Management of technological change

Management of technological change

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Prof Prabhakar Misra
Director, GIS Institute
[email protected]
Change is inevitable, whether it concerns individuals, organisations or societies. What we are concerned with is whether we can manage this change. This paper talks about management of the transfer of technology, which involves the active participation of user organisations and the technologists who make things happen (that are in the best interest of both the users and the technologists).

Management Model for Technology Transfer

We will concentrate here on technologic change and its effects. The management model presented here is heuristic and attempts to deal with technology change in a diagnostic manner. The proposed model is shown in Figure 1. In this model, five subsystems are enumerated:

  • defining needs/problems and their priorities
  • technology: the solution package
  • people: their culture, technical profile, level of competence and motivation
  • organisation: the structure, charter of duties, traditions, professional domain/ competition/ cooperation with other organisations.
  • government policies affecting technology, eg, restrictive policies, national priorities, major political events.

Identifying Technological needs of the user organisations

It is essential to complete this phase of activity before we specify or select the technology to be introduced, and we need to concentrate on real, not demands. It is the common experience of service organisations, such as the Forest Survey of India and Survey of India, etc, that user organisations formulate rather unrealistic objectives. In the Survey, a good example is the demand for very large-scale maps. What the user really needs is only a large working space and not a large-scale map. It should be realized that efforts to produce a large-scale map are many times greater than producing a simple enlargment. Another example is the demand for too frequent monitoring of physical phenomena. Forest monitoring every two years falls into this category. Requests for too many features or colours on the map are similar examples. Many more examples can be cited which are contrary to the surveying principle of “needless refinement need not be resorted to.”

Since the resources in government departments for surveys in India are limited and the private sector remains in infancy, the “demand” must be properly “massaged”, so to say, to arrive at the real needs. This is done by establishing a meaningful dialogue, preferably with a group of three of four persons at different hierarchial levels. Only thus can we identify the potential needs of organisations in a methodical manner.

Specifications of Products/Services
Products and services should primarily suit the “user” and not the “customer”. There is a lot of confusion about these two terms. The customer is that person who pays for the products and may not (generally does not) use the product himself. The “user”, on the other hand, really makes use of the products.

For example, the Wasteland Board of India ordered satellite images to be used for determining the wasteland around villages. The ultimate user was supposed to be the village official but turned out to be other organisations. The objective of extending satellite technology to the “user” remained partially operative.

Fig. 1: Management model for technology transfer
Further Refinement of user needs
This work is equivalent of doing market research by business organisations, who even spend substantial amounts of money by employing outside agencies. De Man (2) offered the following suggestions in this regard:

  • In order to identify users, an inventory should be made of existing flows and utilisation of data and information.
  • pilot surveys should be conducted in collaboration with the users to facilitate identifying the needs of the users.
  • the type of utilisation of products/services has a bearing on user needs; is the product needed for research, inventory, monitoring or evaluation.
  • the required degree of accuracy, precision and resolution in data should be identified.
  • support systems for the users should be identified, ie, logistics, availability of finance, training, etc.

Programmes and Plans – Deeper study
The five-year plans and annual plans of user departments in India are the best sources of information on long-range activities of these organisations. In addition, annual reports provide useful information on the levels of technology and productivity of the organisation. In fact, an annual report is the best source of information about the strength and most importantly whether the available infrastructure can absorb the technological change.

Priority of problems
It is most vital to know the priorities of the user’s problems for which the technologic package is to be designed. Priority can be generated by internal factors of the organisation, or it can be generated by external ones. For example, aid agencies such as the World Bank, FAO, etc, insist on certain types of maps for “assessments”. The demand of the World Bank then becomes a “priority” problem to be solved by the technology.

Technology – finding solutions for users problems
One of the keywords here is appropriateness. Introducing new technology is justified only on the basis of increasing productivity, the smoothness of operations, support to decision-making and to some extent, enhancement of the organisation’s image. Productivity can be measured according to the following four attributes: quality, quantity, cost and reliability.

