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  • 1. ARTICLE IN PRESS International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 www.elsevier.com/locate/ijinfomgt Information systems management in practice: An empirical study of UK companies Marilyn E. Booth, George Philipà School of Management and Economics, The Queen’s University of Belfast, University Road, Belfast BT7 1NN, UK Abstract Using the experience of several organisations from the manufacturing and service sectors in the UK, this paper seeks to explore the management efforts put into the successful exploitation of technology. In the context of this study, information systems management (ISM) is defined as the managerial and technical strategies and competencies that significantly improve or add value to the use of information systems within an organisation. Initially, a set of ISM ‘competence building blocks’ were developed based on an extensive trawl of the literature and existing theories. This was then used to map the practical experiences of the companies concerned. Data collection made use of semi-structured interviews with senior business and IT managers of these companies to elicit their views on ISM issues and particularly to understand how their respective organisations are addressing these issues. Whilst the majority acknowledges that IT is now an inescapable part of doing business (strategic necessity), the importance of its management is not yet fully understood particularly by senior business managers. It would seem that the more competitive and fast moving the environment, the more likely the organisation’s management to be supportive and fully committed to the management of IS. r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Information systems management; ISM competence building blocks; UK companies ÃCorresponding author. Tel.: +44 28 9097 3385; fax: +44 28 9033 5156. E-mail address: g.philip@qub.ac.uk (G. Philip). 0268-4012/$ - see front matter r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2005.04.002
  • 2. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 288 1. Introduction Despite the considerable interest in the concept of information systems management (ISM) in the past two decades, researchers have not yet reached a consensus view on what this term entails. An equally nagging problem is the terminological fog surrounding this concept: terms like ‘information systems management’, ‘information management’, ‘technology management’, ‘strategic information management’ and ‘IT management’ are all used casually. Even though such terms do broadly apply to the same concept, each individual name generates very different connotations in terms of where the emphasis in the management process should be directed. In fact the term, ISM, is used to cover a very broad range of both technical and managerial activities that have an impact on the use of information systems within the organisation. Thus, human and political considerations are also included in this umbrella term. In the context of this study, ISM is defined as the managerial and technical strategies and competencies that significantly improve or add value to the use of information systems within an organisation. As such, issues such as senior management commitment (Porter & Millar, 1985; McFarlan & McKenney, 1983; Earl, 1989, 1993), strategic planning and alignment (Heckman, 2003; Moody, 2003; Sabherwal & Yolande, 2001; Venkatraman, Henderson, & Oldach, 1993; Baets, 1996), relations between IT staff and the user community (Miller, 1993; Iivari & Ervasti, 1994), and the position of the IT function within the organisation as a whole (Currie, 1996) all come under scrutiny. With the emergence of e- commerce, security issues also have become a major concern for many organisations. Given the paramount importance of ISM to all organisations, this paper seeks to explore how the technology is managed in a number of organisations from different industry sectors in the UK. The focus is primarily on the managerial or human issues as opposed to the more technical aspects of ISM. The impetus/motivation for this research came from a number of sources. Firstly, organisations have come a long way from the use of IS for improving operational efficiency and management decision-making (effectiveness) to its more recent use in providing strategic advantage (competitiveness). Given the changing role of IS and the need to survive and, more importantly, to sustain the advantage, it is imperative that the IS resource is managed effectively. Secondly, whilst it can be argued that most of the items—building blocks of ISM competence—shown in Table 1 are fairly known, relatively few empirical studies have been carried out (particularly in the UK) to investigate if these principles and theories are followed by practising managers who are at the deep end of the business. This study is therefore a modest yet significant attempt at empiricism and it seeks to understand the views of both business and IT managers concerning the role which IT currently plays in their organisation and how they are managing this vital resource to the benefit of their business. Thirdly, such frequent and on-going studies which involve serious dialogue with business and IS managers are critical if academic theories and research have to have a significant impact on the business community. 2. Information systems management—a brief review The literature identifies a number of issues for the successful management of IS, and the processes which should be followed (see Table 1). The recommendations made can be used to
