Role of ICT in Virtual Organizations
In today’s business environment, many organizations find the need to work across borders, cultures and different time zones. This need is bridged by Information Communication Technology (ICT) which facilitates the organizations’ needs to act global. Usually, organizations transcend across many geographical boundaries and cultural barriers through the incorporation of ICT. Exchange of information is vital among virtual organizations especially those working in partnership.
ICT plays a role in the transfer of information among companies and individuals. It works in a number of ways common among them being the use of electronic mail (e-mail), faxing, and setting up of websites (to relay information to a user) among other methods. Burn and Burnett (2002, pp.27) identified communication in virtual organizations as a life blood in which they operate. They also cited a number of advantages that ICT pose which could have otherwise been unimaginable in the past years.
Large volumes of information can be transferred at the same time unlike in the past where data could only be sent as hard copy (parcels, letters and printed materials).These can now be sent electronically as files. Data can also be sent much faster and at high speeds, thereby making synchrony of activities among organizations much easier. High speeds facilitate coordination of activities among partner companies much easier and generates knowledge which in turn brings about innovation of products and services.
Today, the web is not only a place to source information but also a place to source markets and interact with possible clientele. For virtual organizations, the web is an online community brought about by advancements in ICT and is unavoidably important because it provides the necessary infrastructure for operations in these organizations. Virtual companies are now moving into creating websites because websites provide market, are a medium where views can be shared in form of comments, contact information obtained, and where customer services can be obtained.
Companies have moved in the recent past from Local area Networks to being networked in the virtual environment as it provides a much greater exposure as compared to the local networks which are more convenient for transfer of information within organizations’ departments. Partner companies within virtual environments find this expansion actually very beneficial. It also poses a competitive advantage over companies that haven’t expanded in this sense because they now enjoy a wider market especially in terms of awareness by consumers of their products and services through the internet.
Internet presence also brings about managerial alterations as it now creates an IT department which is under an ICT manager who oversees the functions of the department. Software developers also have to be incorporated and answerable to the ICT manager who is in turn answerable to the overall manager.
Witzel and Warner (2004, pp.128) identified that virtualization in organizations also impacts on staffing in a number of ways. Due to its technicality, staffs that don’t have the expertise are demoralized from doing their job effectively and organizations are usually forced to choose either one of the options of retraining the staff or hiring a new batch. Recently graduates have found themselves one way or the other easily accommodated in this sector as traditional forms of employment shrink. Generally, ICT isn’t such a hard sector to understand; basically organizations having computers and internet connectivity with sufficient expertise from personnel can enjoy a range of benefits this sector poses. ICT only seeks to make work easier, faster and possible for organizations to become virtually visible.
A virtual team is a group of people who work with a common purpose and are dependent on each other in fulfillment of tasks to fulfill their objective. Virtual teams usually works across space, time, and organizational boundaries facilitated by strong communication among them. With virtual teams working together, there is increased market share enjoyed and shared risks among teams. According Istvan (2006, pp.78), virtual teams are commonly used in business setting to help cut some operational costs.
There are various types of groups or teams that can exist. Friendship groups, command groups and interest groups are most common in a virtual organization. It gives examples of a virtual command group being like a national sales team distributed in the United States or the UK, a virtual task group being a small software development group of individuals telecommunicating to their office, a virtual interest group could be a group of investors and a friendship group represented by a virtual community.
What makes virtual teams quite unique, the website goes on to state, is the manner in which they rely on modern methods to communicate for instance e-mails, faxes , phone calls and telecommunication as opposed to face to face communication. Due to its limited communications channels, the success of these teams heavily rely on the way they are managed and the purposes they are intended to fulfill.
Not every project works well for all teams but the best type of projects that do well in a virtual team set up is the type of project where different tasks rely on one another; more like what goes on in the manufacturing sector. Some of the managerial challenges in virtual teams are the requirement for team members to work independently and be properly motivated. Minimal supervision is common in these types of teams and every team member is supposed to deliver on their own without much guidance or observation from a superior.
Managers of virtual teams also have the responsibility of formulating clear goals that are practical in nature for the teams to undertake, the codes of conduct the team members are supposed to adhere to when communicating and performance standards. This is critical in benchmarking the performance of the teams. One of the challenges facing team work today and affects teams from both small and big companies is trust in one another. Trust is very crucial and necessary in the performance of team members because a successful team can only succeed if there is enough trust between members.
Hoefling (2003, pp.131) points out that management of virtual teams is equally important for a team to succeed and the biggest responsibility rests on the team manager. She singles out managers who take their time in evaluating the work of their team members as the most effective managers as compared to the managers who carry on their business as if it were routine for them. She goes on to state that managing virtual teams require proper planning, thoughtfulness and organization when carrying out team activities. Teams should be guided by the principle of transferring useful information to a fellow team member who may need the information. This also creates an environment of trust among team members and improves the harmony among the parties involved.
Virtual groups are a reality in today’s business environment where the market has become quite competitive. Organizations are going out of their way to utilize the best labor in the global market, companies are exploring markets that haven’t been explored before and the persistent emphasis on accountability, increased performance, greater business agility among other prevailing factors necessitate organizations to go virtual.
Knowledge Management in Virtual Organizations
It is common knowledge that when organizations expand especially in a virtual environment, the information acquired becomes overwhelming and this brings about the need for effective knowledge management (Malhotra, 2000). The traditional way of handling information according to this researcher was aimed at building consensus in the organization, convergence and compliance. This model was rubbished by today’s unpredictable business environment. Effective knowledge management saves a lot of time in trying to retrieve information and also brings efficiency in the organization, as information is availed to the person who needs it.
