Organizations today are faced with the prospect of rapid change as technology revolutionizes the approach to business. In particular, information technology has proven time and again its ability to dramatically speed up processes within a company by connecting people and enabling a better dispersal of automated tasks. However, at times, businesses fail to adequately adapt their structures to the changes occurring in and around, them. Unfortunately, that is a phenomenon that this author has seen firsthand. Thus there is a strong impetus to investigate this topic further, in order to learn about more effective ways to adjust to change. In the research, it becomes clear that this is not an isolated problem nor a new one, and that part of the difficulty of agile adaptation to technological change is that there is, as of yet, no single consensus on the proper model to follow. This makes the area rife with potential for future research in order to put more modern concerns into the context of the broader swath of literature covering the interactions between technology and corporate structure.
The discussion of the ways in which technological change could potentially influence corporate structure is far from new. Indeed, though research into such topics has become much more prevalent in the last fifteen years or so, it dates back decades before that. This fact means that the proposed future research into this area will be able to generate a rich and dense literature review section for the final work. One example that was easily found from the preliminary investigation into this topic comes from Markus and Robey (1988), who gave an analysis of the relationship between information technology and organizational change, saying, “While there are many possible structures for good theory about the role of information technology in organizational change, only a few of these structures can be seen in current theorizing,” (p. 583) and advocating for, “Increased awareness of the options, open discussion of their advantages and disadvantages” (p. 583). This voice for awareness and openness is just as relevant today as it was then, for though the technology has changed, the relationship with it on a corporate level is still a struggle. One of the possible areas to which this proposed study might be directed is the balance of change and innovation versus maintenance of the status quo that has already been proven to work. In addition, as Davenport and Short (1990) have put it, “Our research suggests that [information technology] can be more than a useful tool in the business process redesign. In leading edge practice, information technology and [business process redesign] have a recursive relationship . . . ” (para. 75). This idea of recursion, well before its time, is still important to businesses in the modern world, where technological change has become so rapid that any such recursion requires managers and higher-level staff to be constantly on their toes. However, given the fact that the pace of technological change has accelerated beyond what anyone might have predicted in recent years, it is also important to look briefly at corporate structure in relation to the current literature. This will help ensure that going forward into the work on this thesis, there will be recent studies to draw upon in addition to the older portions of the literature on the topic of technological change and its connection to corporate structuring or restructuring.
The current thinking on the topic of technology change and corporate structure is centered on the relationship between tasks, people, and technology. For the thesis, this would be a good area to focus on, and eventually, it is anticipated that this tasks-people-technology trifecta of organizational structure and behavior will work its way into the problem statement or statements. Some information on this is already known at this point. For example, it seems patent that as technology evolves the allocation of tasks to individuals and groups within the company shifts so that organizational structure must accommodate these practical, day-to-day alterations. One researcher put it thus: “The objective of the innovation might be time-process reduction . . . [which] constitutes a competitive advantage . . . [and] can also support low-cost producer strategies” (Davenport, 2013, p. 3). The reduction of the length of time it takes to accomplish something might not seem like it directly affects organizational structure, but in fact, if some of the processing load is moved off of employees and onto technology, that fact suggests a massive shift in the allocation of personnel resources within a company. This is another potential area of focus for this research, but because the amount of data available will be limited, it is perhaps unwise to delve too deeply into quantitative areas requiring advanced statistical analysis. However, Markus (2014) would agree with the notion that the shift of routine actions from people to technology, though far from new, continues to be relevant to modern developments. In particular, in the analysis that the author provided in the chapter of his book entitled “Information Technology and Corporate Structure,” the idea of fluid-structure is emphasized. This is a sound idea, for with technology changing as rapidly as it has been in recent years, no one structure will suffice for terribly long. Overall, however, there are some specific structures to which the modern way of doing business lends itself. Part of the work of this thesis will be both to explore and evaluate existing structures as well as to posit new processes for change if it becomes relevant to do so.
