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1996 Working Papers

No. 188

Explicit and Implicit Structuring of Genres: Electronic Communication in a Japanese R&D Organization

JoAnne Yates, Wanda J. Orlikowski and Kazuo Okamura

February 1996

A study of a Japanese R&D group using a new electronic medium identified two contrasting patterns of media use: one involving explicit structuring of community genre norms, and one involving implicit structuring of local genre norms. These patterns provide initial explanations for how people begin to use new electronic media and how their use changes over time. We believe that the two patterns can serve as initial and suggestive archetypes for helping researchers and practitioners in their design, introduction, and ongoing management of new communication media.

No. 189

The Matrix of Change: A Tool for Business Process Reengineering

Erik Brynjolfsson, Amy Austin Renshaw and Marshall van Alstyne

April 1996

Business process reengineering efforts have not enjoyed high success rates, which is in part due to a lack of tools for managing the change process. We introduce the Matrix of Change and show how it can help managers identify interactions among processes. In particular, this tool can assist with issues such as whether the proposed systems are stable and coherent, whether to start at a new site, how quickly should change proceed, and in what order should changes take place. When we applied the tool at a medical products manufacturer, we found it to be a useful guide for change management.

No. 190

Productivity, Profit and Consumer Welfare?: Three Different Measures of Information Technology's Value

Lorin Hitt and Erik Brynjolfsson

April 1996

The business value of information technology (IT) has been debated for a number of years. While some authors have attributed large productivity improvements and substantial consumer benefits to IT, others report that IT has not had any bottom line impact on business profitability. In this paper, we focus on the fact that while productivity, consumer value and business profitability are related, they are ultimately separate questions. Accordingly, the empirical results on IT value depend heavily on which question is being addressed and what data are being used. Applying methods based on economic theory, we are able to define and examine the relevant hypotheses for each of these three questions, using recent firm-level data on IT spending by 370 large firms. Our findings indicate that IT has increased productivity and created substantial value for consumers. However, these benefits have not resulted in supranormal business profitability. We conclude that while modeling techniques need to be improved, these results are consistent with economic theory. Thus, there is no inherent contradiction between increased productivity, increased consumer value and unchanged business profitability.

No. 191

An Improvisational Model of Change Management: The Case of Groupware Technologies

Wanda J. Orlikowski and J. Debra Hofman

February 1996

In this paper, we present an alternative way of thinking about technological change in organizations. This alternative approach is motivated by a recognition that traditional models for managing technological change - in which the major steps of the change are defined in advance and the organization then strives to implement these changes as planned in a specified period of time - are not particularly useful given the more turbulent, flexible, and uncertain organizational situations that many companies face today. Traditional models are also not particularly useful for helping the implementation of technologies such as groupware whose unprecedented, open-ended, and context-specific nature make it difficult to predefine the exact changes to be realized and to predict their likely organizational impact.

We suggest an alternative model of managing technological change, one that reflects the dynamic and variable nature of contemporary organizations and technologies, and which accommodates iterative experimentation, use, and learning over time. We label such a model of managing technological change "improvisational," and suggest that it may enable organizations to take advantage of the evolving capabilities, emerging practices, and unanticipated outcomes that accompany use of new technologies in contemporary organizations.

No. 192

The State Of Network Organization: A Survey In Three Frameworks

Marshall Van Alstyne

February 1996

This article reviews the literature on network organizations and interprets explanations for its behaviors in terms of established analytical principles. Tools from computer science, economics, and sociology give three markedly different interpretations of its core attributes but they also settle on a handful of common themes. The proposed benefits are a clarification of what it means for an organization to be network structured, a few insights into its origins, and a suggestion of where the boundaries to some of its different forms might lie.

No. 193

A Coordination Perspective on Software Architecture: Towards a Design Handbook for Integrating Software Components

Chrysanthos Nicholas Dellarocas

February 1996

This thesis argues that many of the difficulties associated with building software applications by integrating existing components are related to a failure of current programming languages to recognize component interconnection as a separate design problem, orthogonal to the specification and implementation of a component's core function.

It proposes SYNOPSIS, an architectural description language which supports two orthogonal abstractions: activities, for representing the functional pieces of an application, and dependencies, for describing their interconnection relationships. Coordination processes, defined as an attribute of dependencies, describe implementations of interconnection protocols. Executable systems can be generated from SYNOPSIS descriptions by successively replacing activities with more specialized versions and managing dependencies with coordination processes, until all elements of the description are specific enough for code generation to take place.

