Information technology was supposed to stimulate information flow and eliminate hierarchy. It has had just the opposite effect, argue the authors. As information has become the key organizational “currency,” it has become too valuable for most managers to just give away. In order to make information-based organizations successful, companies need to harness the power of politics — that is, allow people to negotiate the use and definition of information, just as we negotiate the exchange of other currencies. The authors describe five models of information politics and discuss how companies can move from less effective models, like feudalism and technocratic utopianism, and toward the more effective ones, like monarchy and federalism.
1. J.G. March, Decisions and Organizations (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Basil Blackwell, 1988).
2. For example: M.S. Scott Morton, The Corporation of the 1990s: Information Technology and Organizational Transformation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991);
P.G.W. Keen, Shaping the Future: Business Design through Information Technology (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1991); and
D.R. Vincent, The Information-Based Corporation: Stakeholder Economics and the Technology Investment (Homewood, Illinois: Dow Jones-Irwin, 1990).
3. J. Thorbeck, “The Turnaround Value of Values,” Harvard Business Review, January–February 1991, pp. 52–62.
4. J. Pfeffer, Power in Organizations (New York: HarperBusiness, 1986).
5. See articles in W.G. McGowan, ed., Revolution in Real-Time: Managing Information Technology in the 1990s (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1991). A notable exception to the apolitical perspective is found in
M.L. Markus, “Power, Politics, and MIS Implementation,” Communications of the ACM 26:6 (June 1983): 434–444.
6. J.G. March, “The Business Firm as a Political Coalition,” in J.G. March (1988).
7. A term similar to “technocratic utopianism” has been defined, without reference to information management, by Howard P. Segal. See:
H.P. Segal, Technological Utopianism in American Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985).
8. See R.A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (New York: Random House, 1975); and
Chinatown, the film.
9. See D.L. Goodhue, J.A. Quillard, and J.F. Rockart, “Managing the Data Resource: A Contingency Perspective,” MIS Quarterly (September 1988), 373–392; and
D.L. Goodhue, L. Kirsch, J.A. Quillard, and M. Wybo, “Strategic Data Planning: Lessons from the Field” (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Sloan School of Management, Center for Information Systems Research, Working Paper No. 215, October 1990).
10. Some interesting examples of feudalism, again largely outside the information management context, are described in:
J. Pfeffer, Managing with Power (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1991).
11. Some of the reasons for these discrepancies are described in:
S.M. McKinnon and W.J. Bruns, Jr., The Information Mosaic (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1992).
12. L.M. Applegate and C.S. Osborn, “Phillips 66 Company: Executive Information System,” 9-189-006 (Boston: Harvard Business School, 1988).
13. B. Burrough and J. Helyar, Barbarians at the Gate (New York: Harper & Row, 1990).
14. See Goodhue et al. (1988) and
Goodhue et al. (1990).
15. “Using Information Strategically: A Road Map for the 90s,” Information and Telecommunications Systems, IBM Corporation, 15 November 1990.
16. McKinnon and Bruns (1992).
17. See the proceedings volume from the Xerox Document Symposium, March 10–11, 1992, Xerox Corporation, Stamford, Connecticut.
18. L. Sproull and S. Kiesler, Connections: New Ways of Working in the Networked Organization (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1991).
19. See J. Linder and D. Stoddard, “Aetna Life & Casualty: Corporate Technology Planning,” 9-187-037 (Boston: Harvard Business School, 1986).
20. J. Gladstone and N. Nohria, “Symantec,” N9-491-010 (Boston: Harvard Business School, 1990, revised 4 February 1991).