  • 3. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 289 Table 1 Building blocks of IS management competence Building block Theoretical justification Top management commitment Earl, 1993; Galliers, 1991; Powell & Dent-Micallef, 1997 Top management involvement Earl, 1993; Galliers, 1991 IT planning process Heckman, 2003; Powell & Dent-Micallef, 1997; Clark, 1992; Liang & Tan, 1994; Earl, 1993 IT strategy Porter, 2001; Hatten & Hatten, 1997; Philip et al., 1995; Currie, 1994; Venkatraman et al., 1993 Influential IT department Rockart et al., 1996 IT staff with business experience/understanding Earl, 1990; British Computer Society, 1990, Ross et al., 1996 IT staff work with business colleagues Rockart et al., 1996; Ross et al., 1996; Bashein & Markus, 1997; Miller, 1993 Formal alignment mechanisms Moody, 2003; Venkatraman et al., 1993; Miller, 1993; Reich & Benbasat, 1996; Broadbent, Lloyd, Hansell, & Dampney, 1992 Support for users Powell & Dent-Micallef, 1997; Clark, 1992 form a checklist of practices that can be adopted. They can be regarded as the ‘building blocks’ of competence within this area. Other building blocks could also be included in the checklist, such as the overall flexibility of the organisation, and the company’s structure and culture (Powell & Dent-Micallef, 1997), and the involvement of line managers in IT-related decision-making (Galliers, 1991). Given that ISM covers such a broad area, it would be infeasible to cover all aspects in a single article and hence the focus on the issues shown in Table 1. Moreover, the centrality of these issues to ISM is also confirmed by a number of surveys of IS/IT managers/executives in the USA (Brancheau & Wetherbe, 1987; Brancheau, Janz, & Wetherbe, 1996), Europe (Galliers, Merali, & Spearing, 1994) and Australia (Broadbent, Butler, & Hansell, 1994; Broadbent et al., 1992) although the rankings of individual issues may have altered in the findings of different researchers. Top management commitment, involvement and support can be considered as the foundation stone of ISM, in turn affecting the activities of the IT function, and the development of IT’s fortunes within the organisation (Waema & Waslham, 1990). However, that commitment and involvement are most useful when accompanied by a genuine understanding of IT and IS-related issues (Galliers, 1991). The IT strategy and planning process elements are very visible and can be regarded as formal outward signs of attempts to address the ISM process, and a means of ensuring that applications genuinely support business needs. However, given the constant economic upheaval and incessant technological changes, there is considerable debate in the literature regarding the usefulness of strategic planning for IS (Slater, 2002; Bensaou and Earl, 1998). Since strategic planning constitutes one of the pivotal issues of ISM, this formed an important part of the investigation. Softer measures such as the degree of influence held by the IT department are equally important. This measure has been selected because of the attention focused on an IT figure at executive or director level as a means of expressing ongoing commitment to the use of information systems.
  • 4. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 290 Within this study, such influence is felt to be greatest when the IT representative has regular contact with senior management. Influence will be low where there is no such contact, or indeed when those in senior management positions dismiss technology’s importance. ‘IT staff with business experience/understanding’ and the next building block, ‘IT staff work closely with business colleagues’ represent an attempt to measure the degree to which the IT function has taken on board the need to take steps to become more aware of business issues, and reorient themselves for the future. This reflects the ‘imperatives’ laid down by Rockart, Earl, and Ross (1996), and the attention paid to the relationship asset put forward by Ross, Beath, and Goodhue (1996) as a key factor in determining successful system usage. That relationship asset can also extend to the support provided to users, and the range of mechanisms adopted to improve strategic alignment. 3. Methodology Senior managers and IT representatives from 16 companies were approached with a request for interview. It was important to hear the views of both business-focused managers and technology- focused experts. These companies were initially selected from the ‘Top 100’ companies published by a well-known and reputed business newspaper in the UK. The positions of the interviewees and details of the companies involved in this interview series are shown in Table 2. Potential problems were encountered with three of the organisations. Company 6 proved to have no dedicated IT personnel, while company 13 has no local IT representatives. It was decided to exclude these from this particular study. The representative from company 5 had only assumed the post a matter of weeks before the interview, and was unsure whether her experiences would be worthwhile relating. Despite these initial misgivings, the interview went ahead. Table 2 Status of interviewees and other data of study companies Company Interviewees Employees Category 1 Business development director and IS Manager 795 Engineering 2 Chief Executive, PC Support Manager 3000+ Telecommunications Applications and Database Support Manager and two other IT staff 3 Chief Executive and IS Manager 3000+ Utilities 4 Senior Executive and IT Executive 2640 Clothing manufacturer 5 Marketing Manager and IS Manager 361 Food and drink Manufacturer 7 Production Director and IT Manager 256 Food and drink Manufacturer 8 Strategic Planning Manager and Head of IS 2326 Financial services 9 Chief Executive and Head of IS and services 1783 Financial services 10 Managing Director and IT Manager 1390 Financial services 11 Managing Director and IT staff 658 Contracting 12 Manager and Systems Manager 719 Engineering 14 Personnel Manager and IT Manager 2898 Transport 15 Managing Director and IT Manager 1083 General manufacturing 16 TQM Manager and systems Manager 560 Food and drink Manufacturer