The handling of knowledge over the past decade has evolved around three pillars of information technology: automation, rationalization of procedures and re-engineering. Deployment of information technology was built upon the predictable tendency of products coupled with the overview of the organization and the industry (Malhotra, 2000).
According to Huettner (2007, pp.4), one way of handling this body of knowledge is developing search sites where information sought could only be searched and retrieved almost instantly. Since virtual organizations are dispersed across geographical borders, they tend to rely heavily on ICT to transfer information among them. This kind of information transfer using ICT makes the parties involved lose face to face touch in communication.
Knowledge management can also be done using software developed to manage certain types of information. Each type of company can tailor a program to work best in the type of business it undertakes. This may involve the sourcing of services from soft ware developers. For example, a supplies company may develop a program that deals in cataloging goods, automatically letting the manager know when stocks are low and such like activities that it undertakes or needs to.
A supermarket may also develop its own kind of software to deal in purchases, payments, dealing with credit cards and foreign cash payments for proper management of its data. This might create a huge pool of information which is in turn stored electronically in computers’ hard drives or other secondary storage devices for instance the use of compact discs.
It is however important that knowledge in an organization should be freely shared among individuals who might need it. This is a management technique that fosters trust among individuals within an organization. Managers especially of big companies outsource to consulting firms to shed some light in ways of handling knowledge. Knowledge management should be seen as very key by managers because through it information on past experiences is freely shared by employees thereby reducing redundancy among employees.
Valuable organizational insights are also shared freely among employees and this aids in their growth within the organization by learning key fundamental principles they could incorporate in their work to improve performance. This done, it could reduce the training time management uses on their employees. As a result, it would lead to higher retention of employees, thereby improving the company’s profile in the market.
Managing in Virtual Environments as Compared to Non Virtual
According to Ulrich (2002, pp.78), managing in either virtual or non virtual environments requires more or less the same principles. However, in virtual organizations there is a need to look at management a little bit differently because the organization is global. With this, comes a number of challenges such as culture across the different geographical borders the company operates. In this type of environment, a manager is bound to be more accommodative than if he were to work in a non virtual environment. A manager working in a largely Muslim dominated country needs to be sensitive to their beliefs and practices. The same goes for a manger working in a largely Buddhist society like India, he/she needs to be equally sensitive to their religious beliefs and practices.
With an organization becomes virtually visible, there comes a greater responsibility that managers need to handle. There comes the need for greater accountability and efficiency since managers have to deal with a huge number of employees among other factors that warrant great managerial attention. With this kind of huge responsibility, a manager is supposed to create an environment of trust among players in the organization. This will most probably act as the bedrock for any level of success to be realized.
This can be done through a number of methods already discussed. In case of any conflicts, the manager should deal with it quickly and not let the matter lag over long periods. A manager should also encourage or accommodate diversity of opinion because in a large company, there is bound to be lots of divergent opinion among employees. The manager shouldn’t be seen to be siding with a faction or be seen to ignore a certain opinion.
The manager should be able to build good relationships at all the levels in the organization for good and harmonious working environment. In a virtual environment, relationships between managers and employees need to be especially strong because the remote working environment can create a lot of problems that wouldn’t be easy to at once (Colky, 2002).
Managers in virtual environments are also encouraged to foster team relationships for proper coordination in the organization. A sense of openness should be encouraged and staff should be able to connect across all levels and locations. Managers could do this by organizing annual parties where all the employees come together across different geographical areas and bond in an atmosphere free from work related issues. Rigor and discipline should be observed, though this might be tricky at some level. Employee appraisal is very crucial to the improvement of employee morale and this in turn improves their performance in general.
It’s also advisable for managers to spend some good time in hiring the right individuals for the job because individuals need to work well with each other even though they might be physically far apart. It’s only advisable that managers pick individuals who are able to work with each other much effectively, putting into consideration the different character traits that might be in play. The manager should also set protocols to be followed, inclusively with all the employees such that they are part of the decision making process. This sets the stage for collaboration and efficient work flow. Efficient managers are required to pay attention to different time zones unlike environments where activities can be set under one time deadline.
When formulating deadlines for managers in virtual organizations, proper acknowledgement should be made of the different time zones of different geographical areas. It’s a tall order for managers operating in virtual organizations to schedule meetings with employees in far off regions. This bears a lot of weight in ensuring the effectiveness of employee performance and managers should pay close attention and organize themselves to fulfill this.
It is worth noting that managers operating in virtual environments have a higher managerial responsibility compared to their counterparts who operate in non-virtual environments. This is occasioned by a high number of employees that such managers are expected to handle and the physical-geographic logistics they are expected to overcome for smooth operations. Organizations need to go virtual to not only keep up with the ever changing business environment but also be versant with the elements that need to be considered when doing this. The role of ICT here becomes quite crucial for the success of such strategies.
Burn, John and Barnett, Mercy (2002) E- Business strategies for virtual organizations. Woburn, Butterworth- Heinemann.
Colky, Deborah (2002) Managing and developing people in the virtual organization. London, Kieger Publishing Co.
Hoefling, T. (2003) Working virtually. Virginia, Stylus Publishing.
Huettner, Brenda (2007) Managing virtual teams: getting the most from wikis, blogs, and other collaborative tools. New York, Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
Istvan, Mezgar (2006) Integration of ICT in smart organizations. Hungary, Idea Group Publishing.
Malholtra, Y. (2000) Knowledge management and virtual organizations. London, Idea Group Inc.
Ulrich, Franke (2002) Managing virtual web organizations in the 21st century: issues and challenges. London, IGI Global.
Witzel, M. and Warner, M. (2004) Managing in virtual organizations. London, Thomson Learning.