Why are some information systems that companies have invested millions of dollars in developing never used or avoided by the very people who are intended to use them? In building systems, the company may optimize one part of a process and end up creating less than optimal performance for the process as a whole. The authors argue that companies should approach system building as business process reengineering and ensure that implementability is built in. They present a case study of an expert system for sales reps at a computer company, show why the reps were reluctant to use it, and offer suggestions for how the system could have been redesigned to solve the company’s problem.
1. Details of this case study can be found in:
M. Keil, “Managing MIS Implementation: Identifying and Removing Barriers to Use” (Boston: Harvard Business School, unpublished doctoral dissertation, 1991).
2. D. Leonard-Barton, Harvard Business School, personal communication.
3. T.H. Davenport, M. Hammer, and T.J. Metsisto, “How Executives Can Shape Their Company’s Information Systems,” Harvard Business Review, March-April 1989, pp. 130–134.
4. R.L. Ackoff, “From Mechanistic to Social Systemic Thinking” (Cambridge, Massachusetts: presentation at the 1993 Systems Thinking in Action Conference at MIT, available from Pegasus Communications, 1993).
5. R.I. Benjamin and E. Levinson, “A Framework for Managing IT-Enabled Change,” Sloan Management Review, Summer 1993, pp. 23–33.
6. M.L. Markus, Systems in Organizations: Bugs and Features (Marsh-field, Massachusetts: Pitman Publishing, 1984);
J. Grudin, “Why CSCW Applications Fail: Problems in the Design and Evaluation of Organizational Interfaces” (Portland, Oregon: Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, 1988), pp. 85–93; and
M.L. Markus and T. Connolly, “Why CSCW Applications Fail: Problems in the Adoption of Interdependent Work Tools” (Los Angeles: Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, 1990), pp. 371–380.
7. T.H. Davenport and J.E. Short, “The New Industrial Engineering: Information Technology and Business Process Redesign,” Sloan Management Review, Summer 1990, pp. 11–27;
T.H. Davenport, Process Innovation: Reengineering Work Through Information Technology (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1993);
M. Hammer, “Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate,” Harvard Business Review, July-August 1990, pp. 104–112;
M. Hammer and J. Champy, Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution (New York: HarperBusiness, 1993).
8. D. Leonard-Barton, “The Case for Integrative Innovation: An Expert System at Digital,” Sloan Management Review, Fall 1987, pp. 7–19; and
R.B. McKersie and R.E. Walton, “Organizational Change,” in M.S. Scott Morton, ed., The Corporation of the 1990s: Information Technology and Organizational Transformation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 244–277.
9. R.M. Rubin, “Organizational Simplicity: Reaching Beyond Business Re-Engineering,” SIM Executive Brief (Chicago, Illinois: Society for Information Management, Fall 1991).
10. J. Grudin, “Systematic Sources of Suboptimal Interface Design in Large Product Development Organizations,” Human-Computer Interaction 6 (1991): 147–196; and
R. Dagwell and R. Weber, “System Designers’ User Models: A Comparative Study and Methodological Critique,” Communications of the ACM 26 (1983): 987–997.
11. The true “consultant” is neither a “pair of hands” who does only what the client wants nor the “technical expert” who makes all the decisions. See:
P. Block, Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used (San Diego, California: Pfeiffer, 1981).
12. Benjamin and Levinson (1993).
We gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments and suggestions of Phil Devin, Jonathan Grudin, Ann Majchrzak, Eph McLean, Barbara McNurlin, Michael Myers, Judith Quillard, Jeff Smith, Detmar Straub, participants in Information Science 303 at The Claremont Graduate School, and the editor and reviewers of the Sloan Management Review.