The primary strategy used by businesses is known as information technology alignment, which basically is an attempt to ensure that the use of information technology and the financial returns are always positively correlated. If such results do indeed manifest, this is called alignment, and yet, though the idea seems inherently sound, there is some debate as to whether this is the best approach. For example, upon reviewing the literature available, Tallon and Pinsonneault (2011) put it as follows: “Strategic information technology alignment remains a top priority . . . Whether alignment helps or hurts agility is unresolved . . . [A] variety of arguments . . . predict a positive or negative relationship between alignment and agility” (p. 463). This shows that the issue is still very much up for debate, as the literature seems conflicted as to whether alignment sacrifices agility—that is, the ability to make quick alterations in response to new data—or whether the two qualities enhance one another. Any time conflict between multiple approaches exists, this constitutes fertile ground for future research such as for the thesis this author proposes to create. Oliveira and Martins (2011) discussed the debate in relation to institutional theory, stating that it, “ . . . helps us to understand the factors that influence the adoption of interorganizational systems (IOSs); it postulates that mimetic, coercive, and normative institutional pressures existing in an institutionalized environment may influence the organization's predisposition toward an IT-based interorganizational system” (p. 110). To be sure, the pressures to which a company is most susceptible inherently influence its ability to adopt new structures such as those that encourage alignment. In the end, however, it is not only the company’s reactive responses that determine its success in a world characterized by information technology. Clearly, there are multiple factors involved, and part of the work of the thesis will be simply identifying these variables, naming them, and determining the ideal system by which to measure those that can be approximated as quantifiable.
Responding to technological change alone is not the whole of the solution to the challenges businesses face when confronted with a dynamic world. When the situation is in flux, a more proactive strategy is called for—or so it would seem, though further investigation is of course in order. As Porter et al. (2011) so rightly pointed out, organizational structure cannot solely be a reactive thing. Under ideal circumstances, adept company leaders such as CEOs not only shift the company’s direction and organization in accordance with technological changes but even anticipate future modifications that are likely to be needed. This is the nature of true leadership—to make accurate judgments with the same limited information about what is to come that everyone has and then to choose skillfully among the various options for corporate restructuring. How these decisions are made, as well as how the spread of available options is determined to begin with, are topics that can best be explored by means of a case study in a business with which the author is personally familiar.
Though of course case studies that take place close to home, so to speak, are inherently subject to bias, sometimes, issues of both access and insider’s knowledge outweigh such concerns. This is one such case, for though the proposed research would take place in the researcher’s own workplace, the researcher feels confident that the work will gain in insight more than what it will lose in objectivity. The number of participants will be limited to a small handful so that in-depth information can be collected, and the method of data collection will be face-to-face interviews whenever possible. Phone or email interviews might also be conducted depending upon scheduling limitations, with email preferred over the phone as a method due to the troubles with getting good records from phone conversations with a reasonable investment of effort. The audio component of the face-to-face interviews will be recorded—with the participants’ written permission, of course, based on standard boilerplate informed-consent forms—and relevant portions will be transcribed and included as appendices in the final thesis. The institutional review board will be consulted on the ethical elements of the research. The interview questions will relate to the problem statement concerning the relationship of technological change to organizational structure, with an emphasis on the recent failure to institute appropriate change in response to technological shifts. These questions, too, will be included in the appendices of the project, though the researcher will retain flexibility in inventing novel questions on the spot if such a strategy seems appropriate. Data analysis techniques will evolve with further investigation of the existing literature on the topic, with the analysis being solely performed by the researcher unless issues of bias suggest otherwise in particular cases. The time schedule for this thesis remains to be determined, though it is anticipated that the data collection phase will take at least two months. Though such details are still in flux, the researcher feels there is enough of a framework present to proceed with work on the thesis.
There may be no one clear model to follow when organizations adapt to change, which is why the proposed case study is in order; it will contribute to the current understanding of what is possible. What is clear in terms of foundational knowledge is that companies must continually reevaluate their current organizational models as technology advances, attempting to remain both agile and in alignment while also predicting what changes may come next. This may sound like a difficult task, and indeed, it is. If it were an easy challenge, businesses everywhere would be able to accomplish it without much struggle, but instead, the very nature of the task gives a competitive advantage to those rare businesses with the leadership to accomplish it. How much of an edge this is would be a topic beyond the scope of this thesis. However, simply by investigating more deeply into the area, the study will increase the chances that the companies that deserve to flourish will prove their worth in the face of technological change.
Davenport, T. H. (2013). Process innovation: Reengineering work through information technology. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Davenport, T. H., & Short, J. E. (1990). The new industrial engineering: Information technology and business process redesign. Sloan Management Review, 31(4).
Markus, M. L. (2014). Computing handbook set, 2. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Markus, M. L., & Robey, D. (1988). Information technology and organizational change: Causal structure in theory and research. Management Science, 34(5), 583-598.
Oliveira, T., & Martins, M. F. (2011). Literature review of information technology adoption models at firm level. Electronic Journal of Information Systems Evaluation, 14(1), 110-121.
Porter, A. L., Cunningham, S. W., Banks, J., Roper, A. T., Mason, T. W., & Rossini, F. A. (2011). Forecasting and management of technology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Tallon, P. P., & Pinsonneault, A. (2011). Competing perspectives on the link between strategic information technology alignment and organizational agility: Insights from a mediation model. Mis Quarterly, 35(2), 463-486.