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PRODUCTION PLANNING & CONTROL, 2003, VOL. 14, NO. 2, 193–200 Aligning organizations and their informationtechnology infrastructure: how to makeinformation technology support business cepts are: information technology infrastructure, information development, information systems, information management technology application, communication, message transmission,learning and knowledge, especially the variants of partialknowledge called risk and uncertainty. Also included is an Abstract. A modern organization, in order to develop or experimental conceptual fitting of the theoretical reasoning in survive, has to encounter decision issues that are simultaneously the concept of solving information technology issues with meth- complex and unpredictable. Such a decision-making or problem-solving and information-processing properties of theorganization. The concepts of organizational problem solving and information technology management are instantiated andthe problem-domain of organizational information technology investments looked into. Referring to research mainly in thefields of economics, organization theory, information theory Living in an environment characterized by a wealth of and information systems management, key concepts in thisproblem domain are explored and reasoned. The reason is complexity and unpredictability, an organization of that these very concepts are often misunderstood when actual today must have simultaneous competences for compre- decisions about information technology are made. The key con- hensive analysis as well as for rapid adaptation. This Authors: Pispa Juha, Helia Helsinki Business Polytechnic, Raietatiela¨isenkatu 5, 00520 Helsinki,Finland, E-mail Juha.Pispa@helia.fi and Inger Ericksson, Department of Business Management,Box 7229, NC State University, Raleigh, NC27695-7229, USA Juha Pispa Born in 1951. BA in Economics, University of Umea˚, Sweden, and studies in Information Processing at the Stockholm University. Worked as Systems Engineer and SystemsAnalyst in Stockholm and Helsinki. From 1983, lecturer in System Management and related topics,ATK-instituutti (EDP-Institute), Helsinki. After the fusion of ATK-instituutti into Helia HelsinkiBusiness Polytechnics 1997, Senior Lecturer in System Management, Helia Helsinki BusinessPolytechnics, Helsinki. He is re-entering academic society according to the life-long learning con-ceptnow popular in Finland.
Inger V. Eriksson is Professor of Information Systems at the University of Turku (Finland). She received her PhD degree from A˚bo Akademi University. Professor Eriksson was also on the facultyof the Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration in Helsinki for eight years. Shehas held visiting faculty appointments at The University of Arizona, The University of California-Los Angeles, The University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and presently The North CarolinaState University. Prior to her academic career, she was in business industry for fifteen years. Shehas conducted research and written extensively in areas of knowledge management, user trainingand information systems quality. Currently, she is working on ethical issues in IT/IS and computerliteracy for national productivity.
Production Planning & Control ISSN 0953–7287 print/ISSN 1366–5871 online # 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd stresses the problem solving or decision-making prop- action while learning means adaptation of a system to erties of the organization, which in turn directs the attention to the organizational information-processing Last, a brief comment upon how the reasoning might properties. A typical way to answer the former challenge be applied is made. Recent practical efforts in investigat- has been and still is to introduce new formulae or meth- ing changes in organizational information technology, by ods for problem solving. A typical answer to the latter simulating rather than by assuming or deducing out of challenge, again, has been and still is interpreted as a call some setof precedents, can, as a case or an exercise, make for information technology of continually increasing mass one project one’s thinking on the simulation concept.
and sophistication. In such developments, there is a dis- advantage. The modern solution-centred organizational mental hypothesis, according to which a problem-solving problem-solving or decision-making leaves a share of the method based on simulation should conform to many of problem domain unattended while categorical buying of the conceptual findings in this paper.
information technology leaves open questions on the rela-tionship between the organization as a whole and theorganizational information technology as a whole.
