Monday, June 10, 2013

Some thoughts about organizational learning through ICT improvements.

There is an interesting article in Forbes on organizational learning as effected by information and communications technology. I have posted over the years on organizational learning, pointing out that most of the stuff I learned in the Graduate School of Administration years ago seemed to miss the point. If learning is any change that improves performance, then there are lots of forms of change that can be regarded as organizational learning (or organizational forgetting).

Some of the ways organizations learn are:

  • by firing someone to replace him/her with someone with better, more relevant knowledge;
  • by moving people within the bureaucracy, putting people where they can bring more pertinent knowledge to bear on issues of importance to the organization;
  • by outsourcing tasks to other organizations that can bring knowledge more effectively (or cost effectively) to bear on those tasks (something increasingly possible with the Internet);
  • by concentrating knowledge functions within the organization on core functions of the organization, so that sufficient knowledge and understanding (including management) can be brought to bear on those core functions;
  • using technology to improve the speed of communication within the organization.
These days an organization can learn by improving its hardware and especially its software. Think for example of a company making commercial aircraft, which can improve its designs by buying the newest supercomputers and improving software to more accurately simulate the performance of an aircraft with a proposed design, or that can improve the computer aided design and manufacturing software, or that can more effectively use information and communication technology to manage its stocks and procurement.

I like to focus on the interfaces of an organization with its external world, and how they are institutionalized. For example, there is an interface with its customers and potential customers. The corporate website and e-sales have revolutionized this interface. Organizations can now learn by using the website to ask questions, and  software to improve the way the answers are understood; software can also allow the public to ask questions and to provide answers; improving the software can improve those answers.

Improving data collection and data mining techniques can help an organization learn about its output markets and input markets;. So too data collection and analysis can help an organization to learn about its regulators and how to influence the regulations those regulators seek to enforce. Indeed, choosing better consultants for this function, improving the data collection, and improving analytic software for this data can all be considered aspects of organizational learning.

Think of a health maintenance organization, especially a large one. These days medical records are online. Adding new diagnostic imaging devices might be seen as a form of organizational learning, since using the new images physicians might make better diagnoses or equally good diagnoses more cost-effectively. Think about analyzing massive record sets of signs and symptoms, diagnoses, treatment prescriptions, and outcomes and using the results to provide feedback, perhaps changing standard practice or providing real time suggestions to physicians in their processes of ordering tests, interpreting results, diagnosing health problems, and prescribing courses of treatment. Would this not represent organizational learning in the broad sense described above? Could not technology be used for other large organizations involved in complex but repetitive tasks?

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