The Implementation Of A Technology Information Technology Essay

No one can deny the impact of technology as a source of competitive advantage for a firm. The introduction of a new technology or the development and the commercialization of a new product/ service are due to increase business benefits: it allows costs savings, improves the productivity and the efficiency of the organization. It also allows a better allocation of resources within the firm and this rationalization of the means of production benefits also the customers.

But technology is not simply a black box: the implementation and the management of technology within a company can fail. The implementation was defined by Swanson as “a decision-making activity that converts a design concept into an operating reality so as to provide value to the client”. Besides it is worth saying that implementation is an iterative process that has an impact on many aspects of the firm: the cultural and organizational aspects have to be taken into account as well as the technological issues. Thus the implementation’s process is complex and uncertain [2] ; managers have to take up some challenges to successfully introduce a technology. This introduction supposes a mutual adaptation of the technology and the firm to develop a fully working system.

This paper is aimed at analysing the different factors that may impede the successful introduction and management of a technology. First the uncertainty and the complexity of the process will be dealt with. Then, in order to help managers when introducing a new technology, I will discuss some relevant keys to success.

The implementation of a technology is uncertain and complex

Technology implementation includes several elements that have to be taken into account: first the analysis and the nature of the technology are relevant as well as the technology features. The figure below sums up these various components which interact with the technology and each other. The contextual factors include the management style and the organization capabilities and capacity. The outside agents play a role in the introduction of the technology: government, consultants, suppliers, customers have to be involved in the process. The implementation of a technology is expensive most of the time; thus it requires the approval of the financial department. A project management has to decide the deadlines.

Outside agents

Technology traits

Costs and time

Implementation of

Technology

Environment

Nature of Technology

Strategy

Analyse of technology

Contextual factors

Organization

Work and Jod design

The link with the strategy is crucial: the technology has to fit the overall firm’s strategy in order to limit the negative impacts on the culture. Besides, the organization is involved in the process: the technology can change some organizational aspects and behaviours. The work organisation and the management style are affected as well. Finally an overall view of the firm’s environment is necessary: the others competitors as well as the characteristics of the market are worth being assessed.

This figure sums up the different elements that interact with the technology during the implementation’s process. A deeper analyse of these factors is necessary to understand why technology is so difficult to implement.

The implementation is an expensive and uncertain process

“The general uncertainty of technology means that different views may be held and the situation is typically one of advocacy and political debate in which project estimates are used by interests groups to buttress a particular point of view…”

Freeman (1997), p.263

First of all the introduction of a technology within a company is expensive. Let us use the example of manufacturing technology. The costs challenges are numerous: system purchase costs, special tooling, installation costs, one-off costs, maintenance costs, operating costs, programming costs, depreciation, cost of capital, learning costs like the training costs…The example of the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology is here demonstrative: the introduction of this revolutionary technology is still in its infancy in the retail sector, despite its several advantages because of the high cost. The manufacturing costs (the unit price of a passive tag lies between $0, 25 and $0, 30) explain why so many firms play a “wait and see” strategy, hoping that the costs will diminish. Even if all these cost have to be balanced with the costs savings triggered by the technology, the cost issues remain the biggest challenge to take up. Moreover these costs are uncertain and sometimes difficult to assess accurately. Managers fail to quantify all the long-term costs and benefits. The outcomes are uncertain. Another problem related to implementation is that the cost overruns, which can not be forecast at the beginning of a project and which undermine seriously the success of the technology’s implementation. That was happened for the Millennium Bridge in London: this bridge over the Thames, connecting the new Tate Modern Gallery with St. Paul’s Cathedral, was exclusively for pedestrians. Despite others problems, the construction costs were underestimated by the engineers: instead of £10m the costs rose to approaching £18.2m. The same occurred with the National Air Traffic Control Centre and the Swanwick project, which was aimed at changing the computer system and introducing new software. Swanwick was supposed to open in 1996 at a cost of £350. It really started 6 years later at a projected cost of £623m (almost the double!).

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The delay in the fulfilment of a project is the direct consequence of all these problems surrounding the implementation. But sometimes engineers are too ambitious and optimistic when establishing the timetable. That what happened for the elaboration of the London Eye: it was supposed to be build in only 12 months which was really impossible due to the complexity of the project. This too tight planning did not allow managing the design and manufacturing problems that occurred during the construction of the wheel. Consequently the London Eye took its first passengers over one month late. This example shows that it is better having a more generous deadline instead of doing things in hurry and at a more expensive price.