Many conventional practices, including cost/benefit ratios can also be used for determining increases in productivity. The upshot of all this is that the “betterness” of a new technology is to be proved before it is adopted.

Acceptability, it seems, is the least concern of engineers and scientists. They feel that if a technology is right for society or an organisation, it should also be acceptable to them. In my experience, the “very right” may not be acceptable to the receiving organisation. It is possible (albeit not easy) to develop a more acceptable package/mix of technology if the subject is discussed thoroughly by the “donors of technology” and its users. Other considerations (mentioned elsewhere) affecting individuals in the change process have to be taken into account before a technology package is recommended. The element of acceptability is a complex one and does not often respond to very structured thought processes. There are many instances where acceptance or non-acceptance of technology has played a major role (if not havoc) in the introduction of new technology. It may be more prudent to transfer of technology in small doses rather than to pass on the latest know-how in one step.

The documentation of technology enables the reader to distinguish whether the technology is at production, operational, quasi-operational or at R & D stage. There are many instances where a technology while still at R & D stage is transferred as a production-level package.

A joint R & D programme between the donor and receiver is another way to transfer technology. In such a case the technology, in original or more often in modified form, is tested in actual conditions. The donor gains a better insight into the problems of the organisation. R & D projects between organisations of developing countries is another effective model.

People – Attitudes towards change
Values, norms, behaviour and attitudes of people have an impact on the transfer of technology. In many societies, the change process should be made deliberately slow because culturally the people are not used to rapid change. The rate of change must therefore be considered beforehand and has to be regulated at the most appropriate level. Slowness of change increases the acceptability of change. If the change is too fast, reactions can also be as fast and drastic. The Directorate of Land Records provides an encouraging example. The technology of rectifying aerial photographs was introduced successfully because of a well managed transfer by the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing. The changes even percolated to “patwari” (the lowest government functionary) level.

Research studies on the subject of change have defined various components of the manager’s role in organisation change. These include:

  • what the job involves
  • what the manager can do
  • what the manager achieves
  • what the manager knows

Stated rather simplistically, for practical decision making a “people profile” should be carefully made for each organisation. The important characteristics here are:

  • Individual traits (their values, norms, behaviour, compulsions and conflicts)
  • The ‘technologic health’ of the organisation (educational levels, technical and knowledge renewal policies and library habits)
  • Available equipment (computers, etc.)
  • Cooperation and collaboration with other organisations.

These are then ranked from highly desirable through favourable, neutral and not favorable to indifferent.

Factors belonging to the realm of organisation structure play an important role in the management of technological change. Technology transfer is affected by existing organisational structure and any infusion of new technology affects the organisation. The Survey of India (SOI), a traditional department (more than 235 years old) provides some interesting examples.

The introduction of photogrammetry in the early ‘50s increased productivity by 2.5 to 3 times in terms of manuscript maps. An office of the SOI, known as “party”, became capable of producing 22 to 24 map sheets per year, compared with a previous average of eight sheets. These eight sheets produced from conventional field methods used to be “fair drawn” (cartographic completion) in the summer and rainy seasons of about six months (April to September). Thus a party was balanced. The increased production of manuscript maps created a backlog in cartography. This situation could be solved only by SOI opening more drawing offices.

The introduction of GIS entails close cooperation between data-generating agencies. Since the data are multidisciplinary (and therefore multi-organisational), the decentralized structure of parties in Survey of India is not suitable for absorbing the latest computer information systems. Many new offices have been opened for the new technology of digital mapping, but a major chunk of SOI is untouched by this development.

Most traditional large organisations, are governed by a set of well established but traditional charters of duties or objectives. The Survey of India and the Geological Survey of India have become almost synonymous with the profession of surveying. and change is difficult to bring about unless the top leadership at SOI and the government decide about changes of objectives.

