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Session 5: From new technologies to new modalities of cooperation

Systems management for information technology development
A role for the UNU/IIST: Developing countries' access to new information technologies
The potential of information technologies for international cooperation
Panel discussion 2: Towards new modalities of international cooperation
Closing remarks

Chairperson: Charles Cooper

Systems management for information technology development

1. Introduction
2. A gateway strategy for information technology developments
3. Knowledge facets for systems integration and information technology development
4. A newness matrix approach to information technology development
5. Phased life cycles for system acquisition
6. Evaluation of technologies
7. Information technology perspectives
8. Summary

Andrew P. Sage


I present a systems management approach to information technology development. While lack of an appropriate systems engineering process for the management of information technologies will not necessarily turn out to be an impenetrable barrier that prevents a technology from ultimately being developed, it can make such developments occur at a much slower rate than might otherwise be possible. Also, the final development costs may be much higher than if an efficient and effective process were followed. This may have significant harmful effects on a given organization or nation, in terms of impaired ability to compete with others as well as on society, and the cumulative effect of this can adversely effect productivity in an increasingly competitive world. There are many new scientific and technological modalities that support enhanced productivity for all. International cooperation is much needed to enhance delivery of these. Contemporary developments in information technology can potentially do much, if properly managed, to support needed actions and efforts. I describe systems management approaches for information technology development here.

1. Introduction

There is much contemporary interest in the use of science and technology to aid humankind. Often, this is related to such issues as technology transfer or infusion, innovation, entrepreneurship, and other efforts associated with the effective and appropriate development of technologies for increased competitiveness and satisfaction of market-place demand for societal betterment. Much of the effort to date centres on the transformation of already developed innovative technologies into viable commercial products [41].

Often, basic research and development will have been accomplished in other organizations, and even other countries, and there may be a lack of an adequate technological base to immediately assimilate a new technology by units desirous of developing a product based on such R&D. This may occur because of a lack of financial resources and expertise to develop these systems, or to extend the initial developments such as to enable integration with existing systems. An objective in the use of a systems engineering approach to information technology development is to enable a focusing of research and development and associated infrastructure concerns, such as to enhance the potential for productivity, including commercialization of the resulting technological products or services.

This paper reports on one effort in this direction. It is an introductory paper and describes an overview, framework, and architecture for systems management of information technology development that could lead to implementation of a support system for technology developments and enhanced use of contemporary science and technology for international betterment. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant EET-8820124. The Government of the United States has certain rights in this material.

Identification of an operational set of critical success factors and use of them in a successful phased study of systems management of information technology development for enhanced access to science and technology is aided by a systems engineering, or systems management, process that will provide:

- the ability to quickly identify ideas and potential technologies that are worth pursuing, and that are not worth pursuing;
- the ability to identify a reasonably short, reasonably low-cost sequence of activities that will result in a cost-effective and societally desirable implementation of a product, process, or service;
- the ability to identify specific projects that will potentially allow such implementation and provide for detailed implementation efforts; and
- the ability to identify impediments or barriers to successful information technology project implementations that will not likely allow success, and either remove the barrier or provide for a mechanism for disengagement from the potentially unsatisfactory technology implementation.

Accomplishing this will require a quick-response, action-oriented group attitude, an awareness of practices and future perspectives that affect the technology under consideration, the systems management of this technology, and the market-place potential for the technology and the products and services that result from its use. To be sure, there are other challenges and critical success factors associated with the overall process of information technology implementations in developing nations.

The US National Research Council sponsored a 1987 study that identified eight critical success factors [30]:

(1) integration of technology into the overall strategic objectives of the firm;
(2) ability to get into and out of technologies faster and more efficiently;
(3) accessing and evaluating technologies more effectively;
(4) accomplishing technology transfer in an optimum manner; (5) reducing new-product development time;
(6) managing large, complex, interdisciplinary and inter-organizational projects and systems;
(7) managing the organization's internal use of technology; and
(8) optimal leveraging of the effectiveness of technical professionals.

These critical success factors are associated with the entire life cycle of system development. While they were developed specifically for the United States, these prescriptions appear sufficiently generic that they are universally applicable. They can, therefore, be used as some of the attributes to evaluate information technologies proposed for development. There are, of course, many other attributes that affect technologies, including information technologies, in developing nations. These include technology transfer issues [44], national and international standardization issues [6], and issues that affect information technology development forecasting, planning, and management [1, 13,17, 27, 64, 36].

A phased life cycle methodology for systems management [58] is especially important due to the rapid shrinking of the time between initial technology conceptualization and subsequent product emergence. The major causes of this shrinkage would appear to be the increased intensity and significance of international competitiveness and the technological changes made possible by information technology itself - such as computer-aided design, manufacturing, and production methods. One result of these two primary factors, and a host of secondary ones as well, is a shortening of the life cycle of the typical product development process. Another result is the ever increasing importance of information and knowledge as driving forces in competitive strategy selection.

