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Information Systems At Call Centre
 

Information Systems At Call Centre

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    Information Systems At Call Centre Information Systems At Call Centre Document Transcript

    • International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 Information systems at CallCentre Carole Brooke* Faculty of Business and Management, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln LN6 7TS, UK Abstract This paper presents the latest empirical material to emerge from a recently completed research project using the organisational scenario tool (OST). The project was part of a large-scale activity conducted over a 3-year period and was funded by the EPSRC under their Software Engineering for Business Process Change programme. The project has been looking at legacy systems and evaluating their potential for change. The methods adopted here are based on scenario generation and include an iterative process that attempts to ‘future proof’ organisational options for change. The empirical research presented in this paper took place within a large UK-based company that is structured around a call centre operation (referred to hereafter as CallCentre). The research focused on a particular job management function of the business (referred to as Works). Major problems were being encountered with the flow of work through the business process chain. CallCentre made it clear that the technology involved was inadequate to support the complexity and size of the tasks being performed. However, one of the main conclusions of this paper is that what appeared on the surface to be an information systems problem turned out to be much more to do with a need for change in work organisation and organisational attitude. Although at one level this challenged management expectations, it also had positive outcomes for the business. The OST demonstrated its effectiveness in highlighting the assumptions underpinning different technological and organisational choices at CallCentre and was able to assist the organisation in its decision-making process. At the same time the framework provided a valuable archive ensuring that the organisation could revisit these decisions at a later date with the benefit of hindsight. r 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Information systems; Scenarios; Legacy; CallCentre; Organisational change 1. The CallCentre research The objective of this paper is to illustrate the output from the call centre research and highlight the issues it raised. The material presented here is intended as a substantial introduction to the *Tel.: +44-1522-886342. E-mail address: cbrooke@lincoln.ac.uk (C. Brooke). 0268-4012/02/$ - see front matter r 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 2 6 8 - 4 0 1 2 ( 0 2 ) 0 0 0 2 9 - 4
    • 390 C. Brooke / International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 application of the organisational scenario tool (OST) for other researchers to adopt elsewhere. The research was conducted as part of a larger inter-disciplinary research project that took place over a 3-year period from 1997 to 2000. As Foucault has suggested, interdisciplinary research can be very useful. It can help us to open up space for innovation and creativity (Milanzi, 2001). The full research team included computer scientists, software engineers, information systems researchers and organisational analysts. The conceptual and theoretical development of this work have already been presented elsewhere (Brooke, 2000; Brooke & Ramage, 2001). This paper will concentrate on the practical aspects of the research and its application to an organisational context. During the work with CallCentre the author adopted several methods of obtaining qualitative material. These included informal, semi-structured interviews, focus group meetings, discussions with management and workshops with a wide range of staff. The material was recorded in note form because, for reasons of confidentiality, it could not be tape recorded or video taped. In addition to the author’s notes, written material from participants was analysed. For instance, workshop material included flip charts and notes produced by individual participants. In so far as the author facilitated some of the workshops it could be argued that this constituted participative research. The implication of this and its relationship to the adoption of the OST approach by other researchers is discussed in the concluding sections of the paper. 2. The organisational scenarios tool applied This section presents an outline of the OST (see Fig. 1). More detail on the development of the OST is given elsewhere (Brooke, 2000; Brooke & Ramage, 2001). Unlike some other scenario- based techniques (Carroll, 1996) the OST approach is highly participative. It is important that a wide range of staff and management are involved and that they represent as many facets of the business (internally and externally facing) as possible. This should, if possible, also include external customer links. It is especially key that both technical and business experts are involved at each stage. Ideally a participant group at any one workshop should consist of about 12 individuals. Typically, this could include the following roles and responsibilities but will obviously vary according to the specific organisation concerned: * senior directors (preferably including someone at Board level), * managers from different organisational functions (including Human Resources), * IT specialists (preferably including a software engineer), * front-line staff (including those at the external customer interface), * end users (preferably including an external customer). 2.1. Generating the status quo The first stage of the OST requires participants to evaluate the existing situation within their company. In other words, they have to describe the status quo in relation to the issues being explored. CallCentre were encountering major problems in one particular area of the business with the flow of work through the business process chain. For the sake of confidentiality this area
