Resistance To Information Systems Changes

2/21/2005; 6:27 PM

The best part of working in the Information Technology sector is the diversity of hats one must wear on the job. This week as part of the testing phase of the leave management system we were asked to demonstrate the system to two potential power users of the system who have already implemented some scaled down leave systems of their own. What was supposed to be a normal product demo soon turned out into a one sided meeting with these two people trying to convince us why management should not ask them to discard their systems in favor of our new leave management system. This experience got me ranting and blogging about the buzz word of the moment in the organization – change.

It is very important to make a distinction between process change when the users are required to change their working practices and system change where the users are required to change their old system for a new one. In the first case resistance is two-fold because the users are being asked to change their work process (which is probably more difficult than actually changing the system) and also change their information systems or adopt one if it does not already exist. A case in point is the introduction of the Revenue Management System. In this case it is not the system that is generating all the commotion but rather the new work processes that must precede the implementation of the system. These types of systems are likely to be the most difficult and problematic to introduce because they involve the largest amount of change.

In the second case it is only the information system that is being changed so the challenge will probably be less than the first case. The change in this case can either be forced by external factors, for instance when a system is discontinued or not supported anymore, or else the old system no longer serves the business needs and the system must be replaced. From my current experience the latest case is generally the easiest to deal with in terms of change management and ease of transition because the user of the system himself wants change and initiates the change himself with a predisposed willingness to change.

The extent and reasons for resistance towards the introduction of new system is a diverse complex subject that manages to marry psychology, sociology and information systems. In the rest of this post I’m going to put forward some of my ideas on the subject based on my limited experience with different users vis-à-vis information systems. Note that I haven’t read literature on the topic yet and no hard facts are presented here.

Communicating the system
The introduction of a system can be considered to start as soon as its introduction is communicated to the users. Inevitably each individual is going to have a different preconception of the system being proposed and this preconception is likely to be affected with the way the new system is communicated to the user. It is interesting to analyze the different ways a new system can be communicated to a user, for instance formal presentations, informal discussions, corridor talk and gossip and what affect do the different methods have on the final acceptance of the system.

Presenting the system
Once the initial presentation of the system is made the user will start formulating an idea about the system based on the information gathered and his current experiences and knowledge. Again a variety of different factors play a role during this stage such as previous experience with the system supplier, experience with similar systems as well as knowledge about the particular domain.

Demonstrating the system
Apart from the preconception about the system per se the user will defiantly have in mind what the system is supposed to achieve. The potential usage and applicability of a system are normally reinforced with the first demonstration of the new system. During this stage the user will look for the commonality between the current system and the new proposed system. This is the first stage were the additional value the new system will bring should become apparent to address the shortcomings of the old system. At this stage the perceived value of the system from the user’s perspective should be made. The new application should provide enough value for the user to alleviate a little bit of the 'problems' with the change over. If the user does not see value in changing the system the resistance is likely to be higher.

Acceptance or rejection
Finally when the whole process of introducing a new system is complete one needs to determine when the user is considered to have accepted the system or adapted to the process being proposed? Are there some cases were the users are so ostensibly stubborn that they have to be actually changed in order to move forward with the new process?

These challenges and tasks in IT are what probably are keeping me at my current job. You get to deal with these different scenarios in sometimes very different problem domains that help you understand a global and more integrated picture of the whole workings of the company. In our case development is only a very small part of what we do, it is this change management and system introduction with all the challenges it brings to everyday life that make the whole thing worth doing.


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