  • 5. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 291 The semi-structured interview method was selected as the most effective way of gaining a detailed picture of the activities involved in the management of information systems—offering a fine balance between structure and flexibility. Clark (1992, p. 61) suggests that this technique opens up the opportunity for ‘extended development of ideas .. without constraining the exploration of material that initially was not in the research plan’. The problem with this methodology in this case is the potential it offers for individual interviewees to give biased or distorted opinions. This is especially true when only a limited number of individuals are participating in the interview. An attempt was made to overcome this by the interviewer taking as detached an attitude as possible, and separating subjective opinion-based responses from more factual comments. Each interview was recorded for ease of future reference. The main functions of ISM are to help the organisation to identify, acquire, and exploit technologies. This formed the backbone of the interviews, which aimed to establish a clearer picture of the role played by IT in the organisation, and what the day to day operation of an IT department entails. The literature on management and IT pin-points several issues to be explored. These include: management support for, and involvement in, the management of IS; commitment to IT through long-term planning; as well as the subsequent alignment of IT and business objectives. Respondents were initially asked about the contribution which they felt IT makes to the organisation as a whole and the main activities and responsibilities of their department. The formal and informal procedures involved in introducing new systems into the company were also explored, and interviewees were asked to relate the processes and people involved in the decision to invest in new applications. The role of business managers in the formation of IT strategic plans is also probed, as is the level of involvement between those responsible for IT matters, and those responsible for the strategic orientation of the business including efforts to improve alignment, and the perceived commitment of management to the use of information technology. The versatility of the semi-structured interview methodology meant that any other issues could be explored in detail as and when they arose. The discussion which follows is, inevitably, shaped by the interview experiences. All the interview data were recorded on tape and later transcribed. Data analysis consisted of reading these interview transcripts and understanding and establishing the steps, if any, taken to manage the IS resource from the point of view of both business managers and their IT experts. As mentioned above, a set of ISM ‘competence building blocks’ (see Table 1) was first developed based on extensive trawl of the literature. This was then used to ‘map’ the practical experiences of the companies participating in the study. 4. Discussion 4.1. Practice of information systems management in the study companies As mentioned above, in order to help us understand the current ISM practices, we made use of the checklist of items (building blocks) shown in Table 1. The experiences of each company in this ` study vis-a-vis the individual building blocks are shown in Tables 3 and 4 below. From the above, it can be seen that the majority of the study companies do seem to have made significant inroads into building up competence in ISM. It is particularly encouraging to see that
  • 6. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 292 Table 3 Building blocks in practice (companies 1–8) Building blocks Company 1 2 3 4 5 7 8 Top management Yes Unsure Unsure Yes Yes Yes Yes commitment Top management Some Some Yes No Yes Some Some involvement IT planning process Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes IT strategy No Yes (HQ) Yes—New Yes Yes Yes Yes Influential IT Head works No No Yes— No No Yes department closely with Executive senior executive IT staff with business Yes—former No No Yes No Yes Yes experience consultant IT staff work with Yes, on Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes business colleagues individual projects Formal alignment Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes mechanisms Support for users Limited Yes Limited Yes Yes Yes Yes Table 4 Building blocks in practice (companies 9–16) Building blocks Company 9 10 11 12 14 15 16 Top management commitment Yes Yes Limited Some Some Yes Yes Top management involvement Yes No No No Yes Some Yes IT planning process Yes Yes Limited Yes Yes Yes Yes IT strategy Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes—combined Influential IT department Yes No No No No Yes Yes (at HQ) IT staff with business experience Yes No No No No Some Yes IT staff work with business colleagues Yes Yes Yes—informally Yes—at HQ No Yes Yes Formal alignment mechanisms Yes Yes No No (Yes at HQ) No Yes Yes Support for users Yes Yes Some—informal Yes Yes Yes Yes all but two have an IT strategy, especially in the light of recent evidence which suggest that this is not particularly widespread (Hatten & Hatten, 1997). Given the importance of IT to the banking industry, it is perhaps no surprise that companies 8 and 9 ‘score’ best in terms of their management activities. In comparison, the experiences of company 10 are disappointing—even more so given the conviction with which the company’s managing director expressed his belief in the strategic potential of information systems.
