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					The Reflexive Dynamics of Global
        IT infrastructures
               Knut H. Rolland
               Dept. of Computer and
               Information Science, NTNU

               knutrr@idi.ntnu.no
               www.idi.ntnu.no/~knutrr
    Background

       Past: Interpretive case study of an IT
        infrastructure in a global company - PhD
        thesis (2003)
       Current ongoing projects:
        –   Knowledge Management Systems in the oil&gas
            industry (the AKSIO project, NFR)
        –   Integration of information systems in public sector
            (with SINTEF)
        –   Development and use of Open Source Software

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    Overview

       Critique of current conceptualizations of IT and
        organizational transformation
       IT infrastructures as ’risk society’ with focus on the
        reflexive dynamics of such technologies
       Case study of a global IT infrastructure in a globally
        distributed organization
       Analysis of case
       Discussion


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    Consider the following quote:


    “This is a huge patchwork – there everything
     is connected to everything. Whenever
     someone tries to implement something new
     without looking at the whole picture we’ve to
     dig out the backups after a few days…” (IT
     infrastructure manager)


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    Control and IT

       Bureaucracy as the most important control
        technology
       Bravermann’s deskilling hypothesis (1974)
       Beniger (1986)
        –   Occational ’control crisis’ greates new innovations and
            eventually better forms of control
        –   IT seen as the ultimate control technology


    => Adopts a ’machine metaphor’ on organizations
    => IT is control and automation

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    Current management literature

       IT perceived as the ultimate technology for improving
        control and enhancing coordination in increasingly
        global organizations (e.g. Ives & Jarvenpaa, 1991;
        Weill & Broadbent, 1998)
       Typical assumtions made in this literature:
        –   IT is highly predictable and mallable
        –   Practices are invisible; they don’t influence organizational
            outcomes
        –   Context of use is largely perceived as irrelevant
        –   Ignores the inertia of large-scale networked technologies
       Implicitely draws from Beniger’s assumtions


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    ”Global solutions”? – Yes, but
    always local use

    A practice lens on use of IT
        –   IT is not simply ”applied”, but rather enacted in local
            practices of use: unintended as well as intended
            organizational effects (e.g. Ciborra, Orlikowski)
        –   Use of IT is always situated (cf. Suchman, 1987)
       But: todays use of IT happens in an increasingly
        global context
        –   ”Stretches” interaction further across time and space
        –   Global diversity in both practices and technologies


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    IT infrastructures

       Corporate-wide IT-infrastructures: Intranets,
        ERP, CRM
       Enabling, shared, open, heterogeneous,
        socio-technical, and built on an installed
        base
       Side-effect of a succesful infrastructure: path-
        dependencies and lock-in effects


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    Relevant theories
       Development and use of IT is not isolated from, but rather part
        of various processes of globalization
       Giddens on ‘high modernity’ (Giddens, 1990)
         –   IT can facilitate the separation of time and space
         –   IT as a type of disembedding mechanism requiring local re-
             embedding
         –   IT may be an enabler of institutional reflexivity
       Beck on ‘risk society’ (Beck, 1992)
         –   Lack of control since the control is increasingly distributed among
             different actors and technological components
         –   Increasing dependencies leading to new oportunities, but also
             increasing risk



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     Reflexivity

        Reflexive monitoring of action (Giddens, 1984)

        Modernity itself has become reflexive (Beck, 1994)
          –   Often aiming at control, but producing risks

        The ‘sources’ of risks have changed considerably as modernity
         has reduced many of the traditional risks at the same time as
         new ‘techno-scientifically’ produced risks and ‘high
         consequence risks’ (e.g. ecological catastrophes, nuclear war,
         etc.) have been introduced


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     Case: A global IT infrastructur in a
     global classification company

        The Maritime Classification Company (MCC)
         –   5500 employees; 300 offices; 100 countries
        Technical inspections (i.e. surveys) on ships
         conducted by surveyors located in local offices
        The Global-Scale Information System (GSIS)
         –   Developed over 6 years (1994 -> 2000), 1 billion Nok
         –   Framed as a success by management and also considered
             partly successful by surveyors



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     Why a global infrastructure?

        Management’s point of view: need to increase global
         coorination and control due to ongoing globalization
         of the maritime industries and markets.