This paper focuses on the problem of investing in infor- mation technology of an organization, which can be seenas an instance of both the organizational problem solving The theoretical background is considerably influenced and the organizational information technology manage- by the theory of social organizations. The concept of ment. From that perspective, the problem domain of organization is understood practically in the same way estimating possible outcomes of an information technol- as the concept of work system, such as in figure 1. The ogy investment is explored. It is expected that a bit of the rather sociotechnical view, promoted by for example ‘conceptual environment’ of or ‘set of values’ for such Engestro¨m (1987, compare also with Vartiainen, 1994), estimating studies will be found, and it’s hoped that the focuses in the interrelationships between a subject, an findings could be viewed as some kind of axioms, or con- object (in interpretation, a task) and a tool in a situation straints, for actual investigations.
in which the subject performs a task with the tool in order Such an approach is believable. First, in a situation of to produce a product or a result. This model, originally from Vygotski, has been elaborated by Engestro¨m with the ingredient of interaction between the subjects. Such Otherwise confusion in what is done, how, and how to an elaboration brings forth the concepts of community, interpret the consequences of the action probably arises.
differentiation (division of labour) and rules, in other Therefore the concepts are stressed that have to do with words the core phenomena of organization.
the problem and the context. Only after the concepts are This article concerns information technology. The fully understood, planning and managing the change can conceptof subjectis visualized as a human user or utilizer start. Secondly, the phenomena in the problem domain of an information system and the concept of tool as the influence the work of building, validating and imple- information system itself. The concept of task means menting models that are used in the problem-solving those instances of the work of the subject, where he or process. This can be verified by applying for example ‘well-founded’ principles of simulation such as Andersinand Sulonen (1974), Vartiainen (1985), or Law and Kelton (1991) or by studying real ventures of estimating Even in this context the concept of task, whether the subject is utiliz- ing, serving, manipulating, regulating or developing the information system, is seen in a perspective where every instance of having to do The paper is structured as follows: First, after a brief with the information system is seen as a measure of work initiated by the note on the theoretical background, the distinction subject and derived from the objectives that the subject experiences between information technology infrastructures and himself or herself to be fulfilling. ‘Officially’ the business objectives of information technology applications is exposed, since the organization are spoken of. Such a perspective can be traced back tothe ‘infurgic’ manifesto that was published in the year 1996, in the the first one relates to mere costs and the other one to Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems. The conceptof infurgy (the possible benefits. The distinction between communica- word itself symbolizing an organic compound of the concept of informa- tion and message transmission is then approached. The tion and the concept of work) relates to the information system labora- fact that the need to improve communication in an tory LABORIS and its predecessor, the ‘Knowledge and Work’ research organization often is met by investing in mere message project at the University of Turku. The main ingredient in the frame ofreference in the LABORIS research is, as presented for example by transmission shows that these concepts are confused.
Nurminen and Eriksson (1991, p. 252, 1999, p. 87), the notion of infor- Next, learning and knowledge are discussed, the latter mation systems (computers) not being real actors but organic parts in of which means basic foundation of all intentional Aligning organization and their IT infrastructure Figure 1. An interpretation of the work system (the structure of human activity) from Engesrto¨m (1987, pp. 78, 113, 120). This figureis originally an UML class diagram but it is best viewed as an entity-relationship diagram. The role names specifying the associations are sentences that describe the relation between the two classes (entities) connected with the association. Each role name is located near the object of the sentence. Only the most essential role names are noted.
Organizational infrastructures, in other words theorganizational 2.1. Information technology infrastructures versus information utilizing, operating, developing or maintaining technical infrastructures. The word computer system generallymeans a technical infrastructure, bought or leased and The term information technology refers here to tech- externally maintained, combined with an organizational niques and facilities designed to enable the transfer, stor- infrastructure represented by users themselves or an in- ing and processing of data. Similar definition of the house information system department.
concept of information system is given for example by The infrastructures, the technical as well as the Langefors (1973, pp. 195–96, 201–4). The facilities may organizational, both support and delimit particular be centralized or decentralized, and they include not only computers but also facilities for mailing the technical infrastructure is not equipped to han- dle voice. The organization would then not be able libraries, etc. As shown in figure 2, information to take advantage of multimedia applications, even technology infrastructures in an organization include though they might be available and would support technical and organizational types of facilities. Both are the business objectives of the organization. Or sup- needed to develop and use particular information pose that a new computer-aided systems engineering technology applications designed to enable, support application is implemented without proper training.
and improve the business of the organization.