The usual listing of the three primary factors of production includes capital, labour, and materials. However, information is an increasingly important driving factor in our economy, and, in particular, information technologies, including computer-aided design and production methods, are a major force in shrinking the time between technology conceptualization and product emergence. I have, therefore, included information as a fourth primary factor of production and have indicated this in figure 1. Many would argue, as does Thurow [63], that human resources and information dominate raw materials in importance in present economies. It seems clear that information now needs to be a separately identified factor that is explicitly included in the usual listing of the three primary factors of production, capital, labour, and raw materials.

Only now is this need beginning to be recognized [34, 40]. Among relevent research that explores this new phenomenon of the increased role of information in the production process are Cohen and Zysman [9], who suggest that American industry has not adapted to flexible manufacturing systems as quickly as it might have; Kaplan [24], who faults US management accounting systems for failing to adapt to new production patterns; Dertrouzos, Lester, and Solow [11], who discuss needed efforts for the United States to regain the productive edge; Hayes, Wheelwright, and Clark [20], who are very concerned with improving the manufacturing process through infrastructure improvements that involve the vital resources of humans, information, and leadership vision; Zuboff [66], who is very concerned with using information technology to empower people with process knowledge such that they are capable of crucial and collaborative judgement as contrasted with simply automation of production tasks; a series of reprints [19] that discusses many aspects of information technology management; and a series of papers edited by Bainbridge and Ruiz-Quintanilla [4] that explore the impact of information technologies on human work and the need for appropriate training and aiding supports to assist humans in using information technology-based systems.

Figure 1 Four primary factors of production for economic rationality

The use of computers by management and in organizations as decision support systems or executive support systems is the subject of three recent efforts [45, 46, 27]. In the decision and control trilogy of strategic planning, management control, and task control, computer-based information systems are especially useful in the management control function [3]. It is especially necessary to be able to valuate potential investments in information technology, and four recent works provide detailed commentary [61, 34, 62, 7] on this subject. There are many legal implications to information technology implementations, especially when systems integration and systems management considerations are involved [5], as is invariably the case. The implications of information technology innovations on human performance are a subject of much current interest [39, 4]. Information technology has the potential for support in a variety of organizations and for a variety of purposes [2, 20]. To achieve effective support, it will be essential to manage information technology developments, to integrate information technology and institutions and organizations and, thereby, to enable appropriate design through information technology.

There are many ways in which the critical ingredients of a systems management approach to innovation and emerging engineering technologies could be described. As just mentioned, they could be described as production, capital, raw materials, and knowledge. The steps to be accomplished in each phase of an emerging engineering technology effort involve the interaction of:

- problem-solving steps;
- knowledge of technologies, and the characteristics of humans, organizations, and the environment;
- learning over time about these; and
- environmental interaction and systems management, including crisis management strategies, as shown in figure 2. We are surely describing a dynamic process that involves the interaction of many variables. An important issue for information technology transfers to, and associated development in, developing nations is the use of systems management and integration procedures that effectively and efficiently cope with this process in ways that support continued productivity and competitiveness through advantageous use of science and technology. A major challenge in this is that the knowledge base will be different across various units. An appropriate set of development strategies and tactics must incorporate this reality, as well as the difference in various environmental variables.

Figure 2

Critical ingredients in systems management of technologies for development or transfer

2. A gateway strategy for information technology developments

There are a number of key strategy elements affecting information technology developments, including possible technology transfer. These include:

- technological and societal need for a technology;
- available technology base;
- research and development process management strategies;
- market and other external factors; and
- standards, including technological regulations and legislation.

There are a variety of ways in which we might conceptualize a model to describe the resulting flow of technological innovations. In figure 3, we envision several primary gateways that control the development and flow of technology, from either a push or pull standpoint. The "Gateway Concept" suggests that a technology, to reach a mature stage in which it yields useful products or services, must pass through three fundamental gateways: the technology gateway, the management gateway, and the societal gateway. These can be easily expanded into a larger number of gateways, as shown in the figure. Passing through the technology gateway requires research ability, innovation, technical merit, and a technical champion [52, 26]. Feasible scientific innovations, the available technology base to support development, and technology research and development efforts are employed, often and primarily in a technology push fashion.

The management gateway includes both systems management and enterprise management. Systems management is fundamentally concerned with strategic and tactical efforts associated with the multi-phased life cycle process needed to bring about a trustworthy and high-quality product. It is a systems engineering function concerned with technology management, systems integration, process and product standards, configuration management, and strategic and operational level quality assurance and management. Enterprise management is concerned with finance and accounting, organizational development, marketing, sales, and other efforts needed to bring about a successful interface between the organization and its environment.

The society or consumer gateway, sometimes referred to as a "demand pull" gateway, includes societal and market-place needs, consumer/user receptiveness, and general economic conditions. The gateway concept provides a uniquely appropriate overview of the process of technology development, and I will rely heavily on it as I develop a specific systems engineering approach to information technology development.

As noted in figure 3, the "push of technology" is basically scientific in nature in that it includes development of all feasible scientific discoveries. These are limited, however, by technological capabilities and systems management capabilities. When the resulting technological systems design and management systems design needs are satisfied, there is really only a push from feasible technological innovations. The pull of society, or the marketplace, is basically the pull of the Maslow hierarchy of needs [21], as indicated in the figure.

