Information overload challenges faced by organizations can only be tackled effectively through changing both the social and technical systems. All organizations deal with information as part of their crucial resources that sustain their operations. However, the information also proves to be a challenge, particularly where it becomes too much and ends up causing confusion to the organization. As Green (2010) asserts, information is categorized into numerous classes; including data, which refers to the unprocessed information, while knowledge refers to how the data and information is applied. Wisdom is the evaluated understanding that takes consideration of the entire information details for current and future use. The presence of an organizational system that helps in harnessing and managing information eradicates the possibilities of overload. Any organization that receives data and manages to process it effectively succeeds in becoming a learning organization. In other words, while the technical system helps in the harnessing of the information, the social system plays a critical role of interpreting and eventual processing.
How Changes to Organizational Socio-technical Systems helps to Avert Information Overload
The contemporary organization operates in a highly complex environment where technology and innovation have availed a lot of equipment and tools to aid in the communication process. There is efficiency in communication flow as individuals working in the organization receive information in real time and precisely as can be anticipated. The Internet connectivity has virtually eliminated the limitations to information access. However, this has equally brought about the challenge of information overload. The endless bombardment with new information that individuals face affects their ability and preparedness to tackle it effectively.
Blair (2010a) explains the fact that failure of people to deal with a new continuous stream of information results in both anxiety and stress. The resulting overload of information affects employees by distracting their understanding of the organizational priorities because individuals also constitute the organizations that we are aware of. In essence, workers are losing their focus to understand the critical priorities needed to achieve business objectives.
However, initiating changes in the socio-technical system is critical in addressing the challenge because it focuses fully on the entire organization. It eliminates a scenario where several organizational pockets may encounter information overload, while others may suffer from lack of adequate information (Bellinger, Castro & Mills, 2004). The social system requires knowledge sharing throughout the organization as a way of determining which specific areas require attention in as far as the processing of the information is concerned. Employees require integrated experience, contextual information, values, as well as expert insight that, in turn, allow them to incorporate new information and experiences. This highlights the critical role played by the social system in helping to alleviate information overload.
In other words, what originates in the minds of the employees is very important to consider while seeking for a solution to this challenge. A certain state of the mind is created as the individual employee faces a barrage of information. This state refers to the knowledge gained that focuses on sustaining the individual and his plans to enlarge their personal knowledge. The expanded personal knowledge, in turn, is applied to address the organization’s needs (Bellinger, Castro & Mills, 2004). Practicing this acquired knowledge on a daily basis enables the organization to integrate it within its system. In essence, it becomes part of the norms, routines, practices, and process. Social interactions within the organization, therefore, enhance the search for knowledge among the employees.
Human beings must get involved in supporting processes to create, transfer, share, as well as receive organizational knowledge (Levinson, 2010). Knowledge management helps in actualizing these targets and objectives. This helps the organization to pursue its main objective of attaining economic wealth, creating additional values, and increasing the general performance. Organizations manage to create more value from the knowledge-based assets and their intellectual composition through the knowledge management process, as Levinson (2010) observes.
No organization will manage to share its knowledge and ideas and consequently integrate the knowledge within its larger organizational framework without an effective social system. The organization will fail to create the much-needed competitive advantage, even if it has highly skilled employees within its workforce. The information already captured and existing within the organization needs to be spread out or shared effectively among the workers to generate uniform advantages for the organization as a whole.
In general, the social approach emphasizes the crucial role played by human beings in allowing the organization to create value. The organization must develop and implement strategies that target to motivate people as a way of storing and sharing knowledge. However, this only covers one important aspect about addressing the problem of information overload in the organization. While the social system requires strengthening, the technical system must equally be transformed at the same time. Addressing the social system while ignoring the technical system deprives the organization of the needed comprehensive ability to eliminate the information overload challenges fully. Similarly, a technical system alone would not help the organization in addressing its information overload challenges, unless it is combined with the social system to form a social-technical system (Levinson, 2010).
The Technical System
The technical systems play a crucial role in enabling the organization to deal with its information needs. The information superhighway, or the Internet, is the most elaborate of the technical systems that aid organizations to access information at any instance for use in seeking to achieve its objectives. Individuals are able to view details that they are looking for by a mere click of a simple button. The information is borrowed and applied to sustain the organizational running (Green, 2010). Computer systems also help in storing the information systematically as it awaits usage by the organization.
The organization cannot be everywhere at all the times to capture the information it needs. Instead, it makes use of the elaborate technical systems to acquire the information at a lower cost and a faster rate. The information is, thereafter, stored in special storage systems and strategically accessed whenever the needs arise. The technical systems, such as printing machines and equipment, enable a larger cross-section of the organization to access the relevant information that they require (Blair, 2013a). This improves their performance through improved personal knowledge and information. In other words, the technical system makes it easy for the organization to acquire information from the environment where it operates and save the same for its future use. Absence of the technical system implies that information flow and capture would be slow for organizations. Consequently, decisions that rely on such information would delay and affect the capability of the organization to realize its objectives.