It might then take years before it is productively Technical infrastructures, in other words the technical utilized. While advocates of information technology types of facilities, comprise on the one hand hardware, generally only mention its advantages, these two such as computers, and on the other hand programs.
information technology infrastructures also have to Before an application can successfully be used, the users have to learn how to interpret its output and how Figure 2 also shows that the users of information tech- to apply it in performing their business activities. As a by- nology encounter it through information technology product of reflecting upon their interpretations and ensu- applications. Moreover, it is the applications that help ing actions they will generate ideas about how to use and the organization reap the benefits it is looking for.
improve the application and, at least occasionally, how to Thus, investments in information technology infrastruc- develop their workmanship. Not distinguishing between tures result only in indirect benefits. For benefits to be investments in information technology infrastructures realized, applications must be developed but also used, and information technology applications may, as con- and the use of the applications must successfully be trans- cluded by Brynjolfsson (1993), to some extent explain formed into a change in business activities.
Figure 2. Distinction between the general information technology infrastructure and a particular application. This figure is best Aligning organization and their IT infrastructure why it has been difficult to find if and when information take personal interpretations for granted. A check with technology investments increase productivity.
the other party on the conceptual base for the interpreta- The latter takes time and requires human effort in tions may be needed if it is felt that the other does not unlearning and learning. Both individual and organiza- tional learning will be involved, wherefore changes inways to communicate in the organization become topi-cal. As stated for example by Watzlawick et al.
(1967, 1974), changes in communication, aimed atimproved business practices, in turn entail much more The change in an organization can be seen as learning.
than new technical ways of exchanging messages.
It can be said that changes in information technologyinfrastructures involve organizational learning on variouslevels of abstraction and in various time spans. As 2.2. Communication versus message transmission indicated by Vartiainen (1994), the users of an applica-tion, for example, learn to technically use it or they learn Business can be seen as a process of establishing and a new way to work by using the application, or they learn maintaining commercial and professional relationships.
new forms of co-operation and communication. A proper Humans do this to a large extent by communication.
interpretation of the learning concept thus helps to As can be seen in figure 2, when managers, staff ensure that the necessary organizational conditions for specialists and workers use particular information tech- nology applications they relate and interact via these A conceptual connection between the concepts of applications. In other words, they communicate.
learning and action, such as made for example by In the context of information technology, the word Argyris (1993, pp. 49–50), helps to outline learning as communication is generally used to designate the beneficial in the context of business management.
exchange of letters, notes, faxes, telephone conversations, Learning occurs when an error is detected and corrected.
files and so on. Such usage of the word emphasizes the In other words, the basis of learning is a perception of the technical side of transmitting messages. In order to relationship between action and its environment.
remove the bias, it is preferable to speak of transmitting The definition of the term error is broadened in the patterns of signs. As this expression sounds clumsy the direction suggested by Argyris (1993, p. 49–50) or term message transmission will be used instead. The Engestro¨m (1990, pp. 4, 12), that is, an error is not important thing is that what is transmitted is not the seen as a mere shortcoming in results. The broader defi- ideas or thoughts of the sender but rather patterns of nition helps to avoid defensive reactions often triggered signs. Before these patterns can influence any action, by speaking abouterrors, and is, in a way, also more they have to be interpreted. The meaning intended by honest. Differences between what people intend an action the sender and the meaning interpreted by the receiver to achieve and what actually happens can be expected.
will generally differ. Only when the sender and the The essence of the definition of the term error can best receiver broadly share the same social reality, the be seen observing, for example, in whatmanner people meanings coincide sufficiently to make the interpretation speak of errors. Is not there usually a search for the work and the message exchange function satisfactorily.
scapegoat if the outcome was not as expected? Imagine The significance of the common conceptual background instead thinking in terms of what new, even creative, for successful human communication is verified (in the actions such differences might call for, and what the organization as whole could gain from them. Many everyday and professional skills, whether individually or Maintaining the distinction between the concepts of organizationally oriented, are learned from practice. This communication and mere message transmission helps to way of learning works when rapid feedback is obtained as remember that establishing and upholding genuine soon as an outcome differs from the expectations.
