For decades, researchers have embarked on identifying the various factors that influence the efficiency of organizations. Traditionally, such factors would be divided into internal and external elements, respectively. However, in modern times, such classification may be inappropriate because the contemporary organization is influenced by multiple complex factors. This change has been occasioned by the entry of information technology (IT) as a major determining factor of the organization’s overall health. All companies are designed to increase their chances of success by bringing together important resources. The ability to utilize these resources efficiently determines whether the organization will achieve its strategic goals. As Ashkenas, Ulrich, Jick, and Kerr (2015) point out, IT has dramatically transformed the business landscape by affecting the various ways by which resources are acquired and utilized. Even though the internal environment (organizational culture and business strategies) influence how IT is utilized in an organization, the impact of information technology on the organization is much stronger. In other words, IT not only affects a company’s strategic options but also establishes opportunities/issues that traverse the various aspects of the business. This paper will focus on the impact of information technology on the structural and contextual dimensions of Zayed University.
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Traditionally, the analysis of the business environment was categorized into external and internal factors (Brodar, KlačmerČalopa, & Pihir, 2009). Internal factors included goals and strategies, size, employees, and technology, while external factors involved aspects of the market, technological advancement, and the general business environment. However, as Brodar et al. (2009) explain, the above classification has since been rendered inefficient in modern times following the existence of factors that cut across the structural and contextual dimensions of an organization. The structural dimension of an organization refers to concepts that point to the internal environment of the organization. On the other hand, contextual factors refer to issues that determine the structure of an organization, for instance, size, technology, objectives, and strategy. Figure 1 in the appendix section illustrates the aspects that constitute both structural and contextual factors in an organization. Some factors, such as IT, are both structural and contextual. Importantly, Brodar et al. (2009) explain that IT affects both structural and contextual aspects of the business. To begin with, IT influences the business strategy by altering aspects such as time and distance required to complete a task.
Communication is an essential determinant of efficiency in an organization. For this reason, organizations strive to maintain effective channels to facilitate both horizontal and vertical communication. With information communication technology (ICT), services such as email have emerged, thus making it easy to communicate both internally and externally. Advanced communication tools facilitate the making and communication of decisions. For instance, video conferencing enables meetings to be conducted without gathering physically, hence saving time that can then be used to implement decisions (Ashkenas et al., 2015). Additionally, by enabling firms to carry out electronic commerce, IT transforms the business strategy. Another structural aspect of the organization affected by IT is the organizational culture.
Organizational culture refers to the dominant practices, such as the modes of communication and the hierarchy of power. As Daft (2012) illustrates, IT facilitates networking, which in turn causes information to flow freely across the entire organization. As a result, networking becomes easy to the extent of leading to the emergence of virtual corporations. Advanced IT systems have the ability to capture and process information with the view of establishing new ideas. This process is known as Transaction Processing (TP). IT also supports the decision-making process by making it possible to make complex decisions. A decision support system (DSS) is an IT component that handles non-structured problems with the aim of coming up with a tangible solution. It works hand in hand with artificial intelligence systems to assist the user in creating information. The Online Analytical Process (OLAP) is a component of the DSS that analyzes difficult and/or detailed tasks with the goal of issuing actionable feedback.
Another importance of IT is the ability to manage large data systems in an organization (Daft, 2012). Written documents are an essential part of an organization. The presence of such documents raises the issue of how best they should be stored. Organizations keep written records of procedures, employee information, regulations, policies, and job descriptions (Brodar et al., 2009). Before IT became common, organizations relied on the traditional paper-file system, which was both tedious and prone to the risk of data loss. For instance, in the event of a fire, files that contained large chunks of important information would be lost (Ashkenas et al., 2015). This problem has been eliminated by the ability to store information in tiny memory chips and/or the creation of many backups. Additionally, through IT, extensive records of data can be sorted and arranged according to their relevance, hence making their retrieval easy. Virtual data management has also enabled organizations to save on office space. In the past, large organizations would have to rent an entire warehouse to store their old physical files, thus resulting in high overhead costs.
