Cultural/Organisational Issues with Internet and Intranet
As we emerge from the industrial age into the information age, immediate access to information will be paramount to the knowledge worker.
The impact which the Internet/Intranet is having on the working environment cannot be understated. The effect that the Internet has on the populous is only too evident and is perhaps one of the reasons the phrase ‘networking’ is currently used in business to mean communicating with one another. The sheer breadth of information which the ‘net’ encompasses makes it a phenomenal information source for the user and is an appropriate tool at any level, provided the user has a personal computer and the ability to operate it.
All too often it is the very knowledge that is not readily accessible or deliberately withheld. A minimum level of system understanding is required to navigate any network, which automatically excludes non computer literate individuals. Access to information is also restricted by financial barriers, preventing those who have not paid the required fee from obtaining information. Political restraints are held within organisations as an expression of power.
Resistance to the use of the Internet and Intranet can stem from this. If correct training has taken place, the able user has by result, access to a vast array of alternative and perhaps conflicting information with which they can interact.
The use of the Internet or the Intranet is inevitable for those who wish to maintain or gain a foothold in their marketplace, whether it be local, national or global. The flow of interchangeable information via the Internet is increasing and will offer those who are among the first to use the Internet and Intranet an unprecedented lead over their competitors, provided they have trained their staff to use the system effectively and enthusiastically.
The impact of the world wide web network on the method of communication within an organisation has in the past depended greatly upon the company using the system. As the emphasis is placed on an ‘information’ workforce, they become increasingly computer literate. The use of global networks, particularly bulletin boards and workgroups rise. Companies are able to put together people from different areas of excellence and expertise and obtain a more complete picture of the dynamics of their company.
The pace of commerce will increase as contact between customer and supplier becomes instantaneous. With the Intranet, established customers can view the products proffered on the screen, in sound, colour and action as never before. The transference from the use of ‘Snail’ to E-mail is a matter of time and acceptance.
Use of e-mail
One of the most significant things to have come out of the use of Internet and Intranet is the upsurge of electronic mail and the abandonment of letter mail in preference to it.
Many companies now use e-mail as a method of communication. This carries across cultures successfully. A thought can occur in New York and be conveyed and communicated to a thousand people in Japan in only a matter of minutes, far faster than traditional methods such as telephone and fax. However, the current advantage that the fax has over documents carried by the Internet and Intranet is that faxes are recognised as legal documents.
Traditionalism is the enemy to change. People cling to tried and tested methods unless they can see a big pay-off as a result. Workers will only change either because it cuts short a hopeless situation or enormously improves an adequate one.
For progress to be made, change is inevitable. The most common problem encountered with the introduction of any new technology is the natural resistance to change, this always needs to be carefully circumnavigated to avoid direct confrontation. Resistance to change is built into human nature, to overcome it is a major factor in the development of business. Workers like to be ‘secure’ and ‘safe’. The introduction of an Internet or Intranet makes change in working practice inevitable. The solution is to make these changes quick and expedient.
It is fortunate that most individuals are initially keen to try out this well hyped method of communication, because it is both revolutionary and evolutionary. They may only wish to send a letter to Uncle Sam in the United States or urgently need to send a technical alteration for a prototype to the Asian manufacturing department in Hong Kong.
Ease of use is essential. It is important that barriers are not created, putting knowledge workers off, making it difficult for them to use the Internet or Intranet. This depends exclusively upon the approach taken with the introduction of the Intranet or Internet. Motivation is a crucial element.
- Effort and performance (E-P)
- Performance and Rewards (P-R)
- Rewards and Needs (R-N)
The model below shows that normally an individual perceives these relationships as on a balance, motivation is the result of a change in the balance of these factors:
If an individual believes that a small amount of effort will result in a large increase in performance, they are likely to be motivated. Therefore if the effort to change to the Intranet or Internet is perceived to be small and the reward gained from the increase in performance great then their motivation will be good.
Effort must be perceived to be smaller than performance attained to ensure that motivation is good. When a large level of effort, or change, appears to exceed a small increase in performance then de-motivation takes place. Correct and coherent training can increase motivation.
Training is essential to ensure that correct procedures are followed and adhered to. Standards to the use of information should be predefined to give the knowledge workers security and confidence in their own abilities. A little time spent at this juncture will prevent a great deal of time wasted later on sorting out the mess. The larger the access to information, the greater restraint is needed to ensure that information is processed correctly. The following guide is an appropriate method of establishing training needs and offering guidance to knowledge workers who use the new resource.
To gain confidence and respect for the use of the Intranet and Internet amongst workers. The three C’s offer an answer.
- Consult the workers. Give them information, ask for their suggestions, and training requirements
- Drive them by accepting their ideas in some way, no mater how small, ensure motivation
- Co-operate – coherence of ideas between peers to achieve agreement to working practice
Training is usually the major intangible requirement and has the main resistance, particularly from senior and middle managers. The former adopt an attitude that they do not have time to use the Internet and Intranet, the latter that they do not need it. The reality is that training could expose a perceived weakness, identifying an area which they do not completely understand. Unfortunately, this attitude tends to permeate down the tiers of hierarchy. If those at the top of the organisation appear to embrace the Internet or Intranet, others further down will do so. This is regardless of the organisational culture and the management style of the corporation. It is important for those at the top to be amongst the first to understand what it can offer, whether they will have future use of it themselves or not. A little time spent at a seminar will doubtless save a great deal of time later on and give an appreciation of the expansion of business offered by this technology. Not to mention the appreciation of importance that will be attached to it by the workforce.
