet through the Web, and that Internet technology is now used routinely to undertake a range of day-to-day administrative activities, including the processing of significant amounts of sensitive data. The findings relating to management objectives in connection with the introduction of codes of conduct are discussed, as well as the role of organisational culture, employees’ perception of the codes, the impact of the codes on their behaviour, and the rise in the extent and nature of disciplinary cases associated with the misuse of Internet technology at work.

Along with the increased use of ICT within organisations there has been growing public awareness of environmental issues and employment practices as well as concerns relating to electronic information handling. These include concerns about the effectiveness of security systems linked to Internet-based transactions, and the collection, transmission and processing of personal data (information about individuals). Leadership in high-tech organisations is therefore increasingly being forced to address these issues, at the same time as facing increased competition in a context of economic and political instability, the requirement to comply with new legislation regulating the handling of data, and demands for a demonstrable commitment to corporate social responsibility. These factors have provided the imperative for management to assert a greater degree of control over the manner in which ICT is utilised within organisations.

The findings of the study indicate that in order to resolve the contradictions associated with the widespread use of ICT, many organisations are reverting to traditional managerial practices, including increased monitoring of the activities of employees, particularly at operational levels, and expanding the range of disciplinary offences facing employees. The evidence concerning the nature and enforcement of codes of conduct suggests that, rather than alleviating the need for managers assert direct control over employees, the extensive use of ICT is leading to an increasingly interventionist style of management.

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