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Office Automation


Contemporary organizations in 1990・s are facing challenges from increasing competition, volatile economic conditions, globalization, higher quality demands and advances in information technology.  They are forced to strive to become fast, flat, flexible and open in responding to gain competitive advantage and remain survive.  To achieve this state, .organizations are restructuring on a massive scale.  Reengineering has become a corporate buzzword・ (Ray et al. 1995, p. 64).  Hammer and Champy (Birchall & Lyons 1995, p. 234) has defined reengineering as .the fundamental re-thinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical contemporary measures of performance, such as cost, quality, service, and speed・. 

Reengineering has made organizations to have a stronger understanding of the importance of business processes and have developed diagnostic and corrective tools (Moeller et al. 1996).  Change of structure and culture, cross-function and team-based environment has created innovation and quick response to equip organizations for an environment of change.  However, according to Hammer (Ackerman & Neilson 1996), more than 70 percent of transformation projects are failed to achieve desired results.  Most organizations like American Express (Weicher et al. 1995) were only able to learn from earlier reengineering failures, and succeed on later attempts.  It is because reengineering is often used by organizations on the brink of disaster to cut costs and return to profitability that the organizations may slash its capacity for future growth.  To reap lasting benefits, the organizations must be willing to examine how strategy and reengineering complement each other otherwise reengineering is only a short-term efficiency exercise.

Nestlé U.S.A. (Wolfe 1999) organized its systems management architecture around core business processes in 1997 and has been reaping sweet rewards ever since.  The organization understands that they can・t really diminish the costs but can only reduce the rate at which they increase.  So they stressed to reengineer by evaluating the business processes, and carefully planning how to shape the information technology systems and bring about change in people・s thinking to support their business goals.  As Strassmann (1996) has emphasized that only business process re-design by creating conditions for continuous, incremental and adaptive change is the primary task of responsible leadership. 

Main Discussion 

Common reengineering goals are to eliminate paper, eliminate steps and tasks that do not add value, capture data once, implement workflow rules, reduce the number of contact points, and use information systems to perform or assist routine tasks (Massoudi et al. 1995, p. 153).  Hammer (Government Technology 1995) has emphasized that .technology is a lever to help create new processes for delivery products or services.  Without the creative use of technology, there is no reengineering・. 

Office automation system (OAS) is .any application of information technology that intends to increase productivity of individuals, work groups, and organizations to meet their organization・s goals・ (Laudon, K. & Laudon, J. 1995, p. 343; O・Brien 1993, P. 279; Ray et al. 1995, p. 3).  Drucker (Regan & O・Connor 1994, p. 393-394) has emphasized that to be effective, OAS requires fairly radical changes in workflow, job design, job relations and staff. 

OAS comes in document flow, process automation, task automation and workgroup tools (Schnaidt 1992).  Weizer (Ray et al. 1995, p. 70) has summarized the functions of OAS as follows:

(i)       Word processing, document publishing, and desktop systems

(ii)      Voice and data communication systems for the office environment, including electronic mail systems, electronic bulletin boards, teleconferencing systems, facsimile systems, and voice mail systems

(iii)     Personal productivity aids, such as spreadsheets, calendars, personal database management systems, and project management systems

(iv)     Groupware systems V software facilitating the interaction among a group of individuals in a work environment

OAS helps information to arrive in the right time, at the right place to the right person.  The role of OAS has changed from providing support to administrative functions to enabling processes by capturing information and manipulating it into knowledge.     It is about automating existing processes; building communications infrastructures both within the organizations and externally; providing tools that extend the knowledge and capacities of employees; supplying decision support; and quickly calculating huge droves of information (Daniels 1994).  Hence OAS enables managers to increase their span of control, monitor operations more closely, and improve communications.  It can benefit in optimization of office staff; improvement in the speed and quality of office output for better managerial decision-making and control; and hence increase productivity and profitability to achieve competitive edge.  It can also bring with Quality of Work Life and support the organizational goals and objectives efficiently and effectively.

The administrative manager is responsible for .organizing and managing the administrative and information-related activities, combing people, technology, materials, money, and information resources in such a way that organizational objectives are realized・ (Tedesco & Mitchell 1970, p. 4).  Therefore, only managers with hybrid capabilities will be able to spot the opportunities resulting from new ways of managing information and creating greatest return on integrated corporate goals, utilizing both technology and human capabilities (Daniels 1994, p. 38-9).  They need to be open-mindedness to fully develop social, communicative and integrating capabilities with the help of OAS.  They should be capable to formulate clear goal achievements and establish clear measures for performance evaluation (Wigand et al. 1997, p. 388).  

The administrative managers are facing three major challenges in the restructured contemporary organizations.

1      Proven managerial ability

The administrative managers are performing an important new role as change agents.  They need to help employees to overcome their resistance to a variety of new OAS.  The reasons for resisting change may be caused by fear of unknown, disrupted habits, loss of confidence, loss of control, poor timing of implementation, work overload, loss of face and lack of purpose (Schermerhorn 1996).  .Ability to cope with change and to help others accept change will continue to create into the foreseeable future a challenge for administrative office managers・ (Quible 1992, p. 5).

OAS forces change in organizational structure and culture such as job responsibilities, task contents, and human interactions.  The managerial style moves from the hierarchical to the networked, which is change from directors and controllers to trainers, coaches, and consultants on the latest technologies and workflow methods (Spencer 1995, p. 158).  OAS allows communication to be more open and informal and bypasses bureaucratic channels.  Few controls and supervisors than previously as self-governing workgroups enable workers to act more autonomously.  The administrative managers have to understand that empowerment and delegation with aids of OAS is an essential part of business reengineering. 

