University of Southern California

Ann Majchrazk
Title
Connecting Technology, People, and Organizations
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majchrza@usc.edu

Although I’m formally referred to as a Professor of Information Systems, my PhD is in Social Psychology. As a social psychologist, I focus on how technology is embedded in a social context. My perspective probably stems from vivid memories I had of my working class father coming home at night complaining how managers and engineers would bring in new technology to improve productivity without thinking through how the technology affected my father’s job, his skills, and how he worked with others in the organization. As I do my research, then, I constantly think of how I can avoid his frustrations for future workers – whether the workers are a team of an engineer and analyst trying to collaborate virtually, machinists trying to meet a production schedule, or top management teams making decisions about how they can use a new information system to push a new strategic direction.

As I do my research, it’s not the technology alone that interests me but the choices that are made about fitting the functions, features, and rollout of new Technologies; with the Organizational mission and culture in which the technology is used; and with the skills, responsibilities and interests of the People in the organization that are using the technology (I call this TOP fit). My research on technologies for virtual collaboration, production floor, knowledge management, and engineering design has repeatedly shown that the better the TOP elements fit (i.e., support) each other, the more successful the organization. Moreover, since TOP elements are always hard to predict exactly, the more that workers and managers understand the TOP elements, the better they are able to make the right adjustments to help the organization after the technology is deployed.

Yet too often the Organization and People issues are ignored when technology is deployed, to detrimental effects. Virtual collaborators using collaborative tools end up failing to be as innovative as their managers expected them to be. Knowledge fails to transfer quickly between employees despite investment in knowledge management systems. Large enterprise integration information systems fail to speed up getting orders processed, sometimes leading to bankrupting the company itself! Marketing analysts get so much information from their customer relationship management system that they are stymied about how to use the information. In my research on corporate use of wikis, I’ve observed new roles (which I call “shapers”) that become critical to the success of the wiki community, and yet many managers do not support employees spending time on these new roles. So, I’m passionate in my speeches to managers, in my classes, and in my research about articulating and persuading others of the value of the TOP fit perspective.

With every new technology, there’s a different optimal TOP fit. So my research is never dull and never done. However, there are certain questions that I would particularly want to answer. How can we bring in technology without putting people out of work? How can we better utilize technology to help solve major social problems? Why do managers continue to believe that technology is the answer to a problem when the evidence (mine and others) continues to indicate that technology alone is rarely the answer? It is these sorts of questions that keep me focused on my research.

Ann Majchrzak has been a professor at the Marshall School of Business since 1997. She teaches classes on managing the digital revolution in business and business information systems analysis and design, both classes on integrating information systems technology into organizations. Her publications include such books as The Human Side of Factory Automation, as well as articles in such journals as Organization Science, Information Systems Research, IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, Management Science, MIS Quarterly, Harvard Business Review, and Sloan Management Review. She has served on 3 National Academy of Sciences Committees and is currently Senior Editor at both Organization Science and MIS Quarterly. Emails can be sent to majchrza@usc.edu; see www-rcf.usc.edu/~majchrza