The New Office Information Technology: Human and Managerial Implications

Richard R. Long

In New Office Information Technology: Human and Managerial Implications, Richard Long sets out to provide an understanding of where we are, and where we are heading, in terms of the impact of the new technology on organizations.

Long says we tend to view the office as the part of an organization specifically designed to process the information that meets the organization's operational needs. However, to assess the impact of the new technology, we must know much more about what goes on in offices and organizations, and why.

Organizations are not finely balanced arrangements of logical systems that the manager orchestrates like a conductor. The manager makes largely qualitative decisions on information that is fragmented, unsystematic, and resistant to codification and storage. Organizations, like any other social institutions, are political insofar as the interactions of individuals revolve around the allocation of power, influence, and resources. In such a situation, where political influence may be measured on the basis of exclusive access to information, the ideals of openness and widely accessible information do not fit well, except on rhetorical terms.

Long speculates about what an organization can expect from computerization of the workplace. Based on a broad survey of the field, he points out that, for the most part, computers are used for storage and retrieval of information. The potential of the computer to revolutionize the decision-making process and generate more accurate and timely analyses has been oversold, according to the author. This is so because the building of a data base appropriate for such applications requires much insight and extraordinary effort. Data bases often reflect the programmer's or system analyst's oversimplified perception of the manager's job.

The author's assertion that the information stored in computers tends to be historical, arriving too late to be of use, echoes Thomas Kuhn's view of the relationship between textbook science and science as practiced, expressed in The Structure of the Scientific Revolution. This is not to say that Long adopts a negative approach. Rather he achieves a balance between describing the ideal situation and the practical restraints on meeting the ideal.

The author approaches his subject matter from this perspective, which is refreshingly different from the oversimplified boom or doom approaches of many other writers in the field of new technologies.

Another example of Long's approach can be seen in the way he handles the dilemma of who should be involved in the design of the system. While everyone agrees that the user should have a major input into the system design, most also admit that the technocrats invariably exercise the control. This is not uncommon to other cases of technological innovation where the application is determined by keepers of the old technology, technology made obsolete by the innovation. As the author points out, this is not necessarily a conspiracy on the part of the technocrats, who are often frustrated by their inability to engage the users at a meaningful level.

This example epitomizes the book's approach, which sees the problems inherent in office automation to be neither exclusively technological nor organizational, but more often social or cultural. In other words, the author calls for a socio-technical systems approach.

The author walks the reader through the major areas of concern in office automation, including telecommuting, decision-making systems, ergonomics and mental health of employees, implications for new job configurations, implications for organizational structure and implementation issues. Long deals with these topics in a thorough and balanced way.

New Office Information Technology contains ample evidence of rigorous and thorough research and has clear relevance for an academic readership. The book is recommended to anyone who will be teaching about or involved in office automation. Unfortunately, those best able to appreciate the ideas discussed in the book will have already experienced the problems that Long discusses.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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