    • C. Brooke / International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 391 Status Quo (including icebreaker) Automate-Informate-Transform New Scenarios Future Proofing (one iteration) Gap Analysis Final Scenario Fig. 1. Overview of the organisational scenarios tool. is referred to as ‘Works’. Management regarded the technology that had been implemented to enable the Works function to operate as a ‘legacy system’. In their opinion the combination of technology and people all along the business chain was no longer able to handle the complexity and flexibility needed to complete the processes and provide customer satisfaction. Following meetings and discussions with management, work with staff at CallCentre began by involving the full range of participants outlined above in a series of workshops. The OST approach was briefly described (see Fig. 1) and then an icebreaker exercise was introduced. The purpose of this exercise was two-fold. It provided an opportunity to develop group-working relationships and also to encourage individuals to express thoughts about the company in a non- threatening way. The latter is particularly needed if the participants are to be encouraged to fully and honestly express their view of the company’s status quo as required by the OST stage of the approach. The icebreaker exercise took the form of each individual expressing their personal view of the current set-up and its associated problems in the form of a picture or diagram. Once these had been completed a plenary discussion took place to compare and evaluate the different perspectives. Interestingly, there was a general consensus concerning the nature of the problems relating to Works. These focused around issues such as fragmented communications, inaccurate
    • 392 C. Brooke / International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 information (their word), inadequate technology, and a general lack of quality control. At this point of the discussion the emphasis appeared to be on weaknesses relating to technology and its application rather than to human error. Indeed, a lot of frustration was expressed in relation to the inability of some of the dedicated PCs (referred to as ‘robots’) to process jobs without detailed intervention by individual staff. This focus on technical shortcomings may have been expected given that a ‘legacy system’ problem had been the trigger for the research in the first place. Yet it was interesting to note that later in the research process the emphasis was shifted to shortcomings in staff rather than technology. If a broad definition is adopted of ‘legacy system’ then this shift in emphasis takes on more significance. A legacy system could be described as consisting of both technical components and social factors (such as software, people, skills, business processes) which no longer meets the needs of its business environment. After the icebreaker exercise was completed, the group was asked to generate a description of the status quo using the OST matrix (see Table 1). This exercise was facilitated by the author and recorded on paper how they viewed the current set-up. A brief description now follows of the criteria which appear in the matrix (more detail of the theoretical underpinning is given in Brooke (2000)). Boundary refers to the scope of the business area under evaluation. For example it could be a particular department or it could be the whole organisation. The boundary for the analysis at CallCentre was a particular job management activity (Works) and the chain of processes associated with it. The information systems supporting this activity ran in a virtuous circle from the customer through to professionals in the business and back out again to the customer. The participants viewed the processes as a chain through which (ideally) information flowed speedily and without error. They spoke a great deal about the fluidity of information and problems were seen in terms of the interruption of this flow-through and this perspective is echoed in the scenarios they produced later in the exercise. Vision in this context does not refer to a mission statement or the like. It refers to a global summary of how the organisational unit being evaluated actually exists. Participants were asked to consider why it was that the job management activity had been designed in its particular way. What was the vision behind its design and function? Responses suggested that the design to a large extent had simply followed history in a ‘because we do it that way’ sense. It was recognised that the core of the business was about delivering a service and it was thought that designing the processes in this way enabled the service to be delivered with a minimum of problems. The vision had been to remove problems away from the customer interface. It had become clear to the business though that the vision had lost its legitimacy; hence the need for a re-evaluation. Logic refers to the rationale that underpins and drives this arrangement. The organisation centralised the control of its job management functions hoping, thereby, to achieve greater efficiency. Also, the intention was to ‘remove the dross’ from the highly paid professional staff. The organisational structure flows from this. The role of the job management function was to support professionals in delivering a service to the customer. In order to do this more quickly, service delivery was on a regional basis, hence the whole process chain was a mixture of centralised and regionalised controls. A problem highlighted at this point was that there was no dependency built into the system. Too much of the activity ran in parallel so that problems often did not become apparent until much later ‘downstream’ in the process chain.
