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The Firm as a Knowledge-Creating Milieu: The Role of the ICT

Carla Simone

Abstract

This chapter concerns the interplay between the Information and Communication Technology and the collaboration mechanisms supporting knowledge creation, as investigated within disciplines like Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Human Computer Interaction. The chapter proposes three interrelated ways to characterize the spatial substratum of the firm's milieu: the physical and the virtual space; its local and the global dimension; and finally the kinds of artifacts that populate this space; then, it discusses the technology as a key element of the milieu by considering information systems and collaboration technologies. The conclusions claim that the technology should be used to manage the complexity of the target reality and not as a means to introduce simplifications for sake of a misinterpreted efficiency at the organizational and technological levels.

1 Introduction

This chapter articulates the role of the milieu for knowledge creation by taking the firm as the reference scale. A firm is considered as an organization characterized by a specific mission and a well recognizable structure of (human) resources: these constitute the specific affordances and constraints within which the firm plays its game to survive in its socio-economic context.

Moreover, the role of the milieu in relation to knowledge creation is discussed from the perspective of the influence that the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can have in this ambit. This perspective leads us to focus on the collaboration that necessarily occurs among the members of the organization to let them meet the firm's mission. Indeed, collaboration is a common factor of both the creation of knowledge (interpreted as the outcome of a social phenomenon) and of the creativity and innovation that are essential conditions for the firm's survival. In this view however, innovation is considered as the outcome of a persistent and collective attitude to shift the existing boundaries (in terms of, e.g., processes, resources, pre-understandings) and not of isolated and possibly individual performances (that in any case can punctuate the former).

The contribution of this chapter concerns the interplay between the ICT and the collaboration mechanisms supporting knowledge creation, which have been understood in several years of empirical investigations of different working environments. This effort involves several disciplines, but the focus here is on the contribution of the CSCW (Computer Supported Cooperative Work) and HCI (Human Computer Interaction) research communities. The aim is to point to the risk to break those delicate mechanisms with the introduction of an inappropriate technology on the one hand, and on the other hand to the possibility to leverage those mechanisms to identify appropriate functionalities that can enhance their effectiveness. The risk is related to the capability of the technology to change the nature of the milieu where the organization's actors interact; the potentiality is related to the capability of the technology to change the dimension of the milieu in which these interactions occur.

First, the chapter proposes three interrelated ways to characterize the space that constitutes the substratum of the firm's milieu: the physical and the virtual space; its local and the global dimension; and finally the kinds of artifacts that populate this space. Some key concepts are introduced to capture the relevant features of knowledge creation according to these three dimensions. Then, the technology is discussed in its role of key element of the milieu: this will be done in the light of the risk and of the potentiality that the research efforts and our direct experience have identified. Two main classes of applications are considered: information systems and collaboration technologies. The traditional approaches by which these technologies are deployed in the firms are confronted with some more innovative proposals that have been defined at the research level.

The conclusions claim that the technology has to be used to manage the complexity of the target reality and not as a means to introduce undue simplifications. Indeed, the organization policy makers and the technology designers have a long way to go to keep the firm as a knowledge creating milieu in front of the organizational and technological evolution, or better yet co-evolution as these two facets are strongly intertwined.

 
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