The Socio-Technical System
The combination of both the social and technical systems within an organization offers a significant insight that allows the organization to address its performance within its complex environment. People and technology interrelations, however, do not necessarily imply that organizations should resort to installing new technologies for purposes of solving inherent performance challenges. Instead, a social-technical system needs to be considered as a diagnostic tool that helps in uncovering the underlying causes affecting performance. The people in the organization and the technology in question must be aligned together for any social-technical system to perform its anticipated roles effectively. Liu and Errey (2006) mention the diagnostic power of the social-technical system, emphasizing on how it helps the organization to acquire the right technology for its operations.
There has to be a balance between the social and technical aspects in the organization for the organizations to benefit from the advantage of the two. The socio-technical approach, therefore, is important in helping to construct a system that has the capabilities of adapting to the external changes, self-modification, and maximizing on the creative capabilities of the individuals (Bellinger, Castro & Mills, 2004). A combination of all these factors works towards benefiting the organization in terms of enabling it to achieve its objectives.
The actual change that the organization needs to pursue to address information overload does not only entail storing data and information for use by the organization (Liu & Errey, 2006). Instead, it points at the need for empowering people with the capability to make quality decisions on behalf of the organization. While knowledge management involves people making decisions concerning which piece of information should be processed and how it should be processed, the technical system overly determines the knowledge management initiative success.
Counterarguments against Socio-technical Approach
Achieving an efficient social-technical system for the organization is almost impossible. People and machines or technologies are two aspects that cannot be aligned to achieve a resourceful outcome. Although the proponents of the socio-technical approach strive to identify the importance of each aspect individually, their insistence on aligning the two to obtain an elaborate system is impractical.
Firstly, the modern day technology is undergoing very fast transformation, which is difficult to keep pace with, particularly for the organization’s employees (Blair, 2010b). It requires employees of the organization to undergo continuous training to understand how best to utilize technology. However, this is equally impossible, given the short survival durations of the technologies. Managing the social-technical system to perfection in the organization is an almost impossible task because the person controlling the system must possess very high knowledge and experience in the same. Gaining this knowledge and experience, however, is subject to the highly changing technical landscape.
Secondly, social-technical systems constitute two independently existing systems in the organization; that is, the social and the technical systems. This implies that for the organization to establish a highly reliable and performing socio-technical structure, it has to work on both its social and technical systems first (Blair, 2010b). All systems, techniques, structures, and models that sustain human integration and coordination in the organization must be in place and fully functioning. In the same breath, all tools, equipment, and methods used by the individuals in executing their roles must be in good state and well maintained all the time. The different areas whose composition and requirements are different from each other make it difficult to achieve harmony. The quality of the resultant socio-technical system will be affected where the social system has a slight difficulty while the social system is operational, or vice versa. It, therefore, demands that at any given time, both the social and technical systems have to be performing at their maximum level. However, this is difficult to achieve.
Thirdly, the social system in an organization has its own different immediate objectives and goals that vary from those of the technical system. Although both systems work towards achieving the overall organizational objectives, they differ on their immediate targets owing to the structural components involved. This variation may not make it easy for the social-technical approach to be effective in addressing information overload (Bellinger, Castro & Mills, 2004). The clash of interests and the general structure poses a big challenge for the organization.
Changes to the social-technical system offer an effective ability for organizations to address the challenge of information overload that currently bedevils them. Organizations are made up of both the social and technical systems, thus combining the two offers a more comprehensive response to the challenge. The social system mainly comprises of the people in the organization and the ways they obtain and disseminate information and knowledge. On the other hand, the technical system involves the tools and methods, including computers and procedures, which are employed towards achieving organizational goals and objectives. Aligning these two systems ensures that the organization generates the maximum capability to address the problem of information overload that may afflict its performance. Implementing changes on only one aspect, either the social system or the technical system, denies the organization the full potential to address this challenge. A changed social system that operates together with an unchanged technical system, or vice versa, will give room for the information overload menace to continue affecting performance.
Bellinger, G., Castro, D., & Mills, A. (2004). Data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. the way of systems. Web.
Blair, A. (2010a). Illustrations by Julie Delton for the Chronicle review. The Chronicles of Higher Education. Web.
Blair, A. (2010b). Information overload, then and now. The Chronicle of Higher Education Review. Web.
Green, P. (2010). Social media is challenging notions of the data, information, knowledge, wisdom (DIKW) hierarchy. CMS Wire. Web.
Levinson, M. (2010). Knowledge management definition and solutions. Web.
Liu, X, & Errey, C. (2006). Socio-technical systems – there’s more to performance than new technology. PTG Global. Web.