The last two decades of 20th century witnessed a tremendous growth in the information technology and its integration in the business world. It forced to revise managerial practices, procedures and process. Many new business methodologies and concepts have emerged like business process re-engineering, knowledge management, and management information system, etc. All these reforms in the corporate sector aim at handling the new challenges offered by the new technology. What is more important that the new technology has brought along the wealth of knowledge and information, and an easy access to it. The positive outcome of the rapid technological developments remains the increased productivity and better customer service provided by the corporations.
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The information technology also had a deep impact on the phenomenon of power and politics within organizations (Ekbia and Kling, 2003). There is a close relationship between the information and the power. The information is in fact a source of power and the people seeking power adopt multiple political approaches by manipulating the information and knowledge (Finney, 1997). Power is the ability of getting the job done despite resistance. All the struggle in the organizations for attaining power is about getting into the decision making role. A position which can affect careers of employees certainly gives power to the decision maker. The decisions of the power holders are likely to be affected by a number of factors which may also include few vested interests of the decision maker.
The influx of information technology and information systems is however changing the course. Easy access to information and the decision made through intelligent soft-wares are hampering the power and politics in the organizations. The infinite powers held by the decision makers are now being curtailed, which is definitely not being liked by the affected party (the managers). This essay has been designed to scrutinize the impact of decision making through information systems on the power and politics of an organization. The paper will first describe the role of power and politics in organizations, followed by the existing information systems. Impact of IT decision making on power and politics in organizations will be focused before concluding the paper.
Role of Power and Politics in an Organization
Power has a perse range of definition and implication. Power as defined by famous sociologist, Max Weber (1947) is the probability that one person within a social relationship will be in position to carry out his own will, despite resistance. In simple terms, power is the ability to get the things done in presence of the resistance of others or the ability to win political fights and outmaneuver the opposition. Pfeffer (1992), the organizational behavior theorist defines power as a potential ability to influence behavior, to change course of events, to overcome resistance, and to get people do things that they would not otherwise do. Power in other words is the authority to make decisions.
Power and politics are very closely related concepts. A common perception of organizational politics is how one can pragmatically get ahead in an organization. Large organizations are like governments in that managers are the political entities. To understand them, one needs to understand organizational politics, just as to understand governments, one needs to understand governmental politics (Pfeffer, 1992).
We can differentiate power from politics in a sense that politics gets involved where people lack power and authority. Politics is used to get power. Once empowered, politics is employed to retain and increase power. It is a continuous phenomenon and has no ends. Major political strategies used for power acquisition in any organization generally include making alliances with powerful people, pide and rule, manipulating classified information, and attacking and blaming others.
Application of Information Systems
The application of information systems in the corporate world can be classified in two different categories. First the Operations Support Systems, which are employed to process data generated by, and used in, business operations. The second category is the Management Support Systems, which focus on providing information and support for effective decision making by the managers. Such systems include the Management Information Systems, Decision Support Systems, and Executive Information Systems (O’Brien, 2003).
Management Information Systems provide information in the form of reports and displays to managers and business professionals. For example, sales managers may use their network computers and web browsers to get instantaneous displays about the sales results of their products and to access their corporate intranet for daily sales analysis reports that evaluate sales made by each salesperson.
Decision Support Systems give direct computer support to managers during the decision making process. For example, advertising managers may use an electronic spreadsheet program to do what-if analysis as they test the impact of alternative advertising budgets on the forecasted sales for new products. Executive Information Systems provide critical information from a wide variety of internal and external sources in easy-to-use displays to executives and managers.
Impact of IS Decision Making on Power and Politics in an Organization
All the political game within an organization aims at getting power to make decisions. The power to make decisions gives the opportunity to the decision maker from choosing between alternatives. Whenever making a decision, the decision maker keeps various aspects in mind. These aspects may be based upon the classical decision making process focusing on rationality and good judgment. The element of vested interests however can not be ignored. A manager would not like to take a decision which may harm his/her reputation or become detrimental to his/her own position and status. It implies, that there are some political forces involved which may effect the process of choosing between the alternatives. A manager’s decision making capacity therefore can not always remain impartial or vindicated.
Besides the impact of political forces, another major factor affecting the rationality and correctness of decisions is the style of a manager in choosing among alternatives. The managerial style reflects a number of psychological dimensions including how decision maker perceives what is happening around him/her and how he/she processes that information. In today’s era of information technology, all these impediments to decision making can be eliminated and a cent percent sure correct decision can be obtained employing the machines and the decision support software. The success rests in formulating balanced policies for ensuring that corporate information can be used effectively and allowing inpiduals the flexibility to innovate (Strassmann, 1996).
The dynamics of power and politics in organizations continue to evolve. In particular, information technology and the internet/intranet provide information access that was not previously available. There is a common perception that the development of computers has reduced the numbers of jobs available, and reduced the power of those still in work to defend their jobs and conditions (Wilson, 1997). This perception is increasing the quest for power employing politics which is getting more ruthless. In current social environment, employees are as interested in jobs with meaning as they are with scoring political points and gaining power. The development in the field of information technology is though posing a tremendous threat to this power struggle which is certainly not liked by most power seekers thereby resulting into a constant rift and resistance.
In a research carried out on implementation of Computer Information System (CIS) in 3 different hospitals (Lapointe & Rivard, 2006), it was found that although staff was initially very enthusiastic about a CIS implementation, the dynamics of resistance during the implementation may lead to system rejection. When resistance was ignored, there were malevolent repercussions. The study proved that the physicians, as users, went into a belligerent position that caused a potentially useful CIS to become a pawn in a power struggle. It clearly reflects that technology is not always welcomed. It poses great threat to managers’ authority and power, resulting into different political maneuvers to fail the system.
The game of power and politics is a part of any organization’s culture. Some have power and others constantly seek power employing politics. All this quest aims at getting into a decision making position. A person’s decision making capacity is deeply affected by a number of forces which can be eliminated by the use of latest technology and information systems. It however results into reduction of managerial powers starting a new row of confrontation and resistance, which needs to be redressed in order to increase organizational efficacy.
- Ekbia, Hamid and Kling, Rob. (2003). Power Issues in Knowledge Management. Retrieved September 8, 2006 from http://rkcsi.indiana.edu/archive/CSI/WP/WP03-02B.html
- Finney, Russ. (1997). The Politics of Information and Projects. Retrieved September 8, 2006 from http://www.itmweb.com/essay008.htm
- O’Brien, James, A. (2003). Management Information Systems. NY: McGraw-Hill.
- Pfeffer, Jeffrey. (1992). Managing the Power. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
- Lapointe, Liette, and Rivand, Suzanne. (2006). Getting Physicians to Accept New Information Technology. CMAJ. Retrieved September 8, 2006 from http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/174/11/1573
- Strassmann, Paul. (1996). The Economics And Politics Of Information Management. Retrieved September 8, 2006 from http://www.strassmann.com/pubs/econ-polim.html
- Weber, Max. (1947). The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. New York: Free Press.
- Wilson, Colin. (1997). The Politics of Information Technology. Journal of International Socialism. Retrieved September 7, 2006 from http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj74/wilson.htm