The growth in computing technology has been on the rise in the last decade. This growth is specially related to the diversity of organizational activities where computer based information technology is being used. Often referred to as Information Systems (IS), the application of this wave of technology is prevalent in most modern organizations. Since computer systems became available to commerce in the 1960s, IS led organizational change has been the main agent for change (Lucey, 2001).
The IS led organizational change is a phrase that describes a process or proprietary method where a new or revised Information system is introduced in an organization resulting in modification of the organizational structure in order to obtain maximum use and benefit from the system (Chaffey & Wood, 2005). These proprietary methods may include SAP, Health Information Systems and ASAP methods among others. Regardless of their dimension and the business domain in which they operate in, Information Systems are present to support organizational activities.
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Change is important for every organization as it reaches a stage in operations where there is need for organizations to differentiate themselves and innovate again. Managing these changes is equally vital for every organization as it affects all aspects of organizational working. The figure below shows the major change drivers and business process changes in an organization.
IS Led Changes
Over the years, the use of computers in managing information and business processes has steadily risen. Information technology is rapidly changing the business environment. In order for these organizations to survive in the global dynamic environment, they must take advantage of the enormous benefits that technology can provide in communication, business processes and marketing (Boddy, Boonstra & Kennedy, 2005). Given the complexity and sophistication associated with computerization, it has become necessary to modify the procedures and structures of organizations in order to make best use of new capabilities. As a result, IS led organizational change has become the main driver of organizational change in the current modern times.
IS led organizational change is extremely important in the implementation of information related strategies and enabling effective use of information systems. The figure below illustrates a diagrammatic representation of an IS led change within an organization.
In order for new systems to take effect in any organization, there needs to be a change in the structure of the organization, its culture, beliefs, processes and values of its workforce (O’Brien, 2001). It is important to manage and control these changes so as to prevent IS failure. With increasing access to computers and their sophistication, the need to change the structure of the organization in response has increased; however, the ability to successfully effect these changes is still questionable. This essay therefore explores on the IS led organizational changes with reference to the health sector in South Africa.
IS Impact On Organizational Workings
The health sector in South Africa developed a decentralized district based health system driven by integrated management information system (Braa & Heywood, 1995). The Health Information Systems Programme (HISP) was a collaborative project between the health sector, non-government organizations and four universities in South Africa (Braa & Heywood, 1995). This IT system enables for the collection, processing and analysis of data as well as the use of information for decision making at the district level (Heeks, Mundy & Salazar, 1999).
Currently, the HISP facilitates a national rollout of the District Health Information System (DHIS) in South Africa which aims at developing a culture of information use amongst health care workers (Braa & Heywood, 1995). The DHIS is able to achieve this objective through the development of skills and knowledge in data handling so as to create relevant information for managing the district level health programmes.
The development of this Information system took place within a framework of evolving technical infrastructure. It should however be noted that, whilst technical change may occur rapidly, the social process within the structures of organizations, central to ensuring sustainability, occur slowly, with both the internal and external changes becoming apparent after several years (Chaffey & Wood, 2005).
At the primary level, the DHIS routinely updates patient data. The implementation of this information system can be traced to an open-source, flexible, scalable, user-definable software application system which is based on MS Office Professional and uses pivot tables in excel for manipulating, viewing and graphing of data; and access as a relational database to input data (Williamson, 2000).
Essentially, the software was developed for collecting, processing and analyzing primary health care data, but it has since been expanded to include quarterly TB data, hospital minimum data set, environmental health and emergency medical services (Williamson, 2000). Development of new modules, interfacing of existing applications and improvement to existing modules are generally ongoing in the health sector in South Africa (Williamson, 2000).
The high profile given to this software application has given rise to a situation where Information Systems are changing the organizational structure. While the importance of Information systems in organizations is undisputed as seen in the health sector of South Africa, the ability to effect these changes in the organizational structure is still debated. There is an imperative need for changes in the structure of an organization in response to the new technology.