        Need for Standardization: The quality of the survey
         reports varies from office to office, surveyor to
         surveyor
        Need for Integration: Problems with the existing
         paper-based infrastructure
        Need for new products and services: ’commenced’
         (distributed) surveys very difficult to conduct

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     The initial experience
       “I‘m always forced to enter information on the lowest and most
        detailed level. This is extremely time-consuming – and the work
        becomes very fragmented […] it's chaotic, [and] I miss the
        ability to have a view of the whole while I‘m working on a
        specific detail. (Surveyor)

      “The quality can be judged by the report, […] you know, a high
       quality, professional looking document. And now it looks
       something that has been thrown together by a dyslectic word
       processor – and it does not have that – carry that sort of safe
       feel of conviction.” (Local manager)

     => The ”global system” needs to be re-embedded (Giddens,
        1990) in local context of use

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     Examples of unintended side effects in
     local use

        ’Juggling’ is considered neccesary:
      “They juggle with it [the reports] by for instance importing it into
         Word there they modify it – so that we get one version in [GSIS]
         and one paper-based version of the report.” (Superuser,
         Norway)
      New forms of fragmentation:
      “I know it’s not part of the official procedure – but we store all
         reports electronically anyway. We have developed an
         automatic document handling system that gives a report an
         index and stores it in a database. I think most regions use this
         or similar systems…” (Senior Surveyor, Denmark)
     = > Global solutions require local improvisations and
         adjustements in order to work (cf. Bowker and Star, 1999;
         Timmermans and Berg, 1997)

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     Standardized solutions and local
     diversity

        Scandinavian offices
          –   Relatively flat organization structure
          –   Sceptical to new information technologies designed by ‘managers’
              at HQ
          –   Gap between the inscribed sequential logic and the flat
              organization structure
        Asian offices (e.g. Singapore)
          –   Hierarchical organization structure aligned well with the step-by-
              step procedure in the GSIS
          –   Problem: secretaries used to do a lot of work that in the GSIS
              infrastructure was supposed to be done by surveyors.

     => Processes of globalization do not have uniform
        consequences accross local sites (Giddens)

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     Reflexivity in use – ex. 1
        Surveyors working in some regions seemed to be reluctant to
         ‘sign off’ a survey job that had partly been undertaken by
         another surveyor:
           “We generally try not to hand unfinished things over, because at the
            end of the day there is somebody’s signature on it saying this is
            what I have done. It easily becomes messy if you say he did that
            and I did this…It’s not that we don’t trust each other at all – it is
            just not our way of doing it” (surveyor, UK)
        Surveyors perceived it as risky to use information provided by
         unknown surveyors

     = > The GSIS as a disembedding mechanism requires new
        systems of trust to be established (cf. Giddens, 1990)
     = > Trust and risk is related (cf. Giddens, 1990)

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     Reflexivity in use – ex. 2

        Utilizing the memo functionality in order to report
         new kinds of surveys and to give critical information
         to the next surveyor:
         –   “Here I had to create a totally new survey which I called a
             ‘Conversion survey’ – it’s really only a free-text field [shows
             how this is done] […] Now I have re-invented the memo to
             signal the need for the periodical survey within May 99
             (Surveyor, Denmark)”


        ’Reskilling’ rather than deskilling
        ’Jazz improvisation’ and ’bricolage’

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     Re-design aiming at improving control




     Adding flexibility




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     The ”boomerang effect”

        “HQ faced tremendous problem…[]… an extensive backlog
         had been growing – on top of all the frustration in local offices”
         (Implementation Manager)
        Redesign to align with local practices caused problems at other
         sites (HQ)

     => Illustrates the essence of reflexive modernization:
        attempts to increase control leads to more uncertainty,
        unpredictability, and uncontrollability (Beck, 1994)




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     Reflexivity in modifications, extentions

        “How Windows NT is configured locally is very
         important for how [GSIS] works. For example, if we
         don’t adjust and test [GSIS] before a new service
         pack is implemented – we can get problems of
         compatibility. Microsoft can have modified one DLL –
         or for some reason a library may have been
         replaced. In those cases, if those components are
         not replaced in [GSIS] applications or in the [GSIS]
         architecture – we get failure situations.” (IT
         infrastructure manager)


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     IT infrastructures as ’risk society’

        The GSIS captures ‘risk society’ (Beck, 1992)
         in a nutshell:
         –   New interdependencies (i.e. integration) produced
             new risks
         –   Local adjustments and events sometimes had
             disastrous effects at other sites
         –   Required new systems of trust
         –   Produced diversity and heterogeneity


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     Reflexive dynamics - a summary
        The same IT infrastructure had varying organizational consequences
         in different offices and over time
        The standardized IT-infrastructure produced new forms of
         fragmentation
        Attempts to inscribe common ways of achieving high quality in some
         cases resulted in a decrease of quality
        Users tended to use the same functionality for different purposes
         according to the situation at hand
        The IT infrastructure was continously re-invented. Standardized and
         large-scale IT solutions are not neccesarily an obstacle for local
         innovation and adjustments in use as argued elsewhere (Orlikowski,
         2000)
        Attempts to control users’ beaviour (re-designs, new policies, best-
         practices and training) tended to backfire and increase uncontrollability
         and unpredictability.


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     Concluding remarks

        Control is not the solution, but part of the problem
        Use of IT infrastructures displays a ’dialectic of
         control’
        Use of IT infrastructures have inherent risks
         irrespective of the quality of their designs and skills
         of their users, due to reflexivity and side-effects.
        But, some technologies and designs are ’better’ than
         others!


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