human communication takes a lot of hard work. The Unfortunately, as observed by Senge (1990), the inherent partiality of the success most often is due to the inherently function of organizations often does not give this kind of difficult nature of the task. Neither party should be blamed for failures. Instead of being disappointed when The relations between the concepts of individual learn- communication fails, a feeling of being encouraged ing, organizational learning and action deserve a bit of should be felt whenever it actually serves practical pur- elaborating. Deducing from thoughts presented for exam- ple by Resnick (1987), Miettinen (1997, 1998) or The distinction between communication and message Tuomisto (1997, pp. 35–36), it can be reasoned that if transmission also points out that it is not always right to an intended change of action is limited to one person, individual learning is sufficientbutwhen a change of pened before or does noteven have an understandable action by a group is intended, learning at both levels expression. It is preferred to enhance the conceptual will be required. Individual learning thus remains one character of this type of uncertainty by using the word which in turn, as noted by Senge (1990), is of critical Advocates of computer-supported data processing gen- erally presuppose that it is preferable to be betterinformed. However, itis quest been informed, or instructed, always helps in influencing the action. Encountering questions of environmental pol-lution serves as a good example. Lip service may be paid Maturana and Varela (1992) lead to an interpretation to importance of those questions but organizations may of learning, in other words change in action, as dynamics still act practically without regard to the environmental in the mental models that lie behind human action.
damage they cause. The concept of indifference is When the business environment changes, some of the proposed to describe the cognitive position taken in mental models become obsolete and have to be reshaped, such choices of action. The concept of indifference in other words there has to be learning. Furthermore, the makes it possible to distinguish the latter cases from mental models have to do with knowledge, so reflecting those where inadequate action is taken because of lack upon the actions is important both because it reveals the of knowledge. Such a distinction helps in recognizing mental models and because it reminds people about the cases where more information really will be an adequate conceptual connection between action and knowledge.
To know something may simply mean to be able to give an acceptable answer to a question. Informing tra-vellers about scheduled train departures illustrates this sense of knowing. Buthow do the managers and employ-ees of the railway company know what departure times to choose when they draw up a new timetable? Composinga timetable includes the tasks of design and redesign to In the earlier reasoning it was suggested that human which no advance answer exist. There are probably rules action is based on models, that is knowledge. This is true according to which an acceptable timetable has to be also when the issues to act upon concern information built. Such rules seldom limit the number of possibilities systems. Rapid change in the organization’s environment to one, though. It might be arguable that formal evalua- resulting in uncertainty of goals in the issues together tion of the features of all possible solutions always will with continually increasing complexity of the issues pre- result in just one timetable being selected. Who knows sentconsiderable challenges on analytic and deductive what features to include and what relative values to modelling and knowledge acquisition approaches.
assign to each of them? Moreover, these values need to The mismatch between the nature of the challenge and be relevant for a time period in the future. Here is a form the nature of methods to cope with it can very clearly be of knowing that is quite different from giving an answer seen in decision-making or problem-solving processes that leaders and managers in modern organizations perform.
As managers know well, decisions are seldom made The key function of a leader or manager is to form visions with complete knowledge. Plans and actions have to be of the organization in the future. The visions often are too made with reliance on partial knowledge, sometimes even vague and ill structured to serve as a correct departing in ignorance. The partial knowledge and ignorance concepts are now explored. Economists, for example weathering alternative visions and choosing between Knight (1921, pp. 19–21, 233–36), distinguish between them, it would be ideal to experience as much of the the concepts of risk and uncertainty. In the case includ- alternatives as possible and to experiment with them.
ing risk the outcome for a decision cannot be known but aprobability distribution may be known well enough toenable fair estimates of what to expect, in other words partial knowledge is operating. Risks, or actually threats,can be prepared for as when for example an insurance is Experience in information systems development has bought to cover the risk of an expensive reparation due to shown that prototyping, or applying the mock realization a car crash. In the case of uncertainty, again, the out- approach, i.e. simulation, has given the developers of come itself or its expression is not known in advance. It information systems new comprehensive insight into the might be a question of something that never has hap- real consequences of the proposed system solutions. The Aligning organization and their IT infrastructure users of the future information systems have, as noted by, for example, Ehn (1985) and Martin (1985), an oppor-tunity to learn working with the systems already during In this paper it is pointed out that decisions about the development and an opportunity to communicate information technology should be based on a comprehen- their impressions to the developers.
sive and critical evaluation of its impact on the business Both the humane aspect and the business-friendliness as a whole. The evaluation should relate to the important aspect in user influence in information systems develop- concepts in the problem domain of the decisions and be mentare recognized. As for example Eriksson et al.