In South Africa, organizational changes were made in the health care sector in order to institutionalize streamlining of the processes and systems created to implement and sustain the DHIS (Williamson, 2000). Firstly, this Information System led to the restructuring of the health sector to a decentralized primary health care oriented system from the previous fragmented and centralized service system (Braa & Heywood, 1995). The restructuring of the health sector was driven by an integrated health and information management system.
This kind of restructuring, an outcome of the transformation, has facilitated an equitable distribution of resources and enabled monitoring of progress towards objectives easier (Handy, 1999). Additionally, the district based system led to the decentralization of authority for decision making. Changes were also made to the human resources. Changes involved the shifting of resources by appointing appropriate levels of staff responsible for the various aspects of the health information issues. Changes were made to the post structures of the staff and adjustments made in their job description.
Subsequently, changes were made to the organizational technical infrastructure. The HISP required the development of appropriate computer and manual information tools, establishment of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and the development of service training and supporting programmes (Braa & Heywood, 1995). Incorporation of the generic and skill training components were vital for successful implementation of the HISP. Whilst these technical organizational changes were important, their use did not necessarily imply success in the implementation and management of the IS led changes.
It is important to note that managing organizational changes driven by information systems involves focusing primarily in the development of the human and organizational components rather than the technical aspects (Hammer & Champy, 1993). Successful implementation of IS led changes lie in the social processes of human resource development and the need for changes in the structure of the organization.
Ways Of Dealing With Is Led Changes
Training programmes must be developed and designed to be sensitive to service related issues. The development of the human resources by training health managers, programme directors and other staff of the organization is necessary for successful implementation of the health information systems. Although training is an essential ingredient, it in itself doesn’t ensure successful implementation, thus there is need to link it with appropriate organizational development. These training programmes are meant to empower the staff to use locally generated information in improving the quality and coverage of health care services. These can however be realized only if training and innovation for change is supported and marketed appropriately.
Therefore, a localized grassroots approach to training which is supported and actively marketed to enhance the involvement of the managers and their health workers in health information systems will be useful in facilitating the development of a culture of information use (Hammer, 1990). In order for the front line health workers to efficiently use IS as a management tool for monitoring at the local level; policy makers and health managers must develop a culture of information use where the technology is actively utilized for purposes of planning, resource allocation and policy development.
Buy-in by top management is also necessary in order to ensure the sustainability of the DHIS. The lack of full commitment to this technology has been the main obstacle to effective implementation of the DHIS. To date, the DHIS has not been seen as a strategic priority and this hampers its effectiveness (Flowers, 1996). There is an imperative need for a concerted effort to convince the provincial, national and district management teams of the importance of this information system for management, the DHIS in particular. To promote buy-in, the HISP training initiatives can be revised with a clearly formulated strategy for action and marketed to the top and middle management. Across all levels, there is need for ‘DHIS champions’- those able to drive and maintain their commitment to action oriented information systems
Change Management Methodology
In order to effectively manage IS led changes, it is necessary to develop a holistic change management methodology which is at the same time easy to use. An appropriate change management methodology that creates a framework in which all aspects of the change process can be fully integrated within the new system is vital. It should be noted that change management requires both an organizational and individual perspective. These changes can be managed using the ADKAR change management methodology. The acronym stands for:
- Awareness of the need for change
- Desire to engage and proactively participate whilst supporting these changes
- Knowledge on the organization as a whole and how to cope with the changes
- Ability to change and utilize the required skills in managing these changes
- Reinforcement to sustaining IS led changes.
It is important to recognize that changes can only occur within an organization when the employees are aware of the organizational changes; have the desire to participate in these changes; and knowledge about the organization and how to cope with the changes. Additionally, they must have the necessary skills and training which endows them with the ability to implement these changes. Finally, reinforcement to sustaining IS led changes can only be realized by recognizing the success and failure of the IS led changes, making continuous improvement and keeping the momentum going.
Certainly, the IS led organizational change has been the main driver of changes in modern organizations. As shown from above, the implementation of an information system in the health sector of South Africa demands an organizational change within a framework of technical support and human resource development. Given the pervasiveness and importance of Information Systems and their close association with various aspects of contemporary organizational change, there is need for a holistic approach to managing these IS led changes.
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