  • 7. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 293 Even in circumstances where IT has only recently been introduced—company 11—efforts (albeit limited) are being made to create an ISM structure, although for this particular company there is still some way to go. Significantly, company 11 was the only one not to have its own IT function. As such, the role of the individual with responsibility for IT matters is a fairly informal one. Some of the organisations in the study represent a ‘blip’ on the face of conventional wisdom regarding ISM. From the tables above, it can be seen that both companies 1 and 11 do not have an IT strategy. However, this is the only similarity between these two organisations. While company 11 corresponds almost exactly to Galliers’ (1991) and Galliers’ and Sutherland (1991) ‘Ad hocracy’ (or initial stage of ISM), the same cannot be said of company 1. Here, systems have been in place since the 1970s, and the new manager has a significant amount of business experience gained in a career as a consultant. The strategy has been rejected until the company goes through a widespread reengineering process. However, while those within the IT function work closely with their business colleagues to achieve high levels of alignment, the growth of the company means that resources are stretched and IT staff are unable to provide satisfactory levels of support to users in terms of training. (This is also a problem within company 3.) High levels of support for users are made possible within company 1, due to the size of the company, and the relatively unsophisticated user needs. An examination of the tables could also give the impression that company 4 is among the most ‘advanced’ in the IS-related management process, corresponding to Stage VI in Galliers’ (1991) and Galliers’ and Sutherland (1991) schema. However, the initiatives adopted are all quite recent. The establishment of the IT Executive position represents a recognition of the overall importance of ISM activities at the most senior level. The executive admitted, though, that it would take some time before he would be fully accepted at board level, and his influence felt: ‘I think one of the problems that I face is that there’s still a culture which says IT’s for the techies, and it has nothing to do with the business’ (Company 4, IT Executive) This would seem to be a prevalent viewpoint, with eight of the other organisations having an IT function with relatively little influence or input into the company’s overall strategic decision- making. This can create a situation, as in company 12, where IT staff feel that their efforts are neither appreciated nor understood. The situation at local level may also clash dramatically with that of the corporate headquarters. Thus, while in companies 12 and 16, staff at corporate level work closely with their business colleagues to create a highly integrated strategy, locally the IT staff focus mainly on technical issues. This may have a highly detrimental impact on the career prospects of those involved, given the changing skills profile of the IS professional promoted within the literature. Despite this, those involved in this study do recognise the need to become more business-focused and, they are acutely aware of the need to work closely with their business colleagues. Indeed, respondents from all the companies stressed the need to keep business goals in mind in everyday activities, and in the development of long-term strategies: ‘We wouldn’t get away with not having the IT supporting the business’ (Company 12, Systems Manager)
  • 8. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 294 The need for greater alignment has been the driving force behind several of the organisations and recent initiatives which have been taken. However, the route taken varies greatly from company to company, as shown in Table 5. Company 4 commissioned a leading consultancy to consider how it could face future competitive challenges with IT’s assistance. Their report recommended the appointment of a high- level professional—before this, IT had been in the hands of various departments within the company. The response was the appointment of an IT Executive who would be actively involved in both IT and business-related decisions—a form of hybrid manager. This interviewee was particularly keen to stress the importance of business issues, as opposed to a purely technology- based focus: ‘I spent six months really trying to understand the business and where the pressures lay’ (Company 4, IT Executive) The familiarisation process involved spending a significant amount of time within the company’s single customer, getting a feel not only for the processes involved in producing a Table 5 Formal alignment mechanisms Company Mechanism 1 IS staff on project teams with users Work together after implementation 2 Process managers specify systems 3 Business systems representative in every department Customer satisfaction surveys 4 IT representative on executive board Users involved in determining projects 5 Managing director involved in IS planning IT staff participate in regular meetings of other departments 7 IT staff attend monthly management meetings 8 Customer contract Customer satisfaction surveys Post implementation reviews Client relationship managers 9 CE on executive steering committee—monitors all projects 10 Users involved in development Team responsible for business and IT strategy 11 No formal mechanisms 12 Business staff involved in IT planning (corporate HQ) 14 Joint planning process Board members on strategy steering group 15 Users involved in development Customer contract Regular satisfaction surveys Post implementation review Board members on IT strategy group 16 Business and IT produce combined strategy (corporate HQ)