Description and Context of Organization (Zayed University)
Zayed University is a government-sponsored institution in the United Arab Emirates. Established in 1998, it is named after the founder of the nation, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was also the first president of the UAE. Zayed University has six colleges, including the College of Information Technology. Between 1998 and 2008, the university was admitting female students only, although this situation has changed. The institution accepts both male and female students of local and foreign nationality. To ensure high-quality education, ZU has entered into collaborations with numerous universities across the world. They include the Al-Maktoum Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (Scotland), Waseda University (Japan), Antonio Genovesi Salerno (Italy), and Complutense de Madrid (Spain). Additionally, Zayed University was the first institution of higher learning in the UAE to become internationally accredited. Importantly, in 2013, the university received accreditation for its technological courses from the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB). AACSB monitors and regulates school-based research across the world in the field of technology. Presently, Zayed University is engaged in efforts to build innovativeness through information technology. The focus on IT in management is expected to uplift the institution to a higher level in the world of education. For instance, by integrating IT into research, Zayed University hopes to make significant strides in the said field while seeking to provide practical solutions to the problems facing the UAE.
Analysis/Discussions (Impact of IT on organizational elements/characteristics)
This section will discuss/analyze how information technology has influenced the organization of Zayed University. Having been founded much recently, the institution had not lived through the era when formalization was purely by way of paperwork. Notwithstanding, the institution has been shaped immensely by IT in areas such as size, formalization, and organizational goals.
Formalization. The paper filing system has been gradually replaced with virtual data systems at Zayed University. This advancement has been made possible through the installation of efficient information systems and databases. The various colleges and departments at the university are moving toward keeping electronic records of their students. As well, the HR department at the institution is dedicated to establishing paper-free employee records as a way of increasing organizational efficiency. Presently, the amount of space being used to store student and employee records is large. This situation has motivated the management to look for ways to minimize the use of physical storage space. In turn, the move furthers the institution’s goals of improving sustainability by avoiding the usage of paper, which is obtained by cutting down trees. Sustainability can also be enforced in the sense that electronic records are cheaper to maintain relative to the paper systems. Furthermore, Brodar et al. (2009) argue that the risk of electronic records becoming irreparably damaged is minimal, unlike paper records. The safety of electronic records is ensured by the fact that they can be backed up in multiple locations.
Hierarchy of Authority. A president, who is the UAE’s minister of higher education and scientific research, heads ZU. The president has the overall role of setting the vision of all universities and colleges in the UAE, as well as approving senior appointments in these institutions. Directly beneath the president is the University Council, whose primary role is to advise the president. ZU’s council consists of prominent leaders in the country. Besides advising the president, the council monitors the implementation of policies, approves the institution’s budget and senior appointments, and/or issues certificates and degrees to students. The Vice President is the Chief Executive Officer at the university. As such, he is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the institution. He or she must be a UAE national of distinguished academic qualification, given the nature of his or her duties. Just below the Vice President, is the Provost, whose duty is to supervise all academic matters across the institution. The Provost works closely with the Associate and Assistant Provosts. The Provost, assisted by the Assistant Provosts, has the duty to promote governance by exercising oversight upon the Deans to the various colleges.
The leadership at Zayed University has numerous vertical layers, as observed above. While Information technology has had the effect of facilitating communication, it has not helped to flatten the organization’s leadership. Hence, power remains centralized, with the Vice President having the most say in the administrative matters of the university. Notwithstanding, IT has made it easy for information to be communicated across various ranks of power simultaneously. This situation has the impact of flattening the leadership to some extent. As IT becomes entrenched in the organizational structure of ZU, it is expected that the hierarchy will become flattened because lower-level employees will be able to utilize information received to make decisions without supervision by seniors due to IT. With efficient information systems, managers can supervise large numbers of employees because decision-making becomes decentralized. In other words, lower-ranking officials are allowed to make more decisions because systems have already been put in place to support decision-making.
The Environment. The learning environment in the UAE is largely influenced by the emerging trends in information technology. One important area that has been shaped by IT is research. As a leading higher learning institution in the UAE, Zayed University must keep up with the current trends in the field of research, particularly the use of IT to promote research. IT enables the sharing of information across the institution, a situation that has boosted collaboration. For instance, with IT, it has become possible for researchers from different universities to collaborate with co-author journals and other academic materials. Materials with multiple authors are often cited more because they appear credible. As well, nowadays, universities are being ranked based on their advancement in research, hence encouraging institutions to demonstrate their best skills. Through collaboration in research, Zayed University has produced important research publications.