expressed in a way that is understandable to all the par- (1988) and Eriksson (1990) state, real, institutional user ties involved. Thus, some points of view are presented that hopefully will appeal to those responsible for orga- humane because it enables a two-way adaptation nizational information technology investments.
among a human subject and an information system heor she is supposed to live with. Boehm (1988) focuses in (1) Information technology should always be related business-friendliness instead. He breaks down a mono- to the business objectives at hand, be they lithic development process into many smaller cycles, as happens in a typical prototyping venture. Such a cyclic managerial planning and control, or current approach gives the users a better insight into the development process and thus a better alignment of the (2) The distinction between the cost of information whole process to reality. This in turn reduces the chance technology investments and potential benefits by Modern computers with their elevated calculating and technology applications should be distinguishedon conceptual level. It should be understood that graphical output capabilities offer the opportunity to the mere existence of an information technology form visions of information system solutions with due application does not realize the projected income.
work processes in a virtual world of simulation models.
Productive use of an application more often than The leaders or managers can play with these visions and notalso implies considerable reshaping of work gain ‘experience’ of how the system solutions would function in certain important respects. The experience (3) The very concept of looking upon the introduction can concern both the outcomes of decisions under given of new information technology as an investment constraints and the constraints themselves.
will make one more sensitive to the often large Senge (1990) has found that the primary threats to time lags between the costs of such investments organizational survival today come from slow, gradual and the point at which they start to pay off.
processes. Such processes are seldom recognized in every- These time lags are, as with all investments, of day experience. In the virtual world of a computer simu- critical importance for profitability.
lation model, instead, there is a possibility also to (4) The reasoning aboutcommunication shows t manipulate the time-scale and thus within hours the significance of a common background, i. e.
‘experience’ activities spanning over a years or life cycles.
genuinely shared set of concepts, between the com- The usefulness of a simulation model is, as Andersin municating parties cannot be stressed enough.
and Sulonen (1974) state, hinged on the quality of the This applies in all communication situations.
data that it is built on and the cost-effectivity of the data acquisition methods. The data must be valid, reliable explaining the mechanisms through which the and representative. It cannot be taken for granted that the ‘free’ operational data of the organization are reliable or representative enough for advanced analyses and simulations. Going over the data sources and data successful communication requires hard work.
acquisition methods for simulation models may, in fact, (5) The concept of partial knowledge is two-dimen- result in improvement in the quality of operational data sional. The risk element in a decision that has to in the first place, which certainly is beneficial for the be made with partial knowledge, can be managed primary purposes of operational data too. Entering by analytical methods with increased information the world of simulation models will demand some time technology investments. The uncertainty element of the leaders or managers. Still, it might turn out to can as such not be encountered solely by stressing be extremely beneficial for organizational learning as the method or the computing capacity since the it offers a potentially forceful way to ‘look before you experienced uncertainty may be a consequence of lack of rational goals or ways to express things.
Recognizing the uncertainty element helps in directing the information technology investments.
method for supporting users’ comprehensive learning.
Education & Computing, 4, 251–264.
(6) Thus, it should be accepted that developing and 1921, Risk, Uncertainty and Profit (Houghton employing information technology is an interplay of many parties each of which has an own reality, Langefors, B., 1973, Theoretical Analysis of Information Systems in other words an own set of interests and con- cepts. The modelling approaches involved should Law, A. M., and Kelton, W. D., 1991, Simulation Modeling & therefore allow as flexible and natural conceptua- Martin, J., 1985, Fourth Generation Languages, Volume 1, Principles lization of the problem and visions of the alterna- (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ).
Knowledge, The Biological Roots of Human Understanding Miettinen, R., 1997, Networks of learning in vocational edu- Much invaluable help for writing this paper comes cating. Lifelong Learning in Europe, 2(31), 147–53.
Miettinen, R., 1998, Miten kokemuksesta voi oppia: kokemus from Professor Emeritus Hans-Erik Nissen, University ja reflektiivinen ajattelu John Deweyn toiminnallisessa filoso- of Lund. The personal communication from him and fiassa. Aikuiskasvatus, 18(2), 84–97.
the working papers written by him and Inger Eriksson are a ‘general reference’ in the text.
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