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Northwestern Shares Best Practices

Leaders discuss successful technology, process and people in daylong seminar

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April 3, 2013 | by Emily Osborne

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Companies that adopt new technologies often don’t get it right, according to Northwestern professor Paul Leonardi, who gave the keynote speech at the University’s sixth annual Best Practices Forum

Sponsored by provost Dan Linzer and senior vice president for business and finance Gene Sunshine, the daylong forum held on March 27 brought together leaders from across the University to share practical examples of successful technology, process and people solutions.

Organized by the Office of Change Management, the forum featured 10 concurrent sessions that showcased innovative practices being implemented across the University, covering everything from records management to assessment of student learning outcomes to improving the visitor center experience at the Kellogg School of Management. The Best Practices Forum attendance was at a record high of 210 participants.

Professor Paul Leonardi’s lunchtime presentation was titled “Not What We Planned! First and Second Effects of Technology Use in Organizations.”  

For his keynote, Leonardi, an associate professor in the departments of communication studies and of industrial engineering and management sciences, shared insights from his research about how companies can create organizational structures and employ advanced information technologies to more effectively create and share knowledge. 

He cited his research on a large automaker and a major financial services company to demonstrate the unanticipated second-order effects that determine whether technology implementation will be successful. The evolution of the automaker’s new captive offshore center in India was a prime example of unanticipated effects that worked both to the company’s advantage and disadvantage, he said. 

The offshore center received engineering jobs from across the globe, allowing a beneficial comparison of operations, and became the leading plant in best practices -- an effect that astounded the company. At the same time, unanticipated communication and cultural barriers adversely affected the understanding of new technology implementation. 

At the financial services company, the implementation of a social networking website to eliminate duplicate work led to workers seeking advice from junior employees related to their expertise and produced a shift in employees’ responsibilities. The shift also led to unexpected tensions within the company that could otherwise have been mitigated with planning for second-order effects, Leonardi said. 

“Seventy to 75 percent of all new technology implementation efforts fail,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that the technology doesn’t work. It fails because it doesn’t produce the organization-wide changes we were hoping for. If we can anticipate the second-order effects, then we can increase the success rate of new technology implementation.”

In this age of advancing technologies, Leonardi offered advice that would translate to any organization. 

“It is important to develop a framework for thinking about how new technologies produce the effects we want and the strategies that will facilitate employees in adopting these technologies so that they see immediate improvements in their jobs,” he said. 

Leonardi shared how data-intensive technologies, such as simulation and social media tools, enable new ways to access, store and share information, how the new sources of information these technologies can provide can change work routines and communication partners, and how shifts in employees’ work and communication alter the nature of an organization’s expertise.

Best practices sessions follow:

• Off the Page and Onto OnBase: Filling Records Management Process Gaps With an Existing University Resource

• Work-Integrated Learning as a Unique Approach to the Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes

• Program Evaluation: Assessing What’s Working, What’s Not, and Why Process Improvement: A Lean Six Sigma Solution to Building a Research Cost Recovery Model

• The Kellogg Touch -- Improving the Visitor Experience at the Kellogg School of Management

• A New Paradigm of Collaboration

• Successful Policy Development at Northwestern

• Achieving Operational Dexterity: Evolving the Administrative Operating Model in an Age of Collaboration and Innovation

• Creating Community Among Faculty and Staff: Building Bridges With ‘Bio-Breaks’ -- Faculty Lunchtime Lectures for Staff

• A Model for Process Improvement: Collaboration Among Central, College, and Department Units -- Partnering to Create a Holistic Research Community