Information systems in support of employee empowerment : a study of manufacturing organisations in the UK
This thesis investigates the role of computer-based information systems in manufacturing organisations that are encouraging employee empowerment. The central proposition of the research is that information systems are not able to empower employees, but they can support the new work practices created by empowerment, depending on the specific organisational circumstances. A postal survey addressing the top 450 manufacturing organisations in the UK is reported, which reveals the extent and characteristics of empowerment adoption and the main issues arising from the use of IS in this context. These were elaborated in a series of 20 in-depth interviews in selected organisations. While the data from the interviews highlighted the support that IS provide to employees and uncovered some problematic aspects, the further, more detailed study of two large manufacturing organisations enabled a better understanding of the nature of these difficulties. A conceptual framework based on structuration theory was employed for data analysis. The case studies reported suggest that the interaction between information systems and employees is in many cases problematic, because it continually reproduces the deeper structural properties of the organisation that essentially constrain empowerment. Although the encouragement of empowerment has affected some organisational practices, traditional institutionalised features largely persist. These not only inform the design and development of existing IS, but are continually reproduced through their use and management. However, this research revealed some instances where the interaction between human agents and IS did not reproduce, but rather transformed elements of structural properties. An analysis of these situations provided improved insights into the impact of IS on organisational structure, and their role in both the reproduction and transformation of structural properties. Our findings suggest that information systems cannot only support employees in their work practices at the level of action, but that they can also trigger a change in the structural properties of their organisation, thus contributing to empowerment. Critical to this transformation, which can be either intended or unintended, is the interplay between various groups of organisational actors and their motivations and interests for change. An improved perspective on the role of IS in unintended transformations of structure is put forward and to conclude, some implications of the research for both IS theory and IS practice are elicited.