  • 9. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 295 garment, but how those activities impacted the processes of that customer. He also examined how information systems could be improved in order to make not only internal operations more efficient, but also how the relationship with, and services provided to, the customer could be improved. It could be argued that this particular company could allow its IT executive time to stand back and closely examine what was going on, because of its relative stability, and the fact that the industry as a whole is relatively less advanced in IT use. This cannot, however, be said of company 1, where a new IT Manager was appointed at around the same time—the decision was made here too to embark on a major system revamp, while the representative suggested that his main brief involved ‘trying to identify better ways of working’. This individual has initiated all major IT developments himself, based on his understanding of the business and how it needs to progress. The Chief Executive has the final say as regards cost issues. While current extensive projects are driven and initiated by the IT Manager, business users are involved in teams responsible for the implementation of the new systems, and may themselves initiate relatively minor projects. Also, company 1 has made the decision to reject strategic planning documentation as a direct consequence of the perceived need for flexibility and ever faster response times. The particular product produced by this company is an essential item for many customers, and demand can fluctuate from region to region according to chance events. In such an environment the key to continuing survival becomes the ability to turn those chance events into opportunities and respond almost instantaneously to changing conditions. As a result, strategic decisions now tend to be made ‘‘on the fly’’. This company subscribed to Mintzberg’s (1994) Fallacy of Predetermination/Planning, which asks if exhaustive planning really is appropriate for our unpredictable world: ‘‘If you write strategy, the danger is that it will be outdated within 3 months. If you go back to that strategy you may be focusing your attention on the wrong areas in the business’’. (Company 1, Business Development Director) A similar relationship to that within company 4 exists at corporate level in company 16, where business and IT executives develop a combined IT and business strategy. At local level, contact between the business and IT function is channelled through managers with direct responsibility for individual processes. At company 14, a similar joint plan is developed, although IT’s strategic significance is not fully appreciated, and senior managers are still quite sceptical about its true value. (This scepticism was also expressed by the Personnel Manager during the interview.) Formal alignment mechanisms may involve an individual with responsibility only for the duration of a particular project: the emphasis is very much on involvement in the overall process, because ‘He’s going to be left holding the baby after we move away .. so he has to be on board’ (company 16, Systems Manager). At company 3, a full-time individual with responsibility for ‘business systems’ can be found in each business unit. Their responsibility is to develop statements of requirements on behalf of users within those departments, based on their understanding of the strategic goals of that particular business unit. Once the statement of requirements has been developed, the IT department is brought on board ‘to take the process through to delivery and beyond’.
  • 10. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 296 Although directors within this company are involved in IT strategy formulation, and the business strategy is the backbone of the IT strategy, requirements are currently communicated indirectly from business systems representatives within each department: ‘It’s related to what business systems are saying are the application demands and the applications portfolio they need to support their business strategy’ It would surely make more sense for IT representatives to work closer themselves with the business units, and in doing so become more directly aware of their business and IT requirements. Such an arrangement is being mooted in company 8 as a means of improving the overall service provided as part of the contract between the two distinct organisations. Within company 15, individual users can suggest new ideas to the IT department, who in turn report to a steering group, which reports directly to an IT Strategy Group. The IT Strategy group is made up of members of the Board. A similar arrangement exists within company 14, where individual projects are managed by Project groups who report to a Strategy Steering Group. Within company 9, involvement extends to the Chief Executive, who is a member of the Executive Steering Committee, which has overall responsibility for monitoring individual projects. However, for companies 10 and 11, senior management involvement is confined to ‘rubber- stamping’ projects. Regular contacts do seem to take place at lower levels within the organisation. Two ‘branches’ of global companies (5 and 7) have significant formal involvement with business staff at lower levels. At the latter, IT staff attend ‘monthly management meetings which let us know how well we’ve done y what the prospects are for certain products for example’. As a result, the IT Manager gains a detailed view of all areas of the business, and where it is heading. Simultaneously, business staff will be made more aware of the activities of IT staff, perhaps also gaining more of an appreciation of the overall potential which the technology has for the organisation. This connection is supplemented by daily and monthly reports to the managing director. As stressed by Miller (1993), regular informal contact can also play a valuable part in improving alignment and mutual understanding. This type of contact was mentioned within companies 8 and 15, where the representatives have been involved with their respective companies long enough to get to know their colleagues on a personal basis, and to appreciate the business issues which those colleagues face. Company 8 highlighted that it actively uses forecasting from both economic and social experts when determining the future strategic direction to take. It was stressed here that planning and preparation were both necessary, and that there was no luck or chance involved in being able to take advantage of opportunities as they arose. 4.1.1. Management, commitment and IT While those within the IT department are struggling to take on board the recommendations outlined in the literature, there was a general consensus among 11 of the representatives that current management attitudes towards the technology are still somewhat ambiguous. So, while IT figures speak confidently about business issues and recognise a certain level of strategic potential, their efforts do not seem to be fully reciprocated by those at more senior levels. This is especially true within company 9. The head of the IT function within this particular company makes all the decisions to invest in systems with strategic impact. This figure finds himself in a somewhat paradoxical situation where his team must develop an acute awareness of both business- and