As I pointed out before, the technology features are very relevant when analysing a technology’s implementation. Technological problems explain why technology is so tricky to implement. The technology can be too complex or not enough reliable. Thus, though eBay’s business model was hailed as a huge success, it was criticized for its unreliable infrastructure, [3] which resulted in a number of problems in its website. The major bug occurred between June 10 and June 11 1999, when eBay’s site had to close during 22 hours. Architects and engineers are responsible for these technological problems. They can neglect the technical feasibility on behalf of innovative design and an impressive architecture. That what happened with the Millennium Bridge: the pedestrian bridge had to close shortly after its opening for reasons of safety; it was moving too much and authorities wanted to discover the reasons and to find technical solutions. It appeared that the innovative design was the main preoccupation, to the detriment of the technical feasibility and the users’ safety.

The introduction and the management of a technology is complex because the technology interacts with several elements

These elements that can undermine the technology’s implementation can be broken into two categories: internal and external.

First some internal factors can undermine the implementation and the management of the technology.

Because the implementation of a technology has organizational, managerial and cultural impacts, failures are not rare. When implementing a new technology managers need to consider cultural and organisational implications. The Pacey’s Technology Practice framework [4] helps us to understand why these impacts can not be neglected. Changes in an industry or a firm structure may require technical and organizational adjustments. These elements interact with each other. Pacey contends that technology is not culturally neutral. The introduction of steel axes among the Aborigines group in Australia undermines the traditional values and patriarchal organization. The technology had caused the end of this civilization [5] .

Moreover the example of General Motors and the Saturn production plant sums up this aspect very well. In the 1980’s General Motors decided to build a new production plant in Detroit to face Japanese competitors. But, as management had focused only on the technical aspects, the new system did not work properly. Besides some technical difficulties, the first new plant inherited many organizational problems: the relationships with trade unions were troubled; the workers had not a “positive attitude” towards the production system. So GM decided to adopt a more team-based approach and took into account the three aspects of technology. For example workers were more involved in the firm’s decisions and they were more autonomous in theirs tasks; if a problem arouse they could stop the line and fix it. The relationships with trade unions were much better and the productivity of the firm increased. The figure below shows these different aspects of the new production plant.

“Technology-practice at the new Spring Hills car plant”

Technology- practice

Cultural aspects

Organizational aspects

Technical aspects

-Belief in teamwork and team-decision making

– Management trust

-belief in technology and possibility of progress

-high tech is not seen as a solution to everything anymore

-organisation in teams

– Flat structure

-better relationships with trade unions

-Ability given to workers to shut down the lines if there is a technical problem

-Workers perform their own quality control

The management of a technology is especially difficult because people are in general resistant towards change. Although it depends on the structure of the organization (organic v mechanistic), people don’t like change; they tend to want to reduce or neutralise impact of change. It is not new: new technologies have always been perceived as a threat. Workers are afraid of losing their job, their autonomy and of becoming dependent of the machines. The introduction of technology can trigger a transfer of power towards management; increase the required level of skills; destroy some jobs. As we are going to see later, the management has here a key role: they have to organize precisely the integration of the technology within the organization by taking into account all the relevant aspects of the implementation. If they are too risk averse the implementation is likely to fail.

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Then some political aspects have to be addressed when managing a new technology. These external factors can not really be forecast by managers. However they play a role in a successful implementation. The political events can favour or undermine a project: coming elections, lobbyist groups, environmental regulations…all these can have an influence on the technology’s implementation. Trade unions are also very powerful and dangerous, as the GM case showed us. The role of media can not be neglected: by a weak coverage they can threaten the success of a project. Finally customers have a role to play as well. They can boycott a product for instance if they do not agree with the production process. The full implementation of a technology requires generally the approval of the end users. For example Tesco can contend that its implementation of automatic checkout is a success because customers use the machine easily and willingly.

Thus the implementation and the management of a technology is tricky: some internal and external factors can favour or undermine the success of the implementation’s project. Thus managers have to face a question: how to introduce and manage successfully a technology?

The keys to introduce and manage a technology successfully

A technology is worth implementing because it creates a competitive advantage by improving the efficiency of the whole value chain: primary and support activities are affected in a positive way. Introducing technological change into an organization presents some challenges for managers. As the implementation is uncertain and complex we present there some steps to follow in order to avoid implementation’s failures.

The necessity to adopt an overall view of the technology: the use of frameworks

Before introducing a technology within organization managers should assess carefully the global impacts on the firm’s performance and structure. The use of frameworks is very useful. One of these frameworks is the technology complex. It is a holistic approach which allows identifying a wide range of elements that are sources of implementation problems. Besides describing the technological changes, it includes the analysis of the cultural and organizational consequences within the firm.