Essentially all studies show that few, if any, successful products emerge only because of technology push. This leads to potentially major pitfalls in pursuing research and development from primarily a university-based technology push perspective, and without reference to application-oriented technology pull needs of an enlightened industry perspective. This is under scored by the conclusions of a recent study by industrial R&D leaders. The study, Industrial Perspectives on Innovation and Interactions with Universities, which summarized opinions of 17 top industrial research officials, as stated in the Washington Post of 26 April 1991, concludes that "Many university officials erroneously believe that the discovery of new ideas represents the most significant step in the process of innovation, and that universities are the key source. [In fact,] industry is the primary source for innovation. Universities play only a limited role in this realm." This suggests a major role for joint industry-university and joint industry-government-university interactions in pursuit of technology development and educational goals. This is especially important relative to information technology developments.

Figure 3 Expanded set of systems and enterprise management gateways for product development

It has been postulated [16, 42] that the growing universality of science and research now makes successful innovation more frequently driven by market pull than by technological push. There are, of course, approaches that encourage and stimulate technology push [60]. Usually these approaches involve enhanced communications and attention to scanning and targeting of potential market areas for the new technology. The several gateways - a science gateway, a technological gateway, a systems management for development gateway, an enterprise management gateway, and a societal gateway determine what can ultimately flow through to society in the form of a realized innovation or an emerged technology. The major factors affecting, or filtering or monitoring, the flow through these gateways are also shown in figure 3. For a developing nation, the nature of each of these gateways is doubtlessly different in character from those found in a developed nation. Nevertheless, each of the ingredients is surely present.

Any conceptual diagram such as this is necessarily incomplete. What is shown in figure 3 does not adequately represent the dynamics of the process, or the distributed nature of the process, or the many feedback loops involved. It is very clear that technological development alters societal values, certainly the more pragmatic ones, and this in turn acts to change the nature of the societal pull for technological products and services. The process of technological innovation is distributed in time and space. Innovation is clearly a function of a given organization's technological and market expertise relative to a particular technology innovation or development area.

In order for there to be motivation for development or transfer of a technology, there must be a perceived need for the technology; or at least a felt need to accomplish development or transfer of it. As a consequence of this, we need to envision and consider technological needs, systems management needs, and societal needs associated with information technology development and transfer issues. These are the principle gateways we show in figure 3. If there is a technological need for a product, simply because one does not now exist, there will be no technological barrier to development of the product if there is adequate venture capital, and sufficient technological capability as provided through systems management expertise, to enable the development. If there is also societal need, then it becomes possible for a technology to actually emerge into the market-place. Again, there are dynamics involved. It is possible, for example, for a technology to be developed because of a real technological demand and a perceived market or societal demand. Such a technology will not generally be successful, at least initially. It may turn out that there is a later demand for the technology, perhaps in a somewhat modified form.

For a new technology to be developed or transferred, there must be an available technology base that supports development or transfer of the particular technology in question. Existing large investments in production facilities will enhance the propensity of developing innovations that enhance the effectiveness of this investment, for example. There can, and often will, be potentially inhibiting effects as well. The existence of a large investment in one form of technology may well impede the propensity to allocate resources to an entirely new approach that could make the old approach obsolete. At least initially, this might be viewed as a very significant impediment to technology development or transfer in a developing nation. There may well be, for example, manual methods of production that would initially become obsolete due to introduction of a new technology. Of course, a longer-term view of the development situation might show that the initially displaced workers could, upon retraining, enter the workforce more productively at a higher skill level. The criticality of human resources is a major facet of contemporary system, including organizational system, design and development approaches.

More often, however, the fact that there exists one satisfactory way to do something provides an intellectual bias that impedes thinking about new methods of approach. Therefore, a successful technology developer must be motivated and prepared to demonstrate that a new and potentially innovative approach is better in some societally acceptable ways.

There should be an appropriate systems management, or technology management, and integration process that support the identification of potentially efficient and effective technologies. Should is a key word here. The lack of an appropriate process will not necessarily turn out to be an impenetrable barrier that prevents a technology from ultimately being developed or transferred; but, it can make such developments occur at a much slower rate than might otherwise be possible. Also, the final development or transfer costs may be much higher than if an efficient and effective process were followed. This may have significant harmful effects on a given organization, in terms of impaired ability to compete or reduced quality of life.

Also, there will generally exist a set of standards and regulations, of technological, legal, and political natures, that will act to focus and constrain potential new technological innovations, including development and transfer of information technologies. These may be enhancing or inhibiting factors that depend upon the type of standards that have been identified and the way in which these standards have been implemented and interpreted.

There must also exist a set of market and other external conditions that are suitable for the emergence of an appropriate technology. Otherwise the technology will not get through the societal gateway. These external conditions could be rapidly occurring and of crisis proportions; such as might be due to severe drought, disease, or huge trade deficits. Alternately, they could be of a much slower time-scale. The societal gateway for developing nations is an area that will very strongly influence appropriate technologies for development in or transfer to a given country. It is an error to assume that this societal gateway is invariant across international boundaries. In my subsequent efforts in this paper, I will also make use of this gateway concept in suggesting a systems management strategy for information technology development.

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