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The Organizational Issues John Diebold * From a management perspective, three important points can be made about the phenomenon of microcomputer proliferation we are now witnessing. The first is that we stand at a milestone. The ever-increasing computer literacy of our society has altered the way one thinks about microprocessors, as well as the role of infor- mation technology in any large organization. Daily there are front page items in the newspapers indicating that the role of the com- puter in society has changed from what it was only two or three years ago. The 414s the infamous Milwaukee-area "hackers" who take their name from their telephone area code are a marvel- ous symptom of this change. The difference is due not simply to larger numbers of micros. The situation is different because we have reached a critical mass in society. There are now millions of computer-literate people who are doing new kinds of things with this tool. This is a very different environment in which to place the role of information processing. The second point, and a crucial issue, is whether an organiza- tion should adopt a control mentality toward microprocessors or whether it should take a very different approach. The alternative *John Diebold is chairman and founder of the Diebold Group, Inc., New York, New York. 11
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12 MANAGING MICROCOMPUTERS approach encourages a much more permissive environment so that individuals may develop many more uses and roles for micros within the organization. Until recently, information processing meant an essentially in- stitutionalized structure in which the individual had little choice in what he or she did in minute-to-minute applications what the psychologists of the workplace call nondiscretionary work. This is changing. Information processing is making labor very discre- tionary. Such a shift raises a number of questions. What is an organization's management policy on microprocessors? Do they become a symbol of this transformation, the unleashing of imagi- nations, the extending of an employee's capabilities? Or are they in essence controlle(l? These two approaches represent fundamen- tally different management styles ant! philosophies, and organi- zations must analyze them thoroughly before aclopting one or the other. We should not assume that the same approaches ant! manage ment philosophy applied to information technology up to this point can or must apply in the future. Most of the literature, as well as most management approaches, treats information pro- cessing as a support function. In many cases it is still a support function, but in more and more organizations it is becoming a line activity. It is essential to recognize this change. No longer is it a question of thinking about an orderly or a costjustified approach to information processing. That is not how personal computers (PCs) are justifier! or bought. They are bought through every con- ceivable means for all kinds of applications. Only a minimum number of these purchases are justified according to the sort of highly developed methodology that exists for conventional data processing. Microcomputers are also being purchased in gigantic quanti- ties, with far-reaching implications. The stancI-alone personal computer is a transitory phenomenon, but it happens to dominate at the moment. The most recent surveys inclicate that only about one-fifth of micros now in use are connecter! to larger systems. This obviously will change, and it will become the norm to put these micros into many kinds of informal as well as formal net- works. We must also recognize that the microprocessor joins the game while there are five loose pieces on the organizational playing board. These pieces and their relationship to management (leci
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THE ORGANIZATIONAL ISSUES ~3 signs about microcomputers are the thircI key point I would em- phasize. One of these loose pieces is the traditionally managed data pro- cessing activity. This activity normally reports at a mid(lle-to- high-level management structure and has a quite highly devel- opecI methodology and control mechanism. The second loose piece is the communications function, which normally has reported at a Tower level because there haven't been very many options. Now, however, the communications area is experiencing what some are calling "option shock" in response to the vast number of communications options available. As a result, an enormous burden of network design, previously borne by the principal outside supplier, AT&T, has been placed on the large user. The entire communications function is changing very rapidly. The third piece on the board is the office automation function. This area has typically reporter! at a lower level than the data processing activity and has been oriented towards clerical sav- ings. In reality, however, office automation should support pro- fessional activities. This is beginning to occur. A fourth piece is the area of manufacturing systems, where ma- jor changes in the whole approach to manufacturing are occurring as a result of information technology. Although several organiza- tional moclels exist in this area, DieboIc3 Research Program stud- ies have shown that it has normally reported separately. Now, however, manufacturing systems are starting to be consoliciated with other information processing functions. The fifth piece is the largest and most important the end user. The end-user level is the point at which many microcomputers are now being acquired. For example, one of our clients recently bought 10,000 PCs, with an escalator clause to go to 30,000. In fact, most large organizations are purchasing micros by the thou- sands, but they are cloing so in smaller increments. Until now only 3 percent of the data processing education budget has been spent on ens! users. As a result, employees are currently spending a lot of time educating themselves. Obviously this situation must change dramatically. End-user education is where the bulk of the future data processing (DP) training budget will have to be spent. All of the traditional statistics on DP spend- ing ignore this end-user area. Thus, the actual level of investment of an organization for data processing is quite different than the
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14 M:ANAG1NG ~lCROCOMPUTERS traditional budget figures might show, because it is with the end user that developments are occurring. These five organizational pieces have been floating, and organi- zations have tried to deal with them in different ways Although the right approach depends on the organization and its mission the role of information technology in that mission is itself chang- ing because the parameters of competition are changing. Indus- try lines are shifting. These shifts are most apparent in the finan- cial service fields, in publishing and broadcasting, and now in retailing as computers move into the home. Changes are also beginning to occur in the parameters of com- petition within individual industries. This means that manage- ment must think less about management information systems and more about business information systems. As information flows from the raw data stage through all the stages to the end user, previously discrete activities become intertwined. What ~ mean to suggest is that today, all is in flux, and it is against this changing and developing background! that manage- ment must think about the role of microcomputers.