For many managers and executives today, it is difficult to see the impact that the introduction of a global information infrastructure will make on their business. Those who do appreciate the dynamics of business will understand that the incorporation of Internet technologies into their overall business strategy is necessary to ensure corporate survival within the global community. There is a strong tendency today to control, block or slow down the rapid pace of access to information, countries such as Russia and eastern Europe are hungry to gain access to the system and transfer to themselves information that has long been withheld from them. This situation is not unlike that internally within commerce. Those who have access to information see it as their right to withhold this information from their subordinates.
Whilst technical knowhow is used as a tool by those with privileged knowledge, politics plays a great part in the introduction of any new technology. Those who are threatened with the greatest change in working practice will be most likely to whip up a fervour of reasons against the introduction of the Internet or Intranet. It is they who require assurances to avoid conflict and confrontation.
Tier systems in hierarchical organisations are likely to be broken down, some tiers may disappear completely by natural selection and redundancy of roles. Consolidation of information will not require manual collation as records are held centrally and accessed by many. The level of intelligence and autonomy of the operatives will have to be higher, they will need to be able to make decisions and have the authority to do so. Although managers have ultimate responsibility, it is due to the direct access and interaction of information, that they will have to allow the workers greater flexibility. The level of management most likely to be abandoned is the supervisor, who normally collates information and makes the decisions regarding the circulation of the information. This role will become obsolete when the information is centrally located and disseminated to the appropriate recipients, regardless of their location, automatically. The manager will become the central figure in the control of information circulation.
Team building will be a force in the future as individuals from different departments and countries can be brought together to work across the Intranet. As cross culture commerce is instigated, the skills of team building and fostering communication within the team will become important. Team groups will be necessary to ensure that processes are being followed correctly. Collective ‘care’ in the workplace and a greater deal of interchangability in roles will become the norm, thus reducing disempowerment problems arising from supervisory loss of role. The emphasis on the measure of work quality will move from leadership ability to skills as a team player.
The Intranet as a tool in working practice, is versatile, dynamic and empowering. The Intranet is a viable option for most organisations. It offers greater data security from the possibility of industrial espionage and data loss than paper systems. It also offers instantaneous, easy, and convenient access for internal knowledge workers who need to consult information simultaneously from different locations.
The Internet can be accessed from any point on the globe and beyond, provided the user has the appropriate tool. This may revolutionise working practice as we know it, changing the way work is viewed. Schools and colleges in the United Kingdom are currently getting ‘Netted Up’ as the government pushes students towards self directed study from home which could be anywhere in the world. This practice could continue into industry, knowledge centres and work teams can be located anywhere. Local offices in some companies are becoming a thing of the past, with only headquarters being in physical existence. Employees are scattered throughout the country and can be deployed immediately to the appropriate area using the telecommunication network and the Intranet or Internet. The accessibility of the Internet has lead to a current rise in the number of self motivated homeworkers, commonly in knowledge based industries. Usually based at home, they spend time with their families and work during their most productive hours. Payment is heavily influenced by results and deadlines rather than physical presence, they are an effective group of workers and may lead the way to profound changes in working practice. They also save themselves the stress of driving to work and the effect it has on our environment.
The Green Factor
The current trend amongst business in the western culture is to be seen to be green. This is an unavoidable issue when contemplating change and addressing any business issue. If ever an argument were tailor made to support the use of the Intranet and Intranet it would be this one. The use of paper is negligible, information can be centrally located and accessible throughout the Intranet or Internet, wherever one is in the world. Therefore transport costs and fossil fuels are not required to transport information between countries and continents. Culturally, this is a most acceptable form of information processing.
The speed of response is the most important issue affecting the Intranet and Internet. It is increasingly crucial to business to have an instantaneous response. Organisation of information in a usable format is vital if the business is to survive. This is true in the use of the Internet and Intranet and the internal access structure of the company. Structures have to be established and access to information has to be given or withheld to those individuals within it. Power bases are likely to be built on who has access to what information on the system. If there is too much restriction to information, alienation can be felt by those who perceive that they ought to have privilege to certain information. This issue is a political one and access to information should be agreed during training and in appraisal situations.
Provided that introductions are handled well by those at CEO and EO levels, the implementation of both Internet and Intranet will prove to be invaluable tools. It is important to ensure that the system is integrated and embraced by the entire structural fabric of the organisation. Involvement in the introduction of the system at higher levels should demonstrate the importance of the progression to others lower in the hierarchy and assist to provide them with guidance and motivation. Training is an issue that cannot be avoided. One of the most expedient form of which is work based training, where experience of the real system can be gained in-situ. Team building often takes place at the same time and this serves to enforce the working ethos. Any type of changeover between systems always takes time and problems emerge which will require straightening out. Internal political issues must be addressed, with access to information agreed rather than dictated. Informational infrastructures will become apparent, needing to become formally recognised and regularly maintained. For a relatively tranquil transition, the issues highlighted herein should all ideally be addressed before the implementation of an Internet or Intranet system, although it is never too late.