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The impact of organisational change on the role of the systems analyst

By Valerie Flynn


A major theme in the IS literature in recent years has been the dramatic\ud impact of changes in technology and the business environment on the\ud roles and skills of IS professionals. The British Computer Society (BCS)\ud and other authorities suggest that roles are becoming broader and that\ud demand is growing for a new breed of hybrid managers who possess a wide\ud range of technical, business and organisational competences.\ud Although it is recognised that there are constraints on developing hybrids,\ud little research has been carried out on the nature of these constraints or on\ud the impact of organisational change on IS roles. It was to fill this gap in\ud the literature, and provide data that would be of value to practising\ud managers, that the research presented in this thesis was undertaken.\ud The main aims of the research were: (i) To explore the impact of change on\ud the roles of a group of systems analysts; (ii) to examine the systems\ud analysts' perception of the effects of change on their role and (iii) to\ud determine whether there were any factors impeding the hybridisation of\ud the analyst's role. Analysts were selected as the focal group for many\ud reasons but mainly that their role requires hybrid competences and they\ud would therefore be a good group to examine the strength of the forces\ud for / against change.\ud The decision to focus on the analysts' perceptions was to gauge individual\ud reactions to change. Since the individual's perception of events is likely to\ud influence their behaviour, it was reasoned that if the analysts' perceived\ud change to have negative consequences, their attitude may be a constraint\ud on hybridisation and on organisational change. It would therefore be of practical value to gain a clearer understanding of the analysts' view of the\ud change process.\ud The case study approach was used to examine the impact of change on the\ud analyst's role. Although other methods could have been used, the case\ud study would permit detailed analysis of the process of organisational\ud change and provide an effective means of accessing the analysts'\ud perceptions of the impact of change. The research was carried out in five\ud organisations: three in the financial services sector and two in the retail\ud sector. The decision to base the research in a number of companies and\ud different sectors was to examine differences between organisations and to\ud illuminate the impact of contextual factors.\ud Financial services and retail organisations were considered an appropriate\ud choice for the research because they tend to rely heavily on IT and have\ud been subject to very rapid sectoral change over the last few years. The BCS\ud maintains that these are the conditions in which hybrid managers are\ud most likely to emerge. If the organisations selected fulfilled the Society's\ud criteria and the roles of the analysts were technically defined, this would\ud point to constraints on hybridisation.\ud To analyse the impact of organisational change on roles a theoretical\ud framework was developed which identified the factors that influence roles\ud and explained the dynamics of the change process. A distinction was\ud drawn between factors in the outer context (macro-environmental,\ud sectoral and occupational factors) and the inner context (the organisation\ud and individual role encumbents). These factors were reconfigured in\ud terms of Lewin's fields of force model to suggest how organisational\ud change and change in roles may come about.\ud Thirty-five systems analysts took part in the research. The impact of\ud change was examined over a period of six years (1989-1995), the average\ud length of the analysts' tenure in the participating companies. Data was\ud collected using a variety of methods, including a self-administered\ud questionnaire, interviews with analysts and their IS and Personnel\ud Managers and examination of company documents.\ud In spite of the dramatic changes that had taken place in the case study\ud organisations, the findings reveal that three continued to define the\ud analyst's role in technical terms. Two had broadened the roles of the\ud analysts but there were still constraints on the extent of change. These\ud constraints included the structure and culture of the organisation, the\ud strategies for managing the IS department/division, the emergence of new\ud occupational groups and the analyst's own orientation to their role.\ud The research suggests that the impact of change on the analyst's role may\ud vary between organisations and reflect the influence of contextual factors;\ud that dramatic organisational change does not necessarily create conditions\ud that are conducive to developing hybrids and that there may be significant\ud constraints on bringing about change in the analyst's role.\ud The thesis provides empirical data on the impact of change on roles and\ud helps to explain some of the reasons companies may be experiencing\ud difficulty developing hybrids. Although it helps to fill a gap in the IS\ud literature, it is suggested that more contextual/interpretive studies are\ud needed on the constraints on hybridisation in different organisations and\ud on different occupational groups

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