CEO's Role in IT-Driven Organizational Change

Article excerpt


This study is on the role of chief executive officers (CEOs) of large non-- dotcom companies undergoing major information technology (IT) induced organizational changes. Interviews were conducted with Australian CEOs to determine their perception of their role in IT induced organizational change. Two questions that this study answers are: How did CEOs provide leadership when dealing with issues beyond their area of technical expertise? How did CEOs perceive they influenced the effective use of IT? It was found that while the CEOs acknowledged their relatively low level of IT expertise, they felt they achieved technological leadership in the organization by providing the context for IT development. The activities they engaged in to provide such contexts were analyzed in terms of Mintzberg's managerial roles. The roles of the CEO were found to correspond with the managerial roles of Disseminator, Disturbance Handler and Resource Allocator. This has implications for the way IT managers in organizations interact with their CEOs, and for the role of CEOs in IT related issues.

The issue of how to improve information technology's organizational effectiveness lies at the heart of a significant number of studies in information systems (Allen and Scott Morton 1994; Applegate, Cash, and Mills 1988; Checkland and Holwell 1998; Earl 1989; Keen 1991a; Watson et al. 1997). Information systems research has approached the problem from the point of what can be done by information professionals to improve systems, technology, and operations. It has not taken into account the role of other stakeholders in the organization who have the power to affect technology outcomes. Studies of user satisfaction, user expectations, and user participation, exemplify recognition of the influence of 'others' in evaluating system performance and goal attainment (Barki and Hartwick 1994; McKeen, Guimaraes, and Wetherbe 1994; Nicholas 1991; Szajna and Scamell 1993) as does the soft systems approach (Checkland and Holwell 1998). In this paper we focus on the chief executive officer (CEO) as the stakeholder who represents the formal `project owner' in information systems development terms. The technological ignorance of CEOs has been cited in the information systems and management literature as a factor limiting their ability to (i) provide effective leadership of information technology (IT), (ii) to control technological projects, and (iii) to facilitate the successful implementation of IT (Allen and Scott Morton 1994; Applegate, Cash, and Mills 1988; Davenport, Hammer, and Metsisto 1989; Keen 1991b; Levine and Rossmore 1994; Scott Morton 1991).

"Most of our top management team really don't have a clue what to do about IT. They are at the mercy of the techies. They just nod their head and hope they don't show their ignorance." (Keen 1991 b:9)

However, not everyone accepts a causal link between CEOs' lack of technical competence and a weakness in their role as project owner. Though admitting less knowledge about IT than their technical subordinates, some CEOs strongly disagree with the premise. This paper argues that CEOs do not perceive their lack of IT specific knowledge as being a barrier to the effective use of technology in their organizations. Rather they see their role as ensuring that the context and parameters for the IT project remain foremost in the IT professionals' thinking. The strategies and tactics they employ to achieve this outcome can be mapped onto the definitive Mintzberg (1973) managerial roles as normative behavior of CEOs in the carrying out of their duties. The failure of IS professionals to consider as feasible, the technological leadership competence of a generalist model CEO, has led to tensions between them and the executive suite. This occurred in particular when technical staff did not allow the CEO to control the context of the IT development, either through the use of 'jargon' or through trying to submerge CEOs in what CEOs thought amounted to technological subterfuge. …


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