A Framework for Managing IT-Enabled Change

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At Vista Elementary School, classrooms look and operate differently from traditional classrooms. Each classroom has five computer terminals for students and a teacher workstation. Students spend fifteen minutes to an hour a day at the terminals, depending on need. They receive customized reading, math, and writing instruction, which is delivered over a computer network through a technology called Integrated Learning Systems (ILS). The system provides corrective feedback loops when students have difficulty with particular skills and collects data on each student’s progress. The rest of the time, students work individually or in small groups and, for a small part of the day, in the large group. Teachers spend much time coaching individual students, analyzing assessment results against expected outcomes, and prescribing new instructional sequences for students. The technology-mediated instructional system demands much more planning and assessment work on the teacher’s part than traditional teaching does. The teacher stands in front of the whole class only a small part of the time.

Across town, the Valley School also has an integrated learning system, but it is set up in a laboratory classroom managed by an aide. Students from all of the grades come twice weekly for basic skills instruction that is separate from their normal classroom activities, just as they go to music and art classes.

Vista is getting good results (productivity increases); Valley is not.1 Most schools use the ILS technology as Valley School does. They graft it onto their normal routines without changing classroom organization or instructional processes, and they don’t get good results.

Like these schools, many organizations are tempted to use new information technology (IT) to solve some of their most difficult problems. Some organizations are successful in their implementation efforts; many are not.

The emerging literature on change management provides many useful ideas for making the complex changes enabled by IT. As most managers realize, new technology is not enough to increase productivity. Organizational and process changes must also be made. Vista School, for example, changed its values to emphasize outcomes rather than inputs and changed teaching and learning processes dramatically.

In this article, we integrate models from the change management literature into a set of principles for managing an IT-enabled change effort. The paper has evolved from our teaching and consulting experiences.


1. These schools are disguised cases of schools in Florida and New Mexico, where one of the authors has been consulting and doing research.

2. R. Benjamin and J. Blunt, “Critical IT Issues: The Next Ten Years,” Sloan Management Review, Summer 1992, pp. 7–19.

3. S. Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power (New York: Basic Books, 1988).

4. See N. Venkatraman, “IT-Induced Business Reconfiguration: The New Strategic Management Challenge,” in The Corporation of the 1990s, ed. M. Scott Morton (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

5. R. Benjamin and J. Rockart, “The Information Technology Function of the 1990s: A Unique Hybrid” (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Sloan School of Management, Center for Information Systems Research, Working Paper No. 225, June 1991).

6. See, for example, L. Markus and J. Pfeffer, “Power and the Design and Implementation of Accounting and Control Systems,” (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Sloan School of Management, Center for Information Systems Research, Working Paper No. 78, September 1981); and

PlanPower, the Financial Planning System, Harvard Business School Cases 9-186-293 (Boston: Harvard Business School, 1986).

7. M. Scott Morton, ed., The Corporation of the 1990s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), ch. 1.

8. B. Benjamin, “Managing IT-Enabled Change,” IFIPS Journal, in press.

9. R. Beckhard and R. Harris, Organizational Transitions, 2d ed. (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison Wesley, 1987); and

R. Walton, Up and Running: Integrating Information Technology and the Organization (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1989).

10. Beckhard and Harris (1987).

11. E. Levinson, “The Line Manager and Systems-Induced Organizational Change,” in Success Factors for Change from a Manufacturing Viewpoint, ed. K. Bloche (Dearborn, Michigan: Society of Manufacturing Engineers, 1988).

12. E. Mumford, “The Design of Large Knowledge-Based Systems: The Example of Digital Equipment’s XSEL Project,” Journal of Information Systems 5 (1991): 75–88.

13. A. Chandler, Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1962).

14. Scott Morton (1991), p. 20.

15. M. Hammer, “Reengineering Works — Don’t Automate, Obliterate,” Harvard Business Review, July–August 1990, pp. 104–112.

16. Beckhard and Harris (1987), p. 60.

17. Walton (1989).

18. Beckhard and Harris (1987), p. 98.

19. E. Schein, “How Can Organizations Learn Faster? The Challenge of Entering the Green Room,” Sloan Management Review, Winter 1993, pp. 85–92.

20. W. Orlikowski, Changing Frames: Understanding Technological Change in Organizations (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Sloan School of Management, Center for Information Systems Research, Working Paper No. 236, April 1992).

21. Walton (1989), p. 70.

22. Hammer (1990).

23. Walton (1989), p. 23.

24. Walton (1989).

25. The commitment analysis is based on:

Beckhard and Harris (1987), pp. 93–96.

26. See, for example, J. Forrester, “Models and the Real World,”ACM Conference on Critical Issues (New York: ACM Press, 1990); and P. Senge, The Fifth Discipline (New York: Doubleday/Currency, 1990).

27. Mumford (1991);

D. Leonard-Barton, “The Case for Integrative Innovation: An Expert System at Digital,” Sloan Management Review, Fall 1987, pp. 7–19; ExperTAX: Coopers & Lybrand Tax Accrual and Tax Planning Expert System, Harvard Business School Case 9-189-007 (Boston: Harvard Business School, 1989); and

I. Alarcon, J. Zaccagnini, and G. Alonso, “A Knowledge Engineering Approach to Overcome Elusive Problems in KBS Development,” in Personal Computers and Intelligent Systems: Information Processing, ed. F. Vogt, vol. 3 (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1992), pp. 196–202.

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