The transfer of new technology has to go through a large number of layers of decision makers. For example, there are about 600 important towns in India which need base maps for urban planners — almost “yesterday”. But there are only about 200 formally produced basemaps and guide maps. This shortfall, which has existed in India for the last four or five decades, has to been catered for by any department of the government of India. The reason: the task does not fall within the charter of any existing organisation. The Commission on Urbanisation therefore recommened in 1988 that a new organisation called the “Settlement Survey of India”, fill this gap.

The existence of various professional entities scattered all over the nation is always conducive to better absorption of technology. For example, geology and geomorphology are well represented in the universities, the government sector, the Geological Survey of India, Central Ground Water Board, the public sector such as the Mineral Exploration Corporation, and in various organisations at state level. This has resulted in good professional standards in almost all organisations. Additionally, the existence of a central programming board facilitates exchange of views and helps in desired changes of technology.

In contrast, there is a vast gap in the level of technology in surveying at central (SOI) and state cadastral/land records offices. The technology available at state level, with the exception of three or four states, is at an archaic level. There is no visible formal collaboration between state cadastral offices and SOI.

Policy Environment
There is no denying that the policy and legal environment has a profound bearing on the success or failure of the process of introducting a new technology. The absence of the right policy will create impediments in the implementation of change.

For example, aerial photography in India is governed by a policy of restriction — all aerial photographs are classified as secret. Permission from the Ministry of Defense has to be obtained at the time of flying and again after the photographs are completed, and then before release of maps derived from the photographs. The steps in filling out forms and their cumbersome follow-up have made many organisations and individuals give up this technology altogether.

The result is that orthophotomapping, which was introduced in the early ‘70s, died a quick death, and there is hardly any production of orthophotomaps. All this despite the need for base maps for some 600 important towns—and nothing could have solved this problem more elegantly than making use of aerial photography and its products.

Corporate Strategy for Change
The strategy or approach for management to technology change at organisation level is dictated by various factors mentioned above. In fact, all factors impinge on the strategy, so we must decide on their order of importance. Some relevant literature has appeared on this strategy, including the Mayo mode (3). This model deals with “pull” and “push” factors. Pull factors include the common public good, public receptivity, a clear mandate (legal) and timeliness. Push factors include the potential of the technology, the embedded base of technology, natural sequencing and standards.

There is also a case for using social marketing strategies. These include the four Ps of standard marketing strategy; product (technology), price (project cost), place (availability) and promotion (advertising and promoting). In our case, we can add: preparatory surveys of needs and problems (the right technology for each problem) and the actual performance of technology in a real organisation. This marketing model shows a lot of promise.

Timing is a very important and complex factor and can make or mar the smooth introduction of new technology. Many examples can be cited where wrong timing spoiled the changes of a new technology. In fact, a bad experiment acts as an “immunisation” against any future attempts.

For example, the absorption of the technology of aerial photography for producing cadastral maps was most timely in Madhya Pradesh because a large number of village (about 1500) did not have maps at all. The political leadership supported the change whole-heartedly. The result is that full-fledged production capacity is generated, which is using the latest technology of aerial photography and computers. Their organisation has become a pace-setter for India.

The literature on organisational development amply states the importance of the involvement of the highest echelon of the corporate body in the change process. Any attempt to introduce change at lower levels without involving top persons will entail more effort. Second, the change may not attract the right resources of priorities in the total working environment of the organisation. We have to be aware of the customer/user relationship. Thus the optimal climate is that change must be desired at all three levels: decision makers, professionals and technologists. A training programme for the introduction of a new technology must therefore take care that training/education is done simultaneously for all three levels. Further, the role of outsiders (interventionist/expert/change agent) cannot be underestimated for managing change of technology.

Faith (or the image of the change agent)
Management literature is almost bereft of this word “faith”. We, however, have observed that when a change is introduced by person (s) in whom the organisation has faith, it is done smoothly. The converse is also true. It should therefore be an important factor to be considered that if any new technology is to be handled, it must be done by that person or group of persons in whom the people have faith. The change agents have to be conscious of their faith image in their organisation.

Abridged and updated from the article ‘Transfer of remote sensing to users: an analysis of factors for the management of change’ published in ITC Journal 1993-3.