Information Technology and the Corporation of the 1990s: Research Studies

Information Technology and the Corporation of the 1990s: Research Studies

Information Technology and the Corporation of the 1990s: Research Studies

Information Technology and the Corporation of the 1990s: Research Studies


This is a volume of previously unpublished research studies that were conducted during the Management in the 1990s project at the Sloan School of MIT. It is a companion volume to the principal book of the project, The Corporation of the 1990s: Information Technology and Organizational Transformation. This book is organized into three sections: the IT Revolution; Strategic Options; and The Organization and Management Response. Authors of the studies are among the most prominent of the Sloan School people, including Eric Von Hippel, Edgar Schein, Michael Piore, Paul Osterman, and Thomas Kochan. There are introductions to the volume and to the sections.


Michael J. Piore

Modern business organization has been a subject of social science research and theory at least since the mid-nineteenth century. in recent years, however, scholars have increasingly concentrated on a particular characterization of the modern enterprise. This characterization derives from the work of the business historian Alfred Chandler, as stylized and interpreted by Oliver Williamson. It is one of a vertically integrated, hierarchical organization, as contrasted with the egalitarian relations among units in a competitive marketplace. in the last decade, this organizational form has become a major focus of research even in theoretical economics, which in the past has been concerned primarily with markets.

Paradoxically, however, at the very moment that the Chandler-Williams model came to dominate research, the structural characteristics that it highlights came under more and more criticism in the managerial community, and in the decade of the 1980s, something of a revolution occurred in American managerial practice. This chapter attempts first to characterize the reforms in progress and then to assess them in the light of various hypotheses about the direction in which economic organization is headed. It is divided into two parts. the first part, which describes the basic changes, should be of interest even to those people who are not involved in the theoretical debates on which the second part is centered and to those who come to those debates with a perspective different from mine.

The empirical material that this chapter reports--and some of the theoretical insights--was gathered through open-ended interviews with engineers and managers in several of the companies participating in MIT's Management in the 1990s Program. These companies operate in a variety of different industries, but they are clearly not a representative sample of American business enterprise. the most obvious bias of the group is the very large size of the companies and the fact that most of them have a special interest in information technology, as either producers or exceptionally large consumers thereof. But even a cursory reading of the business press suggests that the organizational reforms in which these companies are engaged are widespread, and from this point of view, the companies might in fact be quite typical of . . .

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