Furthermore, it proposes a "design handbook", consisting of a vocabulary of common dependency types and a design space of associated coordination processes. The handbook is based on the insight that many software interconnection relationships can be described using a relatively narrow set of concepts orthogonal to the problem domain of most applications, such as resource flows, resource sharing, and timing dependencies.

A prototype component-based application development tool called SYNTHESIS was developed. SYNTHESIS maintains a repository of increasingly specialized dependency types, based on the proposed design handbook. It assists the generation of executable applications by successive semi-automatic transformations of their SYNOPSIS descriptions.

A set of four experiments is described. Each experiment consisted in specifying a test application as a SYNOPSIS diagram, associating application activities with components exhibiting various mismatches, and using SYNTHESIS to assemble these components into executable systems. SYNTHESIS was able to exploit its dependencies repository in order to resolve a wide range of interoperability and architectural mismatches and integrate independently developed components into the test applications, with minimal or no need for additional manually-written code. It was able to reuse a single SYNOPSIS architectural description in order to generate versions of a test application for two different execution environments. Finally, it was able to suggest various alternative architectures for integrating each component set into its corresponding application.

No. 194

The PIF Process Interchange Format and Framework

Jintae Lee, Michael Gruninger, Yan Jin, Thomas Malone, Austin Tate, Gregg Yost & other members of the PIF Working Group

May 1996

This document provides the specification of the Process Interchange Format (PIF) version 1.1. The goal of this work is to develop an interchange format to help automatically exchange process descriptions among a wide variety of business process modeling and support systems such as workflow software, flow charting tools, planners, process simulation systems, and process repositories. Instead of having to write ad hoc translators for each pair of such systems, each system will only need to have a single translator for converting process descriptions in that system into and out of the common PIF format. Then any system will be able to automatically exchange basic process descriptions with any other system.

This document describes the PIF-CORE 1.1, i.e. the core set of object types (such as activities, agents, and prerequisite relations) that can be used to describe the basic elements of any process. The document also describes a framework for extending the core set of object types to include additional information needed in specific applications. These extended descriptions are exchanged in such a way that the common elements are interpretable by any PIF translator and the additional elements are interpretable by any translator that knows about the extensions.

The PIF format was developed by a working group including representatives from several universities and companies and has been used for experimental automatic translations among systems developed independently at three of these sites. This document is being distributed in the hopes that other groups will comment upon the interchange format proposed here and that this format (or future versions of it) may be useful to other groups as well. The PIF Document 1.0 was released in December 1994, and the current document reports the revised PIF that incorporate the feedback received since then.

No. 195

Lexical and Sequential Variety in Organizational Processes: Some Preliminary Findings and Propositions

Brian T. Pentland, Malu Roldan, Ahmed A. Shabana, Louise L. Soe, and Sidne G. Ward

August 1994

Routineness is a central concepts in organizational theory and design and is widely understood as a product of low task variety and high task analyzability. Standardized scales to measure these dimensions been developed and shown to be reliable, but preliminary results reported here suggest the possibility that these scales may measure routineness in the content of a task unit's work but not variety in the process. Comparing results from the standard measures and detailed observational studies in three task units, we discovered that work processes in the most "routinized" task units (as measured by the standard scales) are more varied than in the less "routinized" task unit. To help explain these findings, we introduce and operationalize the concepts of lexical and sequential variety and use them to formulate testable propositions. We also discuss the implications of this alternative view of routines and routineness for issues such as organizaitonal learning, process redesign, and mass customization.

No. 196

Early Interactions between the Life Insurance and Computer Industries

JoAnne Yates

July 1996

This paper is a study of how representatives of one commercial user industry, life insurance, interacted with some players in the newly forming computer industry in the years after World War II but before the slae of any computers for commercial purposes. In particular, this interaction shows how pioneers in life insurance, including the Prudential's early computer expert and proselytizer Edmund C. Berkeley and a broader industry effort by a special committee of the Society of Actuaries, viewed computer technology and their potential use of it, as well as the ways in which they influenced its development. Both sets of actors played important roles in educating their own firms and the life insurance industry as a whole about the potential uses of computers for insurance, as well as communicating that industry's needs, especially in the areas of rapid input/output and verification needed for routine transactions processing, to computer vendors. These interactions suggest that the theme of co-evolution of information technology and its use in life insurance, previously established in a study of the tabulator era, continues into the early computer era. Thsi paper reinforces the notion that users can and do shape information technology, just as information technology has a shaping influence on the way users do work.

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