    • C. Brooke / International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 393 Table 1 CallCentre status quo scenario Boundary of the analysis How job management within Works was effected and tasks delivered to the field and back Company vision Pure history. Works is meant to deliver a service, deals with problems, removes them so that professionals in the field can get on with the job Seen as the flexibility point for the whole business process chain, measured on volume and speed and not on quality Explanatory logic Centrally controlled processes ‘Removes the dross from the professional teams’ A mix of centralised and regional job control roles Organisational structure Specialised staff but with some multi-skilling No dependency in the system—it all runs in parallel Roles The more skilled people were moved into job control roles Deskilling of professionals took place—i.e., they used to manage their own work loads rather than rely on controls View of information Information is seen as a resource but as frequently inaccurate Costs Poor information, lost business, failed activities, rework, compensation to customers for failure Benefits Cost of failure Good at delivering customer service Risks Poor customer perception No accountability for poor quality data (no quality checks) Work roles were fairly mixed. Some roles in the process were deskilled (for example, one group of technicians was no longer able to manage its own individual job schedules) whereas for other groups there was a certain amount of multi-skilling. Specialist skills were still required, mainly only for the higher paid professionals. Key to an understanding of the role of information systems quot; vis-a-vis people at CallCentre was their view of information. View of information: asks the participants to identify the company’s general approach to the concept of information. The author pointed to the difference between data and information and the difference between an objective view and one that gives more importance to the role of the individual in its interpretation. The responses from organisational members were self-contra- dictory. Whilst individual members recognised that ‘information’ (i.e., not data) received on a terminal screen would not be interpreted in the same way by everybody, they still insisted that this was a result of ‘human error’ and that the solution was to automate people out of the process as far as possible. The assumption was that the technology was a neutral vehicle for transference of facts and that it could speed processes across spatial and functional boundaries. The information
    • 394 C. Brooke / International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 systems role was to transmit what they called ‘facts’ unchanged from place to place and, therefore, with a high degree of accuracy. Information was seen as an objectified, externally manageable physical resource. This view of information is referred to shorthand in the OST approach as ‘a resource view’. Its theoretical aspects are discussed in more detail elsewhere and it has links with the resource-based view of strategic management (Brooke, 2000). The last three criteria addressed in the status quo matrix are costs, benefits and risks. These tend to be fairly familiar concepts and usually focus on economic considerations. However, participants were encouraged to think more broadly about effects associated with the existing set-up and to articulate both tangible (for example, compensation pay-outs to customers) and intangible (for example, damage to reputation) issues. The comments made in the matrix for these three criteria are fairly self-explanatory, except perhaps one: the cost of failure as a benefit. This refers to the effect that failure has on the increased demand for customer service. In other words, if the company delivers a service to a customer but does so incorrectly then it has another opportunity to visit them to put it right. Since getting to the customer was seen as a current strength of the business (even if not performing the job entirely correctly) the company could maintain some aspects of its good reputation. This ironic situation, however, is reflected badly under the costs section, where it was clear that rework was a major issue. As one participant put it: We are good at fixing problems but we introduce a lot of problems, too. 50% of the work is actually rework. 2.2. Generating new scenarios 2.2.1. Automate–informate–transform Having assisted the participants to record their view of the status quo, the author led them through the next stage—to briefly consider three alternative stereotypical scenarios labelled automate, informate, and transform (Zuboff, 1988; Scott Morton, 1991; Cash, Eccles, Nohria, & Nolan, 1994). For a full account of the automate/informate/transform profiles see Brooke and Ramage (2001). Automation is a widely recognised term. It is based on principles of the substitution of human labour and cost efficiency. The other two terms are, however, less well known. Basically, a transformate scenario represents a deeper structural change than the informate scenario. Whereas informating refers to the use of technology so as to augment human effort (rather than replace it) and may involve the restructuring of jobs and roles, full transformation involves a reevaluation of the very nature and purpose of the business itself. The purpose of these three stereotypes was to alert participants to the different ways in which technology could be applied to support, change or enhance business processes and, in particular, to pay attention to the different sets of values and assumptions which underpin the different strategies. The concepts described therein encouraged participants to be creative in thinking about organisational change. They also assisted the participants in evaluating the assumptions underlying the status quo scenario. The following points illustrate some of the ways in which the AIT exercise helped CallCentre to surface their predominantly automated approach to the legacy system within Works. One particular point in the chain of work processes had been blamed for interrupting the fluidity. However, it was acknowledged by many of the staff that this is because problems collect