  • 11. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 297 IT-related issues, while the business ‘side’ remains relatively unaware of issues straddling the two areas. The situation within this department suggests that those involved in IT are taking a long- term view of the organisation’s strategic direction for IS, even more so than senior executives. The managing director of this company, however, believes strongly in strategic planning and his reasoning was that planning was one way to impose order on the unpredictability of the external environment: ‘‘I think that even though it is an unpredictable world, you’ve got to have a sense of direction. It’s no use gliding down the stream, saying ‘I hope this takes me somewhere nice’’’. (Company 9, Managing Director) It would appear that senior management figures have only recently begun to appreciate the full potential of Information Technology and are recognising that they need to show significant commitment, at least in terms of financial resources. Within the majority of companies (10), palpable changes would seem to be occurring in the role which IT is playing, and indeed in the very nature of the IT infrastructure. There are several reasons for these changes, but in general, it appears that, within the study companies, the true significance of the IT resource is only just beginning to be fully appreciated. If this is the situation in UK companies across the board, it may provide some explanation why the strategic significance of IT has never been fully realised: ‘Some of our computer systems have, historically, been monitoring things, rather than helping to do things. That’s part of the change that is being implemented at the moment’. (Company, 16, Systems Manager) While it would seem that much financial support has been forthcoming, for many this would appear to be given only grudgingly. Such half-hearted commitment is apparent in many companies due to a lack of understanding as to why the technology is so important. In the financial services industry, for example, IT has become a major delivery channel, a fundamental and inescapable part of doing business, but there would seem to be some issues which still need to be addressed: ‘They have a fear of technology and don’t really appreciate the issues. They realise that technology, for reasons that they don’t fully appreciate, is absolutely fundamental, although if they had the choice they’d rather do without it’. (Company 10, IT Manager) The managing director of this company, however, acknowledged the point that IT is a source of advantage, but was hastened to add that it was not using the technology in isolation: the importance of staff development (in terms of training) and customer relationships were also emphasised. There was the recognition that the technology should be used in conjunction with the other skills and resources possessed by the company: ‘‘In the whole mixture of things which build competitive advantage, we believe that (IT) is a very powerful way of managing costs and making the business of relating to customers much more straightforward’’ (Company 10, Managing Director)
  • 12. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 298 Going back to the comment made above by the IT Manager of company 10, technical experts must, in this situation, surely do more to make their business counterparts more aware of why the technology is so important. Thus, some form of education or awareness raising program should be introduced as part of the drive towards achieving Rockart, Earl, and Ross’s (1996) two-way strategic alignment. For an industry such as financial services, attitudes such as that outlined above could prove disastrous. However, management have to actively want to understand more. The Chief Executive and his team at company 4 realised the need to gain such an understanding, and are trying to be more appreciative, although there is still some way to go. Their recognition some years ago that something had to be done about IT seems to have been mirrored in companies 2, 7, 9, 11 and 12, where the interviewees all claimed there had been a noticeable shift in management attitudes within the past few years. However, this change in attitude has only come about as those managers have experienced IT-related benefits: ‘They’re starting to see the benefits from the technology, and are very supportive whenever they see they can get something positive out of it’. (Company 12, Systems Manager) For example, in company 12, a more flexible strategy has resulted in a re-engineered production line, with the time taken for a product to get to market from its conception having already been reduced by 30%. ‘They see it as a key element of the company, provided it works’ (Company 15, IT Manager) As long as benefits continue to arise, management support will follow. However, as research has shown, management support is itself a necessary prerequisite of successful IT usage (Earl, 1993; Galliers, 1991). So, the technology (and those responsible for its management) finds itself in something of a ‘Chicken-and-Egg’ situation, with management being extremely fickle in their support—more fickle perhaps than they would be about any other organisational resource. This highlights how the relationship between management and technology can be something of a double-edged sword: management will only have confidence in the technology if benefits actually arise; but those benefits will only arise if management have enough confidence and commitment to use it. Part of the role of IT Manager thus must become a continual convincing of senior managers of the benefits which technology can bring. Already, within company 4 this has proved to be a difficult idea to get across, since many benefits are intangible, especially those associated with the use of data and information to make better decisions: ‘One of the bugbears of doing this kind of work is that the greatest benefit from Information Systems is the information, but how do you value it?’ (Company 4, IT Executive) As experience of such benefits grows, support and commitment may also flourish. Also, if the technology is heavily pushed from global headquarters, support and commitment may ‘trickle down’ to management at local level. This appears to have occurred within companies 5, 7, 12 and 16—all subsidiaries of world-wide concerns that have embraced IT in every area of their operations. Significantly, only two industries are represented here, engineering and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG)—the latter, an industry where competition and rivalry are intense.
