Implementing new technologies can be an expensive undertaking for businesses. Many businesses have tried to capitalize on the latest technologies only to realize little or no benefit to the company. When returns on technological investment do not materialize, a “productivity gap” exists.By analyzing implementation failures from a social perspective, Kling and other researchers have taken a holistic approach to IT implementation. The questions they ask come from common sense and experience. Hard research exists, but it is only now being consolidated into a cohesive field of study.Technological Determinism vs. Social InformaticsThe theory of technological determinism implies that technology is autonomous and it, by itself, can create social change. Whereas social theorists see technology as a force that can change society, technological determinists see it as the core of society itself. Technological determinists may, as a result, conclude that technology is a threat rather than a benefit. With this perspective, implementing technology effectively is a difficult propositionOther theorists see technology as a tool for good change, but only if used correctly. Social informatics theorists focus, in a humanistic way, on the factors that make technology effective or ineffective. Most of what has been learned is through examination of failed uses of technology. Kling (1999) illuminates the need for a social informatics approach:This (social informatics) contrasts with highly spirited but largelya- priori promotions of technologies that occasionally work wellfor people, occasionally are valuable, are sometimes abandoned,are sometimes unusable, and thus incur predictable waste andinspire misplaced hopes. (13)Both social informatics and technological determinism recognize that technology has profound social effects. Social informatics, in contrast, also states that some societal factors will change very slowly or not at all. This is something that designers must take into account.Social Informatics- Theory and StructureSystematic research about social informatics is still in its infancy. The research that has been done is not readily accessible to the layperson, except in watered-down form. Rob Kling and a number of other researchers have arrived at an agreed upon definition. From Learning from Social Informatics (2000).Social Informatics refers to the interdisciplinary study if the designuses and consequences of ICT’s that takes into account theirinteraction with institutional and cultural contexts (2)The need for social informatics has been questioned by some theoreticians and, more importantly, the people directly responsible for implementation. Proponents of a social informatics approach cite convincing evidence that technology has not lived up to its hype, in terms of the overall productivity of businesses.Kraemer and Dedrick (2001), describe the emergence of the productivity paradox:The whole issue arose over a decade ago, when Nobel Prize winningEconomist, Robert Solow, famously remarked. “You can see thecomputer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” (2)Why has technology failed to produce its expected effect? That is what Social Informatics theoreticians are trying to determine. It seems obvious that technology alone does not create an instant benefit (Kling, 1999). Social informatics begins from a common sense, observational outlook. It does not begin from theory, but rather creates it in response to specific problems. Sawyer and Rosenbaum (2000) describe the nature of social informatics:Social informatics is further characterized by the problems beingexamined rather than by the theories or methods. In this way, SIis similar to other fields that are defined by a problem area- suchas human computer interaction, software engineering, urbanstudies and gerontology. (90)An example of this type of thought is described by Kling in reference to air traffic control systems. “Paper plays important roles in some places where we don’t think it is in use.” (1999, p. 7) In the past, management may not have realized that paper is not necessarily replaced effectively by technology. An expensive, paperless system might have been installed and paper still used anyway.The conclusion reached by Kling and others is that people within an organization will use the same technology in different ways, and that use changes over time. Social context is important. There are many influences, other than personal preference that cause this. Studying them before and after implementation only makes sense and saves money in the long run. This conclusion has major implications for professionals in the IT field.IT Management and Social InformaticsSince Social Informatics is problem driven, IT professionals should be particularly interested. The potential benefits of such an approach justify the effort undertaken. IT’s have value, good or bad, they have disparate effects and even moral implications. The good news is that IT’s are adaptable for the professional that is truly tuned in to the needs of the end-user.Social Informatics theory is a tool that can help IT professionals, software developers and end-users do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. It implies a comprehensive approach that merges sociology with technology. Social informatics does not discount the importance of technical skill. Instead, it helps those involved in technology use their skills in a more comprehensive and ultimately beneficial way.Creating technology that makes life simpler instead of more complicated is a subtle art. Implementation, from a social informatics approach, will require flexible thinkers. As more research is completed social informatics will become less a term of art and more of a scientifically-based theory. Theoreticians are currently working to consolidate the disparate sources of information into a cohesive discipline.Designers and other IT professionals will need to maintain close contact with end users. From that contact the designer can create realistic scenarios of how the technology will be used. Effective implementation requires a “discovery process” (Kling, 1999). That includes user input in the design process.The social informatics approach stresses that implementation is not a one time event. IT managers and implementers must continually be prepared to make changes. The way people use technology is not static. It changes over time. Technological determinism and other theories imply that people will conform to technology. Social informatics posits that the technology must change to fit the people using it.Implementing and managing IT is an extremely complex process. Some IT people may feel that including social informatics will only make a hard job harder. It is just the opposite. Implementing from social informatics can create a more efficient and problem-free system. Lessons learned from employing social informatics can then be applied to future technological issues, potentially making transitions smoother.
Social Informatics and Technology Implementation: A holistic approach Paper
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