    • C. Brooke / International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 395 ‘upstream’ in the processes and only manifest themselves further downstream at the point where synthesis between disparate strands of data is meant to occur. Upstream there is no engagement with the data. This ‘meaninglessness’ compounds along the chain until it reaches the first point where engagement is allowed to occur. At the supposed point of synthesis, therefore, there are significant struggles to make sense of the data. Unsurprisingly, many ‘failures’ are surfaced and bounced back along the process or else partially interpreted and sent further down the chain, only to ‘fail’ at a later stage. Management seemed to find it difficult to think outside the box, restricting themselves to automation and the substitution of human effort. This inability to think beyond a certain mindset (for example, into informating or transformating) was challenged in the process of generating the alternative scenarios. CallCentre had turned the concept of informating on its head: they were not applying technology so as to augment human effort instead they were augmenting technology with human labour (people supporting robots). This was problematised in terms of a need to reduce headcount and associated overheads. One of many possible ironies identified by the research was that attempts to reduce costs through automation had led to huge costs being incurred at all levels of the set-up. For example, costs incurred through inadequate robots, inadequate processes, the cost of failures (rework), customer dissatisfaction, and the cost of fault-finding within the system itself. Simplification was assumed to mean automation. Having recognised the influence of these assumptions within their status quo scenario, the participants were guided through the next stage of the OST. 2.2.2. Alternative scenarios Following the AIT exercise two smaller groups were formed with the objective of developing alternatives to the status quo set-up. Each group was asked to generate at least three scenarios. Group One produced three alternative scenarios and Group Two produced four scenarios. For reasons of confidentiality (and space) the details of these seven scenarios are not presented here. Each group was asked to rank their scenarios in order of priority. Returning to the plenary group, the participants presented to each other the details of the seven new scenarios and their reasons for their relative priorities. It became apparent that the preferred scenario from each group had some overlaps and were, in fact, fairly easily merged. The group suggested that this was an appropriate way to advance. The resulting ‘merged’ scenario is presented in Table 2. The following discussion helps in understanding Table 2 and how the merged scenario came about. The issues raised by groups during this stage of the exercise have been synthesised for brevity. Company vision and explanatory logic: The argument was made by participants over and over again that problems were caused by individuals ‘manipulating the data outside the visible system’. CallCentre felt that their attempts to systematise the retrieval and manipulation of information were being undermined by the complexity of inter-relationships between systems and people, systems and systems, and people and people. The assumption was that all activity should be digitised and that this would then become transparent leading to a significant reduction in ‘errors’. One participant summarised this as: improve the processes, simplify the tasks so that robots can handle them and remove the people.
    • 396 C. Brooke / International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 Table 2 CallCentre ‘merged’ scenario Boundary of the As before: i.e., how job management is effected within Works and tasks are delivered analysis to the field and back. However, boundaries of this activity are now clearer because it has been centred on one machine type but longer because it extends out to the customer as the service is now electronically enabled at point of delivery Company vision A one-touch process, many links in the process chain have been removed. Customers can now deal more directly through internet access. The front end effectively has been removed Explanatory logic Good customer perception, speedier delivery end-to-end and responsibility for quality lies with one unit, becoming more transparent and less fragmented Organisational No staff involved except those professionals actually delivering the end product. All structure organisational resources involved are managed under one banner and are, therefore, more easy to control Roles The professionals are now fully multi-skilled. This results in a more diversified ‘field force’. The only other associated roles in the process chain require maintenance and planning skills View of information Same as before: it is a resource and must be factually accurate from end-to-end Costs Relocation and redeployment, training, combining two existing technical systems, data quality/cleansing Benefits Customer satisfaction, speed of delivery No job management, no telephone calls to answer, transparency of customer order right through the process, significant savings in overheads (mainly staffing budgets) Risks Very complicated to plan, costly and time-consuming to implement, staff may end up being ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, individual units may become too big and too dependent—could become too vulnerable to system crashes Organisational structure: The business was regionally fragmented as well as processually fragmented. Centralisation of certain processes and activities was seen as desirable but was to be achieved virtually rather than physically. Whilst a range of activities (processes) would be located at each geographical centre to encourage ‘networking’, the synthesis of each task type on a national scale would be done electronically. Interactions between people would be reshaped by the technology. Roles: The role of individuals was to look at information on the screen and perform certain prescribed functions with it before passing it on to the next technological stage in the chain, which ran in a loop from the customer through various functional units and back to the customer again. In the past, there had been a panopticon arrangement for professional staff (Zuboff, 1988). Automated interfaces between professionals and technology were introduced to give management the ability to remotely monitor and assess individual performance and apply performance criteria.