  • 13. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 299 Also, because these organisations are world leaders, it is no surprise that they would have invested heavily in the technology. With highly aware and supportive management at corporate level, it is only natural that management at local level are more supportive of IT. This is very much the case in company 5, where a very new IT Manager was able to stress that management were very aware of technology issues, and were involved in the strategy making process: ‘They are very IT literate, and want the technology in to make life easier. And over the next few years they are prepared to put their money where their mouth is’ This commitment is also reinforced by the active inclusion of the IT Manager in the regular meetings of the other departments throughout the company. The result of more flexible strategies for company 5 has involved the introduction of more adaptable and versatile equipment into the production side of the business. As a result of this need for fast reactions to changing circumstances, the representatives from these companies also emphasised that strategies could not be detailed statements of every future action to be taken: ‘‘On a 3 year document all you’re doing is highlighting where you want to get to: the road that you take may vary. As long as you’ve got the view of where you want to go in the longer term then the road that you take will define the nature of the business’’. (Company 5, Marketing Manager) There was very much a recognition that plans were only guidelines, they could change and were not written in stone. In this case strategy is less associated with detail, and more with the general direction which the company will take. The situation within these companies can be contrasted with that in companies 3 and 14—which both operate within an exceptionally stable environment, with no significant competitors. In both cases, managers have been quite cautious about IT and its use. Having no one to compete against they can afford to use IT in mainly operational areas. In both, managers tend to see IT as a purely technical issue—but a technical issue which can have serious consequences if things go wrong. Company 14’s interviewee suggested that a large amount of time would be required to convince senior management of IT’s potential. He admitted that: ‘If we were in a more competitive situation there would be more of an emphasis put on IT and the benefits that it can bring’ Similarly, commitment within company 2 has not come about for this reason, however, but has arisen out of necessity. Given the size of the company, IT provides the only realistic way of dealing with the daily volume of transactions. Without it, significantly more staff would be needed. Here, management have been forced to accept technology, and support has grown as they realise just what it can achieve. The chief executive claimed that, in a perfect world, strategy would be formulated by front line managers, but as yet they did not have the ‘‘breadth of knowledge’’ required for the task. The final question in each interview gave representatives the opportunity to express how they would like to improve the way IT is managed within their companies. The focus was very much on improving managerial commitment to IT:
  • 14. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 300 ‘I’d prefer it if the directors and executives had a bit more closer knowledge of what was happening’. (Company 3, IS Manager) Without evidence of such support, there is a danger that the IT function could become marginalised and the possibilities ignored. When a company does not have that many competitive pressures, this could be allowed to happen simply because it could more or less afford to continue doing business in the same way. One way of averting such a problem was put forward by company 4’s IT executive. His presence on the board of the company means that at least one sufficiently senior executive appreciates the importance of IT! He suggested that more could be done to sell or market the technology’s potential to executives and end users. Thus, promotion skills have to become an extra string in the constantly expanding IS Manager’s bow. This has, to some extent, been attempted in company 16 where the company-wide newsletter had recently started to include a glossy poster-like section, explaining individual systems and their impact on the company as a whole. If the newsletter gets read, individual users and executives alike should have at least some degree of awareness about IT’s importance to their company. 5. Conclusions It would appear that the role played by information technology within the study companies is undergoing a period of intense transformation—for many this involves a total rethink of their systems, and the way in which they are managed. Several salient points are worth stressing:  IT representatives would appear to be ‘shedding’ their image of pure technologists. Instead, all displayed a keen interest in, and awareness of, the competitive pressures facing their organisations, and how information technologies could be used to assist in combating them. This can be compared to the dominant lack of awareness of IT issues by senior management. There is a genuine need for those senior managers to become more aware of the importance of their support and understanding, and indeed of the activities that should be adopted as part of the ISM process. The concept of competence building blocks could be of some use, although a more valuable way of expressing the highly critical nature of ISM practices to those individuals should be investigated.  