If the firms needs a guide for the implementation it is better using the RAP-3 framework developed by Boddy and Buchanam. This framework focuses on three areas: purpose, people and process; it presents some advantages: it deals with the most crucial factors that have an influence on technology projects. It considers the decisions, the actions as well as the consequences. However the cultural and organizational aspects are more or less neglected.

As a firm is not isolated and has to face competitors, the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) is helpful. Thanks to this managers can elaborate the best strategy around the technology that fits the customers’ needs and the firm’s features.

In order to avoid the costs overrunning the firm has to assess the costs as precisely as possible. The capital budgeting process is the first step, that means calculate the payback or use the discounted cash flow analysis. However this approach has been criticized: it remains only assumptions, expectations on further return-on-investments. It depends a lot on the behaviour of managers towards change, if they are more or less risk averse, how they see the future. Moreover it promotes short-term focus; but sometimes benefits are long to happen, technology needs time to be profitable. Although the financial aspect is very relevant when implementing a technology it can not be the only factor to assess.

The key role of the management

When dealing with the implementation’s failures we have seen that managers have a key role to play. They have to impulse the introduction, communicate about the technology, to be aware of the risks, to be ready to fail, to believe in the success…It could be a good idea to create an implementation team. It is relevant that some people feel liable for the implementation’s success and do their best to take up the challenges.

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According to Leonard-Barton and Kraus [6] , this team must include a sponsor “who makes sure that the project receives financial and manpower resources and who is wise about the politics of the firm”, “a champion”, who can solves the problems arising during the implementation’s process, “a project manager; who oversees administrative details and an integrator” who manages conflicts and communicate about the technology. Of course, being enthusiastic about a technology is not enough to succeed. The firm’s structure has to be ready to welcome the technology; scarce resources have to be allocated in order to prepare the introduction.

When it comes to resistance to change there again managers have a role to play: people are afraid of deskilling? Managers should tell the instructors to teach the workers how to use the new technology. Supervisors are afraid of losing control? Managers should anticipate any loss of power and, if it is possible, avoid it.

One can say that managers are not supermen, so they can anticipate all the negative effects of a technology. But, as far as they can, they must be “empowering” in change, that involves establishing goals, creating teams, offering help without taking responsibility away, listening to the fears of the employees…All the implementation’s successes have shown the necessity of a strong support from the CEO and the executive staff. Microsoft, Dell, Wal-Mart are all led by powerful and charismatic leaders who like taking risks and facing challenges.

The necessity to do a pilot in order to limit the learning costs

Leonard-Barton and Kraus identify two reasons to do a pilot before introducing the technology within the whole organization: first, it is an experiment to test the technical feasibility of the project and then it serves as a “credible demonstration model for others units in the organization”. [7] Managers can choose to do the pilot in a no risk site for political reasons. It is better to choose a risky site to prove the feasibility but the risks of failures are higher. The example of the RFID technology is here demonstrative for the topic. Marks&Spencer decided to implement the technology gradually within its stores: first it tagged some selected items in one store, than it has expanded the technology to 50 stores and more items. Today about 100 stores are concerned by the project. The use of a pilot supported by the financial department has proved the feasibility of the project and has convinced all the relevant stakeholders: managers, store employees, customers. Moreover it is generally good to hire some consultants. They can have an external and, thus, more objective point of view. They can compare with similar experiences. As they do not belong to the firm, they are not influenced by the culture, the tradition or the struggle for power…Even if this solution is expensive and presents some drawbacks as well, two advice are always better than one.

The necessary involvement of all the stakeholders

Finally a key to a successful implementation is the involvement of all the stakeholders. All the units within the organization should fell concerned by the project. The departments have to work together because they will all be affected by the implementation sooner or later. The full infrastructure is modified: as Porter and Miller say, the industry structure is changed or even destroyed. New businesses are technologically feasible and new businesses are created related to the technology [8] .

Workers within the organization are the first to be affected by the introduction of the technology. So they have to be prepared and taken into account in the implementation’s process. That does not mean only being informed, that means being trained, being consulted about the impacts. They should feel involved in the process as a part of the team.

Last but not least customers and end-users have to feel concerned and taken into account. For instance, one of the positive aspects of the implementation of the RFID technology within Marks&Spencer’s store was that customers were informed a lot about the tags, “we have been very clear with our customers from the very start”, said O.Burns, Marks&Spencer spokesperson. There are informative leaflets within the store and information directly on the tags. The last step of the successful implementation is the transfer of ownership of the innovation to users. [9] 

Conclusion

In a word, the implementation process is expensive, complex and uncertain. Managers are mostly responsible for the success of it. As the competitive environment changes all the time organizations have to be very flexible to adapt to changes very quickly and to adopt successfully new technologies.

Words count (figures excluded): 2998

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