    • C. Brooke / International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 397 The reason given for automating the process was that individuals would otherwise ‘attempt to subvert the performance criteria’. However, the effects of this had been very damaging for staff and had become a serious industrial relations issue. During the OST exercise, staff reported that the technological changes had had a ‘demoralising effect’. In response, the merged scenario modified the technological interface in order to give more of a sense of control and was an attempt to rebuild trust. Both customers and professionals had expressed a preference for ‘more human contact’. View of information: The standardisation of programs and processes was seen as the way to remove error; ‘we need to standardise the processes’. All data on screens were meant to be in a standard format. Information was seen as flowing from one technological station to the next. Problems with the lack of fluidity were articulated as follows. At certain points in the workflow, ‘robots’ (automated PCs) were used to support the business processes. This was intended to speed things up but the robots were unable to cope with the wide range of tasks and the incomplete or ambiguous nature of received data. So, people were brought in to support the robots and deal with cases of exception. The number of people supporting the robots was growing to a level where CallCentre felt that its objective of automation was being undermined. The problem was seen in terms of too many people supporting the robots. Outputs had to be predictable and pre- determined. Ideally, there was to be no role for individual interpretation. Their solution was obvious—reduce the number of people and you reduce the errors. As one participant put it information is: ysubject to each person’s individual interpretation of the codes. Costs, benefits and risks: There were a number of different perspectives on technology at CallCentre but the dominant perspective promoted technology as cost-cutting and improving efficiency. Efficiency here relates to doing things right and assuming that this will lead to effectiveness (doing the right thing). At CallCentre there was substantial evidence of the separation of individuals from control over the source of and what appeared on their screens. Several members reported that separation of the customer from the professional staff, in particular, had led to significant downturns in customer satisfaction ratings. So much so, that management had taken the decision to reintroduce direct contact between the different parties. These changes necessitated some retraining and multi-tasking. They would also be complicated and costly to implement as compared to the status quo scenario but the benefits were thought to justify this. 2.3. Gap analysis The next stage of the research approach involved comparing the status quo and merged scenario. The author asked questions about what was preventing the organisation actually getting from the status quo to the new scenario. The plenary group generated a list of problems associated with closing the gap between the status quo and the scenario in Table 2. We then went back over this list and tried to group the issues in order to tackle their solutions more easily. The groups which participants suggested were: technical problems, process issues, and organisational issues. For reasons of commercial confidentiality these details are not provided here but some general observations will be made to indicate the insights that the exercise provided.
    • 398 C. Brooke / International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 Six technical problems were identified, 11 process issues and five organisational issues. It became apparent that whereas process issues were by far the most significant to tackle, the technical solutions were less serious than had been expected. Indeed, it seemed that some of the anticipated problems would be eradicated once the process issues had been tackled. One of the most important insights from the exercise so far was that what appeared on the surface to CallCentre to be an information systems problem turned out to be much more to do with a need for change in work organisation and organisational attitude. Although at one level this appeared to challenge their expectations, it also had positive outcomes as we will see. Next we moved on to look at problem solutions. By conducting the analysis in this way the participants came to see for themselves the social and organisational nature of the problems. It also had the benefit of making the changes seem more doable. There had been a concern at the outset that very expensive technological solutions would be necessary. Once the solutions routes had been identified it was clear that this was not the case. However, many of the changes needed depended on senior management intervention. Examples included adjustment of the scorecard methods of weighting performance criteria, and adjusting priorities for individual target setting. The participants had been under pressure in their various work roles to come up with improvements in business performance. Being able to present senior management with a detailed and holistic plan of actions that needed to be taken and which made senior management’s role explicit helped to relieve some of that pressure. It was felt that a good business case could now be made for implementing the changes. 