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Standardisation and Organisational Knowledge


Organisational Knowledge, Standardisation, Knowledge Transfer


Our work is concerns the need to address the dynamics of standardisation (encompassing both the formation and implementation of standardisation). Our analyses have drawn the attention to the contradictory implications of standardisation efforts. The visible alignment process thus initiated may, at least in the short term, encounter or set into play resistance and obduracy in the organisation s socio-technical systems. Discrepancies between standard schema and local practice (rooted in existing heterogeneities in information structures and practices) mean that the introduction of standardisation which can yield a sense of increasing general accountability, scrutiny and control over distant activities may also be accompanied by a loss of local focus and detail oversight. This may be a source of new undependabilities. The contradictory effects of standardisation efforts go to the heart of questions of trust and in particular the notion that standardised information structures and practices can resolve the problems of trust in complex and (spatially and culturally) dispersed organisational settings.

The impossibility of guaranteeing the thrustworthiness of elements outside direct scrutiny (the fact that intended immutable mobiles are neither wholly immutable or mobile) does not mean that standardisation is doomed to failure. Indeed comparing the very different organisational settings of health care and high technology industry highlighted the influence of sustained efforts geared towards informatisation , formalisation and standardisation efforts in the latter cases. The outcomes of past alignment attempts provide the foundations for current standardisation. We also note that differences in approach, entrenched in earlier local standardisations, may constitute a barrier to subsequent alignment. This again points to the double-edged character of standardisation.

Two sets of recommendations can be drawn for practice. The first is for Information Systems designers. Once we acknowledge that local meanings and practice matter, the challenge becomes how to cater for diversity/heterogeneity in culture and practice and design systems that allow for local flexibility whilst at the same time continuing to perform a strong coordinating function. A corollary is that designers also need to conceive systems that enable an organisation to align with change over time.

The second set of recommendations concerns management practice; the challenge in this case is the need to enforce standards while taking into account the different levels and types of heterogeneities and need for differentiation that are specific to each individual organisational context. The principal challenge for managers remains how to decide, on an ad-hoc basis, what form of coordination (i.e. high level coordination by enforcing a standard interface vs. emergent local coordination by groups of practitioners) as well as what extent of coupling (strong coupling, or elimination of diversity vs. loose coupling or the coordination of diversity) can be appropriate to an organisation, in relation to the complexity of its environment, the nature of its cognitive and governance structures and the quality and type of its outputs. This is an interesting - and challenging - issue that deserves to be systematically explored in future work.





[1] Luciana D'Adderio. Configuring Software, Reconfiguring Memories: the Influence of Integrated Systems on the Reproduction of Knowledge and Routines. Industrial and Corporate Change , Volume 12 , Issue 2 , pp. 321-350 , 2003.

[2] Luciana D'Adderio. Inside the Virtual Product: How Organisations Create Knowledge Through Software. Edward Elgar, 2003.

[3] Luciana D'Adderio. Configuring software, reconfiguring memories: the influence of integrated systems on knowledge storage, retrieval and reuse. In Proceedings of the 2002 ACM Symposium on Applied Computing, SAC 2002, March 11-14 2002, Madrid, Spain, pp. 726-731.

[4] Gillian Hardstone, Luciana d Adderio and Robin Williams. Standardization, Trust and Dependability. In Karen Clarke, Gillian Hardstone, Mark Rouncefield and Ian Sommerville (eds), Trust in Technology: A Socio-Technical Perspective, Kluwer, 2005.


Massimo Felici (Edinburgh)


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