This thesis explores the nexus of the implementation of information technology (IT) and changes to an organisation's hierarchical structure. Current debate on organisation change is increasingly concerned with questioning the extent to which conventional, traditional organisational designs are effective. An extensive array of new forms of organising ('new form') has been proffered. While new form theorists generally acknowledge hierarchy, they also tend to over-look it. This research intends to refocus discussion around the place and then changing shape of hierarchy. To do this, it examines whether Weberian hierarchy can adapt itself adequately to meet the challenges of technology changes taking place around it. Previous studies have suggested that the implementation of IT does not necessarily bring about fundamental changes to organisational structures. This thesis offers a test of the theme that hierarchy remains constant in changing IT environments. This test is based on literature that suggests claims for ubiquitous organisational change are generally exaggerated. I ask, if hierarchy is always present, what form will it take when IT changes? That is, what changes in hierarchy will occur when IT changes, given that an organisation may have a history of hierarchical structures and a history of a use of technology associated with hierarchy?
Longitudinal and cross-sectional case studies were conducted to test the orthodoxy that underpins assumptions about organisational change. Following a preliminary cross-industry pilot study, separate divisions within three different organisations were selected as critical cases. These organisations were at various stages of introducing new software technology changes. A test of the extent of hierarchy constancy in these IT environments employs an ethno methodological approach. Following O'Keefe (1979), this approach relies on a deductive test and then an inductive review of change themes. This research is also guided by Orlikowski's (1992) structurational model of technology. It acknowledges that technology is only one of many factors that can affect organisational design. The deductive-inductive methodological mix utilises multiple sources of evidence and thematic analysis through qualitative pattern matching.
Study One focuses on a state-owned entity that is principally, but not solely, concerned with IT network management for the public sector. This longitudinal review reveals, that contrary to initial expectations, the administrative and authority parts of a Weberian hierarchy have been strengthened, despite an acknowledged ability of IT to effect change. While some changes brought about by the new system did eventuate, these were mainly small-scale and inconsequential. Study Two centres on an entity established to develop and implement a new waste management information system. This review shows that the structural change that eventuated did not follow a predetermined formula but was continuously qualified by management. The degree of correspondence between structural change expectations and the actual change illustrates that the division was able to redistribute its parts without actually redefining itself. Study Three concentrates on a product development and graphic design organisation. The study reveals that a senior management drive to commercially reinvent the organisation around a new IT application enabled the evolution of a more formal hierarchy configuration.
Three interrelated themes emerge from a test of the constancy of hierarchy in these case studies. First, that parts of hierarchy are able to survive in these three changing IT environments. Together, the cases indicate that the authority parts of Weber's hierarchy are strengthened despite the acknowledged ability of each new system to effect change. This theme is significant given many change theorist's predisposition to present some form of macro organisational change as an expectation. Second, these cases indicate that not only is hierarchy a constant part of these business organisations, regardless of new IT implemented, but focused hierarchy rededication can take place without invoking broader structural changes. What appeared to occur here was that IT affected structure, but only at a localised level. This rededication was marginal and facilitated a reinvention of the fundamental hierarchy of these organisations. I argue that this reinvention is often a reflection of the organisation's antecedent change experiences. Third, hierarchy maintenance in each case relied to a large extent on a concerted and proactive effort to retain constancy by those with a vested interest in the stability of authority. This theme reinforces the view that the evolution of the organisation is limited by the belief of organisation members in the need for behavioural and procedural guidelines. Hierarchy was inculcated in these organisations based on the acceptance of the legitimacy of authority differences. The thesis concludes by incorporating these findings into a tentative change framework that revises new form theory.