2.4. Future proofing The OST requires a second iteration of the scenario exercise. The purpose of this second iteration is to evaluate the merged scenario for its potential future business impact and to agree upon a final scenario (see Fig. 1). A major objective is to help an organisation assess its future ability to change. This attempt at ‘future proofing’ makes a significant contribution to the evaluation of organisational change, particularly at strategic levels. In the work with CallCentre, this future proofing occurred 8 weeks after the merged scenario was generated. The length of the gap was partly due to availability of all the participants, and partly to give the participants time to consider the different scenarios and the technical problems and solutions in greater depth. Going into this meeting, we had a set of alternative organisational scenarios and a merged scenario with its set of preferred solutions (technical, process and organisational). At the beginning of the session the merged scenario was revisited (Table 2). It was felt by the participants that in order to strengthen the future-proofing exercise we should also return to the other seven scenarios generated by the small groups to make sure that we did not miss something. When we did this, we found that three scenarios presented themselves as helpful in future proofing the merged scenario. The result of this development is presented in Table 3. The merged scenario is future proofed by examining the market in which CallCentre operates and checking whether it would allow the company to meet the needs of that market. By looking at the combination of different change options, technical feasibility, and the wider organisational environment, CallCentres were able to produce a final scenario that supported their need for on-going responsiveness. In other words, this analysis ensured as far as possible that whatever choices they made for change now would not lead them into a future position of inflexibility.
    • C. Brooke / International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 399 Table 3 CallCentre second iteration—‘future proofing’ Boundary of the analysis All provision of service within the local section of the customer supply chain Company vision One workforce delivering to one customer service team Wholesale unit to equally support any retailers Explanatory logic Move from task focused to job focused (ownership) Minimum systems and costs, efficient service delivery Effective use of people, transparency of process Organisational structure Central control of process. Regional implementation Local innovations tried, and if successful rolled out nationally Roles One owner of process centrally (Management team) One job one owner (no job management needed) Single multi-skilled field force Large customer service centres to have dedicated staff who are empowered to manage their own work View of information Information is still seen as a resource—information is a record of an actual physical resource (e.g., a piece of equipment) Costs Multi-skilling and training especially of the field force Some changes to IT systems and a lot of process redesign Benefits Reduced processes, fewer systems to maintain Better understanding of whole job, worker satisfaction Customer satisfaction leading to enhanced reputation Dramatic cost reduction (potentially) Improved market share, due to improved customer satisfaction and costs Start-to-finish time of customer orders are minimised Fits with changes taking place in the external organisational environment Risks Inability of staff to grasp all the skills required Industrial relations problems due to redeployment Job queues start to build up Regional centre could go down (contingency: because everyone is following national processes work can be picked up by other regions) 3. Evaluation and conclusions A legacy system is made up of technical components and social factors (such as software, people, skills, business processes) which no longer meet the needs of its business environment (Brooke & Ramage, 2001). During the full period of the research activity which was funded by the EPSRC (1997–2000) it became clear that organisations are often biased towards physical, tangible and technically oriented issues and that this is reflected in an inherent bias in established methods
    • 400 C. Brooke / International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 of information systems evaluation. It was, therefore, unsurprising that the mapping of the status quo revealed a tendency towards automation and also a resource view of information within CallCentre. The framework presented in this paper was developed with the objective of redressing this imbalance by exposing the values underpinning different choices and by centering on human factors in the development of technology. The fact that the participants identified for themselves the over-riding social and organisational nature of their problems helped to make the case more convincingly for them. However, it will still be largely dependent upon senior management to enable implementation of the changes. Also, full recognition of the human and social nature of their problems implies the need for a change in culture. This is a complex and sensitive area but the author is of the opinion that without such recognition, many beneficial effects of organisational change will be lost. These issues were discussed with CallCentre during the final stages of the evaluation exercise. Attention needed to be given to the social construction of their existing practices and processes. This led to an evaluation of the appropriateness of technological and other types of solution. Jackson, for example, questions the efficacy of dispersing information workers since virtual working relies heavily on shared knowledge and meanings, and virtuality as such does not encourage or support the development and negotiation of shared meanings (Jackson, 1997, p. 200). In their final scenario CallCentre opted for a reintegration of staff roles