As part of the recognition of the importance of business issues, there is a concurrent recognition of the importance of information, and the part it can play in improving customer service—a key differentiator in environments where products are essentially the same.  With the changes that are occurring in IT’s use there is also a need to change the attitude of management to IT. The relationship between management attitudes and the role played by IT is an interesting one. Without support from management it would appear that IT will never be deployed in innovative ways. But if IT does not prove its potential then management will remain distinctly cool and unenthusiastic about its use. This would seem to be particularly true in areas where the company is operating in a relatively stable climate with little or no opposition.  Building on this last point there did seem to be a definite strategic element to the use of IT within all of the companies. Within half, the technology is currently seen as a source of
  • 15. ARTICLE IN PRESS M.E. Booth, G. Philip / International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 287–302 301 competitive strength; for the other half the technology is a prerequisite for survival—a form of strategic necessity. It would seem that the more competitive and fast moving the environment, the more likely the organisation’s management is to be supportive and fully committed to IT’s use.  Relationships with users and the business staff are seen as important, and a service ethos would appear to pervade the actions of the IT representatives. There is a strong realisation that there needs to be close co-operation and alignment between the business and IT strands of the company. This can range from rubber stamping projects, right through to full integration of business and IT strategies.  There appears to have conflicting views between business and IS managers particularly concerning the value of planning. Whilst the majority of IT managers mentioned they have a strategic planning process for IS, quite a few business managers questioned the usefulness of business planning in the face of a constantly changing global business environment. It appears that the IT and business managers in a number of companies are not operating at the same wavelength. This also raises questions concerning their claimed alignment between business and IS strategy. If information systems are to be deployed effectively in the organisational arena, and to realise their full potential, strategic or otherwise, such issues must continue to climb up the corporate agenda. Similarly, senior managers must realise that in the continuing search for competitive advantage in an ever more dynamic climate, IS management could, as has been widely maintained, be one of their most valuable (yet underdeveloped) organisational capabilities. References Baets, W. R. J. (1996). Some empirical evidence on IS strategy alignment in banking. Information & Management, 30(4), 155–177. Bashein, B. J., & Markus, M. L. (1997). A credibility equation for IT specialists. Sloan Management Review, 38(4), 35–44. Bensaou, M., & Earl, M. (1998). The right mindset for managing information technology. Harvard Business Review, 119–128. Brancheau, J. C., Janz, B. D., & Wetherbe, J. C. (1996). Key issues in information systems management: 1994–95 SIM Delphi results. MIS Quarterly, 20(2), 225–242. Brancheau, J. C., & Wetherbe, J. C. (1987). Key issues in information systems management. MIS Quarterly, 11(1), 23–45. Broadbent, M., Butler, C., & Hansell, A. (1994). Business and technology agenda for information systems executives. International Journal of Information Management, 14(6), 411–426. Broadbent, M., Lloyd, P., Hansell, A., & Dampney, C. N. G. (1992). Roles, responsibilities and requirements for managing information systems in the 1990s. International Journal of Information Management, 12(1), 21–38. Clark, T. D., Jr. (1992). Corporate systems management: An overview and research perspective. Communications of the ACM, 35(2), 61–75. Currie, W. (1994). The strategic management of a large scale IT project in the financial services sector. New Technology, Work and Employment, 9(1), 19–29. Currie, W. L. (1996). Organizational structure and the use of information technology: Preliminary findings of a survey in the private and public sector. International Journal of Information Management, 16(1), 51–64. Earl, M. J. (1989). Management strategies for information technology. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice-Hall. Earl, M. J. (1990). Putting IT in its place: A polemic for the Nineties. Working Paper RDP90/2, Oxford Institute of Information Management.
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