The growth of IT has resulted in social development within the university by allowing students and the general Zayed University community to access valuable information through online and social media platforms. For example, the Injazat Data Systems provides an online forum where young UAE nationals can access information that is geared toward helping them to gain technical proficiency. At Zayed University, Injazat Data Systems is seen as a tool for promoting sustainable national development through empowering the youths by way of access to information. In 2013, Injazat held several conferences at the university’s College of Technological Innovation to increase the awareness of students regarding the use of information technology (Edarabia, 2012). Through the efforts of Injazat and other similar forums, IT is shaping the internal and external environment of Zayed University.
Size. The adoption of IT in the organization has led to the elimination of some traditional jobs such as the mailman, typists, and record keepers. In addition, some advanced robots can perform tasks that were the reserve of human employees a few years ago. At Zayed University, the transition into IT has eliminated the need for some traditional positions, thus causing the number of employees to reduce. For instance, with the elimination of paper-based filing system, record keepers have been replaced by a few IT specialists. Overall, the size of the organization has reduced the number of employees.
Organizational Technology. Before the industrial revolution, people were valued based on the trade they specialized in, for instance, blacksmiths. After the industrial revolution, machines took over the repetitive tasks that were originally performed by people. As a result, a knowledge economy emerged toward the end of the 20th century, where people were valued based on their specialized knowledge. Technology has transformed how some operations are carried out at the university. For instance, students today are taught using PowerPoint and projectors, as opposed to whiteboards, as it was the case a few years back. In addition, students prepare and post their assignments in soft copy, as opposed to being handwritten. These transformations have occurred at ZU due to technology. In most institutions, technology is viewed as a tool that facilitates the increase of output by promoting efficiency. Another area that has been affected by technology is research. As explained earlier, with improvement in technology, research has become more efficient. In addition to collaboration, it has become possible to reach numerous research participants by using online research tools such as the Google Questionnaire. An online survey guarantees privacy to the participants. In addition, IT eliminates the cost and time spent traveling to meet the participants. Instead, such resources can be redirected into promoting efficiency in research.
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Goals and Strategy. Information technology has shaped ZU’s goals and strategies. Today, part of the university’s mission is to churn out students who possess vast skills in information technology. With the trend in learning, having shifted toward technological advancement, the university offers basic courses in IT for all its students. At the same time, much attention has been granted to the College of Technology, which is preparing future professionals in the various fields of technology. Generally, the UAE focuses on technology as the chief approach to solving the country’s present and future problems. Indeed, the UAE’s emphasis on technology can be observed in the unique architectural designs that are used to build the country’s most famous structures. Given that Zayed University is the leading public institution of higher learning in the country, there is pressure to produce graduates who can pursue the country’s technological goals. Part of the country’s vision 2030 is to have highly qualified Emiratis performing specialized tasks that are today performed by expatriates. Despite globalization revolutionizing access to labor, it is important for every country to have a pool of skilled nationals to hold important leadership positions.
Academic Freedom at ZU is based on two important pillars: facilitating the free flow of ideas and information among students, and the need to uphold the principles of Islam, as well as the country’s values. While IT has facilitated communication at Zayed University, there is a general requirement that the country’s culture must be observed at all times. For instance, Federal law prohibits the publishing of articles/materials that will motivate others to break the regulation. Similarly, the course material taught at the university must reflect the country’s culture and respect for Islam. Stakeholders who have a complaint about the course material are allowed to reach out to the institution’s management. Notwithstanding, improved communication enables the exchange of information across the institution, for instance, among students through social media platforms, as well as outside ZU. This situation has led to a culture of tolerance at the university where people enjoy freedom of expression. The UAE is a country where cultural tolerance is promoted, as observed at ZU.
Despite having been established less than two decades ago, ZU has grown rapidly to become one of the most important institutions of higher learning in the Middle East. A key focus of the institution is to prepare professionals who are proficient in IT skills. The emphasis in IT has also been reflected in the organization’s structure regarding aspects such as formalization, size, and the organization’s goals.
Ashkenas, R., Ulrich, D., Jick, T., & Kerr, S. (2015).The boundaryless organization: Breaking the chains of organizational structure. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Brodar, K., KlačmerČalopa, M., & Pihir, I. (2009). Impact of ICT on the structural and contextual organizational elements: Case of the Varaždin County. Journal of Information and Organizational Sciences, 33(2), 243-254.
Daft, R. (2012). Organization theory and design. Toronto, ON Nelson Education.
Edarabia. (2012). Injazat underscores technology’s impact at Zayed University’s Google day event. Web.