and skills rather than an even more virtually dispersed set-up. This research makes a contribution to information systems evaluation by presenting a framework that encourages organisations to consider different organisational scenarios and their underlying values and assumptions so that decisions can be made in a more explicit and informed way. One advantage of the framework is that it is intended to be a tool-in-use. The precise steps of the framework can be (and have been) tailored to the needs of the organisation. For example, the costs, benefits and risks criteria can be modified to reflect the organisation’s own project profiling methods, and criteria can be weighted accordingly. From the start of the main project in 1997, it has been an aim to adopt a participative approach to research. Working with CallCentre enabled some critical reflection to take place on the way in which the OST is designed to assist organisations in evaluating their legacy systems. One thing that emerged very clearly was that the OST is definitely a tool-in-use, to be modified according to the needs of the situation. In working with CallCentre several modifications were made to the OST. It was important to be responsive to the time made available by the company and the level of knowledge of participants. The choice of categories for ordering the problems and solutions in the latter stages (organisational, process and technical) arose from the participants and the need to structure a set of rather disparate issues. However, this framework should not be imposed on every application of the OST, as its strength was the way in which it arose naturally from the participants. Another change made was to cut down the amount of time spent working through the three stereotyped scenarios (automate, informate, transform). This was done in response to CallCentre’s request to spend more time on alternative scenario generation. With hindsight the lack of emphasis on the stereotypes was not ideal. Insufficient emphasis of the stereotypes can lead to greater conservatism in the final scenarios produced and although this does not appear to have been the case at CallCentre (they did acknowledge their tendency towards automation and a resource view), in reality the extent of the impact of this modification to the approach will never
    • C. Brooke / International Journal of Information Management 22 (2002) 389–401 401 be known. Such issues serve to remind us of the difficulties encountered when conducting empirical research within a dynamic commercial context. Perhaps most importantly, the outputs from the research constituted a valuable archive of an organisation’s decision-making activities. Opportunities for more in-depth and critical post- implementation review have now been enabled. A number of other organisations are currently using the OST and working with the author to evaluate their potential choices for change. Acknowledgements Two other academic colleagues involved with research at CallCentre were Dr. Magnus Ramage, Open University, and Professor Keith Bennett, Research Centre for Software Evolution at the University of Durham. The CallCentre work was part of a larger project which was funded by the EPSRC under their SEBPC Programme. Further details can be found at the web site www.durham.ac.ukCSMSABA Special thanks are due to the staff and management at CallCentre who contributed much of their time, skills and knowledge to the research. References Brooke, C. (2000). A framework for evaluating organisational choice and process redesign issues. Journal of Information Technology, 15(1), 17–28. Brooke, C., & Ramage, M. (2001). Organisational scenarios and legacy systems. International Journal of Information Management, 21(5), 365–384. Carroll, J. (1996). Becoming social: Expanding scenario-based approaches in human–computer interaction. Behaviour and Information Technology, 15(4), 266–275. Cash, J. I., Eccles, R. G., Nohria, N., & Nolan, R. L. (1994). Building the information-age organisation: Structure, control and information technologies. Boston: Richard D. Irwin. Jackson, P. (1997). Information systems as metaphor: The three Rs of representation. In I. McLoughlin, & M. Harris (Eds.), Innovation, organizational change and technology (pp. 186–206). London: International Thomson Business Press. Milanzi, M. (2001). Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault. Book review in Systems Research, 18, 94–99. Scott Morton, M. S. (Ed.). (1991). The Corporation of the 1990s: Information Technology and Organisational Transformation, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Zuboff, S. (1988). In the age of the smart machine: The future of work and power. Oxford: Heinemann. Carole Brooke is currently Reader in the Faculty of Business and Management at the University of Lincoln, UK. She was previously Lecturer in Information Technology at Durham University Business School for five years. Her background is inter-disciplinary including a Ph.D. in Information Technology and Business Administration from City University Business School and an M.A. in Archaeology and Anthropology from the University of Cambridge. She has 10 years of commercial experience including insurance, Research and Development, and recruitment consultancy. Work to date has focused on the human issues of organisational change, especially relating to information technology. Recent projects have included case material on the Co-Operative Bank and its ethical policies; exploration of the work experience of ‘call centres’; and the evaluation of information systems from a ‘critical’ perspective. To receive more information on critical approaches to information systems research go to www.jiscmail.ac.uk and join the criticalis list.