The People in Information Systems

Organizing the Information Systems Function

In the early years of computing, the information-systems function (generally called "data processing") was placed in the finance or accounting department of the organization. As computing became more important, a separate information-systems function was formed, but it still was generally placed under the Chief Financial Officer and considered to be an administrative function of the company. By the 1980s and 1990s, when companies began networking internally and then connecting to the Internet, the information systems function was combined with the telecommunications functions and designated as the Information Technology (IT) department. As the role of information technology continued to increase, its place in the organization became more important. In many organizations today, the head of IT (the CIO) reports directly to the CEO.

Where in the Organization Should IS Be?

Before the advent of the personal computer, the information systems function was centralized within organizations in order to maximize control over computing resources. When the PC began proliferating, many departments within organizations saw it as a chance to gain some computing resources for themselves. Some departments created an internal information systems group, complete with systems analysts, programmers, and even database administrators. These departmental IS groups were dedicated to the information needs of their own departments, providing quicker turnaround and higher levels of service than a centralized IT department. However, having several IS groups within an organization led to a lot of inefficiencies. There were now several people performing the same jobs in different departments. This decentralization also led to company data being stored in several places all over the company.

In some organizations a matrix reporting structure developed in which IT personnel were placed within a department and reported to both the department management and the functional management within IS. The advantages of dedicated IS personnel for each department must be weighed against the need for more control over the strategic information resources of the company.

For many companies, these questions are resolved by the implementation of the ERP system. Because an ERP system consolidates most corporate data back into a single database, the implementation of an ERP system requires organizations to find "silos" of data so that they can integrate them back into the corporate system. The ERP allows organizations to regain control of their information and influences organizational decisions throughout the company.

Outsourcing

Frequently an organization needs a specific skill for a limited period of time. Instead of training existing employees or hiring new staff, it may make more sense to outsource the job. Outsourcing can be used in many different situations within the information systems function, such as the design and creation of a new website or the upgrade of an ERP system. Some organizations see outsourcing as a cost-cutting move, contracting out a whole group or department.

New Models of Organizations

The integration of information technology has influenced the structure of organizations. The increased ability to communicate and share information has led to a "flattening" of the organizational structure due to the removal of one or more layers of management.

The network-based organizational structure is another changed enabled by information systems. In a network-based organizational structure, groups of employees can work somewhat independently to accomplish a project. People with the right skills are brought together for a project and then released to work on other projects when that project is over. These groups are somewhat informal and allow for all members of the group to maximize their effectiveness.

Information Systems Users – Types of Users

Besides the people who work to create, administer, and manage information systems, there is one more extremely important group of people, namely, the users of information systems. This group represents a very large percentage of an organization's employees. If the user is not able to successfully learn and use an information system, the system is doomed to failure.

Technology adoption user types

One tool that can be used to understand how users will adopt a new technology comes from a 1962 study by Everett Rogers. In his book, Diffusion of Innovation, Rogers studied how farmers adopted new technologies and noticed that the adoption rate started slowly and then dramatically increased once adoption hit a certain point. He identified five specific types of technology adopters:
 

  • Innovators. Innovators are the first individuals to adopt a new technology. Innovators are willing to take risks, are the youngest in age, have the highest social class, have great financial liquidity, are very social, and have the closest contact with scientific sources and interaction with other innovators. Risk tolerance is high so there is a willingness to adopt technologies thast may ultimately fail. Financial resources help absorb these failures.
  • Early adopters. The early adopters are those who adopt innovation soon after a technology has been introduced and proven. These individuals have the highest degree of opinion leadership among the other adopter categories, which means that these adopters can influence the opinions of the largest majority. Characteristics include being younger in age, having a higher social status, possessing more financial liquidity, having advanced education, and being more socially aware than later adopters. These adopters are more discrete in adoption choices than innovators, and realize judicious choice of adoption will help them maintain a central communication position.
  • Early majority. Individuals in this category adopt an innovation after a varying degree of time. This time of adoption is significantly longer than the innovators and early adopters. This group tends to be slower in the adoption process, has above average social status, has contact with early adopters, and seldom holds positions of opinion leadership in a system.
  • Late majority. The late majority will adopt an innovation after the average member of the society. These individuals approach an innovation with a high degree of skepticism, have below average social status, very little financial liquidity, are in contact with others in the late majority and the early majority, and show very little opinion leadership.
  • Laggards. Individuals in this category are the last to adopt an innovation. Unlike those in the previous categories, individuals in this category show no opinion leadership. These individuals typically have an aversion to change agents and tend to be advanced in age. Laggards typically tend to be focused on "traditions", are likely to have the lowest social status and the lowest financial liquidity, be oldest of all other adopters, and be in contact with only family and close friends.

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These five types of users can be translated into information technology adopters as well, and provide additional insight into how to implement new information systems within the organization. For example, when rolling out a new system, IT may want to identify the innovators and early adopters within the organization and work with them first, then leverage their adoption to drive the rest of the implementation to the other users.

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