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Book Contents

Ch. 8
Implementing Communications-Driven and Group Decision Support Systems

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Aligning Information Systems and Organizational Structures

Identifying all possible alignments of information technologies and decision support implementations in organizations is beyond the scope of this chapter, but letís discuss four organization structures that may result from implementing Communications-Driven DSS. The metaphorical labels for these are the "community" structure, the "federation" structure, the "mobile" structure and the "skyscraper" structure (cf. Power, 1988).

A Community Structure.

A large "community" of organizations can potentially achieve efficiencies in the provision of goods and services. In the community organization, a large number of interdependent organizations can be grouped into a multi-level hierarchy where individual organizations retain extensive autonomy. Communications-Driven DSS is the key to providing coordination and control for the management group that controls the "community." A sophisticated infrastructure of communication and information systems is vital to creating a large grouping of supplier and buyer organizations. The corporate telecommunications network and information systems can facilitate coordinated purchasing, exchanges, and sales by community members. Also, DSS can facilitate centralized strategic planning and monitoring. Maintaining discrete organizational entities in the community should facilitate management control and, if needed, reorganization of the community. Measurement and reward systems can be linked to the "profits" of each member organization. Stock options and other equity arrangements linked to unit performance should encourage the best managers to remain with the community.

A Federation Structure.

Organizations without hierarchies may evolve in response to improved information technologies. Private, centralized computing resources can also help small business owners and professionals coordinate their businesses. Information and communication technologies can also help them share knowledge and more efficiently use and obtain resources. These new "federation" organizations can be managed using Communications-Driven DSS. Intelligent management support systems can aid owner/managers in implementing collective actions on pricing, inventory management, or investment of resources. Rewards can be tied to the sales volume and profitability of each task entity, for example each office in a multi-office firm. Also, in professional service federations, the quality of work and the competence of each provider can be assessed by a committee of owner/managers using Balanced Scorecard systems and EIS.

A Mobile Structure.

This information-oriented structure can be visualized as a "mobile" organization. It is mobile both in the sense of being transportable or movable (at an economic cost and in a short period) and in the sense of being responsive or changeable, like an abstract sculpture with parts that can move rapidly and easily in response to the slightest breeze. James Thompson (in Rushing and Zald, 1976) speculated that complex organizations of the future "will be known not for their components but by their cadres, with each cadre devoted to mobilizing and deploying resources in shifting configurations, to employ changing technologies to meet changing demands" (p. 245). Portable computing technologies, public telecommunications networks, and information utilities increase the viability and practicality of mobile structures.

A Skyscraper Structure.

Information technologies and status concerns may encourage managers to increase the number of upper-middle and top management positions. The structure that results could be called a "skyscraper." Managers at the "top" would supervise very few people and the number of management levels in the organization would be very large. Computerized systems would do much of the routine transaction processing and would create value for the organization. The number of operating personnel would be a much smaller percentage of all employees than is currently found in the most automated manufacturing and oil refining companies. In this structure, Max Weber's (1946) bureaucracy is stretched and extended. Explicit job descriptions and reporting relationships dominate this conservative, neo-traditional organization. Centralized and integrated communications and information systems insure that everyone knows about everyone else's actions and performance. Information technology makes this structure possible and it makes it work.

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