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The Technological Context, Organizations and Managing People

In this chapter I've brought together a wide range of literature and research from different disciplines to help readers understand the importance of technological change to the management of people and organizations.  The rate of recent progress in information and communications technologies (ICT) in most workplaces, and the emerging cluster of industries and new business models to which ICT has given birth - bio-technology, nano-technology, new materials  science, robotics and numerous e-business ventures (Google, Amazon, e-Bay, etc) - promises to transform most economies.  It also promises to transform many of the traditional business functions, including marketing, logistics and supply chain management.   You might want to read a report I wrote for the CIPD, which shows its impact on the HR function (see sidebar).  

This is also the topic of a new book we have coming out in February 2008, 'Technology, Outsourcing and Transforming HR', co-authored with Martin Reddington and Heather Alexander.  In this chapter, which is based on the CIPD report, I have attempted to help you:

  • Understand the nature of technological change, particularly ICT, and its impact on people and organizations
  • Apply these ideas to your workplace
  • Show how these technologies can be used to decentralise organizations and empower people at work, or centralise them and dis-empower people.

Again, this is a field in which I'm conducting quite a bit of research with my colleagues, particularly in the field of e-HR, and will bring some of the findings from this research as it progresses into this website (and to a new edition of this book).

Since March 2008, we've been conducting research for the CIPD on the impact of Web 2.0 and HR.  An interim discussion document can be found here and the CIPD has also produced on our work.  The final report will be published in January 2009

Listen to the Gurus

Thomas Malone's book on the Future of Work is featured in an MIT video presentation.  This work is discussed in the text.

Have another look at Thomas Friedmann's talk from MIT on the World is Flat , which has much to say on the impact of technology on global business

Also you may wish to review the MIT video featuring John Seely Brown on how technology is re-shaping participatory learning.

Alongside this video, you may want to watch an MIT discussion hosted by Tom Malone on the power of Web 2.0 to enhance collaborative and collective intelligence.  John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, has also been a very enthusiastic promoter of Web 2.0.  Here is is in an MIT 2008 video entitled Building the Next Generation Company: Innovation, Talent, Excellence.

Among the latest videos from MIT is a classic study of how technology has been used to transform patient care and employee experiences in a large US healthcare organization.  Essential viewing, especially for healthcare professionals,  Leading change in healthcare through technology describes how Aetna corporation shaped a path to recovery focusing on a better understanding of its current customers, from small employers to the largest corporations, and the best way of expanding into new markets such as retailers, banks and law firms. To do this, Aetna needed to build products and services suited for those groups, and Williams' strategy involved developing integrated information systems for both employers and consumers, to ensure cost-effective, and high quality health care delivery.

Listen to Key Issues

Listen to a BBC radio programme on competitiveness and technology , which raises a number of issues in the chapter.

Listen to a programme on the 21st Century office for a discussion on who technology is shaping office work

Listen to a programme that relates to Tom Malone's thesis on new wave computing and open source  business models.

Listen to a podcast from Wharton on the use of Web 2.0 in business.  You will have to sign up for this.

Additional Reading

For a good introduction to the impact of ICT on management, see

Cairncross, F. (2003) The company of the future: meeting the management challenges of the communications revolution. London: Profile Books

Two very good books on e-HR and its impact on the HR function are:

Gueutal, H.G. & Stone, D.L. (2005) The brave new world of e-HR: human resources in the digital age, San Francisco:CA: Josey-Bass, and

Reddington, M., Williamson, M. & Withers, M. (2005) HR transformations. Oxford: Butterworth Heineman.

There is an interesting piece by McKinsey consultants on the use of technology in human capital management - one for those interested in the transformative use of e-HR

Ideas on Customising the Material

Again, for public sector managers, one of the best resources for research in this field is IBM's sponsored research programme on the Business of Government , where you can download a number of papers

Two programmes worth listening to are:

e-Learning in the NHS to show how technology is shaping how people learn, and

The application of lean manufacturing to re-organization of health care.

Again, look at the e-gov site for interesting material


Gartner Consulting is one of the leading firms in this field.  Register for their free information and research.

Look at the ESRC's site on the Future of Work for lots of research papers, and

The subscription based 'Future of Work' site, which has an excellent free weblog

You might also want to look at John Seely Brown's website , which has lots of interesting articles.

Here's one of the best blogs around by a leading commentator on Web 2.0 and its application to business - Ross Dawson