Hammer (Central 1998, p.65) has stated that reengineering transforms the industrial workers into a professional who is responsible for achieving results, not performing a task.  Office work is more challenging with integrated, creative, and parallel work.  Knowledge about human motivation, job satisfaction, and the connection between employee, work and performance to align with organizational goals and objectives will become essential components that lead the administrative managers to success. 

The administrative managers should establish a work environment that encourages employees to improve their abilities, knowledge and qualifications to cope with change through continuous learning, training and development with the support of OAS.  .Only those organizations who use technology to unleash and capitalize on people・s creative potential will have a tremendous competitive advantage・ (Regan & O・Connor 1994, p.385).

2      Adequate technical competency to provide for effective implementation of office automation 

Recognizing the increasingly pivotal role of information technology, the organizations now demand that new information technology investments build capabilities rather than just improve ongoing operations (Callahan & Nemec 1999).  .Without Internet knowledge, you may be locking yourself out of tomorrow・s software and crippling the applications you own today・, said by Dave Fiala, editor of Smart Computing (1999, p. 108).  Therefore it is challenge for the administrative managers to treat this as life-long learning from the vast increase of sophisticated versions of OAS everyday.  They should have the capability to choose appropriate tools to maximize productivity based on their corporate practices and philosophies.  For example, Maersk shipping line was successfully streamlined their operation process with a more efficient OAS in 1997, which resulted significant cost reduction and increase in productivity (Flanagan 1999).  Understanding OAS is vital to the administrative managers because they must use it to leverage their contributions to the organization, and they must be knowledgeable about OAS so that they can lead others to do the same. 

Financial Times (Weicher et al. 1995) has reported that although 85 percent of information technology spending in 1980・s was in the service sector, productivity in this sector increased only 1.9 percent.  OAS helps but its impact on productivity may be harder to quantify.  Without measuring productivity after technological innovation, it is difficult to identify where the new system is not working as desired and difficult to improve it continuously (Bacal & Associates 1995).  The administrative managers need to understand how OAS can contribute effectively and efficiently to achieving key business objectives.  They will be responsible for continually developing efficient and effective systems to motivate and support group work in collaboration, cooperation, coordination and negotiation to maximize productivity.   

3      Information management ability 

.Rapidly changing information technology has increased the challenges in managing the total information needs of organizations・ (Ray et al. 1995, p. 170).  The administrative managers・ challenge is to use OAS to manage information effectively and efficiently by balancing management control with management co-ordination, participation and leadership, whatever organizational form business takes on.  How to leverage knowledge for people who need it is important to contemporary organizations.  The administration managers should be able to decide how to acquire that knowledge with the help of OAS to add value for opportunities to align with business strategy and organizational structure. 

OAS does allow people to send not only irrelevant and inaccurate information, but also trivia (Birchall & Lyons 1995, p. 90-91).  It is anticipated that information overload is more serious in the contemporary organizations.  Information only has value if it is timely, accurate and properly used by business people (Daniels 1994, p. 66).  The challenge of the administrative managers is to understand the information flow of the business and how to filter vast amount of information into valuable knowledge, rather than those handle only the technology side of the business.    

The administrative managers should use the benefits of OAS to facilitate and open dialogue and discussion.  Information flows are major support in developing the learning organization.  Timely, accurate, available and relevant information which is presented in a form which is usable by those who need it is a prerequisite for the learning organization. 


Miller (Lahiff & Penrose 1997, p. 74) has stated that .reengineering is a term for a process of changing basic business procedures in order to make more efficient use of people, technology, and information resources・.   Reengineering is not simply reducing people and cost or automating paper-based functions but rather a means for rethinking these functions and .forcing a clear alignment between technology and worker composition・ (Leibs & Carrillo 1997).  Therefore people, technology and process are important ingredients to be focused in reengineering. 

Today・s organizations are becoming highly efficient and effective with support of OAS.  Users are an important part of successful OAS.  Their needs and preferences are carefully solicited and time is taken to educate users sufficiently so that they can participate meaningfully in the system design process.  The success of OAS should be measured not only by its efficiency in the use of information technologies, but also by its effectiveness in meeting the goals of end users and their organizations (O・Brien 1993).  .Organizations are restructuring to become more productive and responsive, but [the relationship between employers and employees] also change K to a partnership of shared competencies, performance and rewards・ (Willets 1996).  Hence the challenge of the administrative managers is also concerned with people, technology and process.

Change management is the key element and continuous challenge for the contemporary organizations.  OAS is an essential production tool to help the organizations to gain competitive advantage.  .In the near future・, Microsoft argues, .computers may run on free, open-source software, or may use the Internet as a platform for running applications like word processing and e-mail, making Windows obsolete・ (Adam 1999, p. 32).  With the advances of telecommunications, the employees are no longer restricted to work in the offices but anywhere as :virtual office;.  This will generate speedy information flow in more flexible way and is the challenge in the next decade.  As Gate has stated in his new book, :Business at the Speed of Thought; that .the twenty-first century will be about velocity, the speed of business and the speed of change.  To stay up with and anticipate change, businesses need radically better information flow [with the help of technologies]・ (Gate 1999).



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Callahan, Charles V. & Nemec, Joseph Jr. (1999), .Technology: The CEO・s Information Technology Challenge: Creating True Value・, Strategy & Business, first quarter, no. 14, pp. 78-89.

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Flannagan, William P. (1999), .War Story: Maersk Docks V A Synchronization Solution・, Mobile Computing & Communications, March, pp. 104-105.

Wolfe, Derin (1999), .Business Case: Systems Management・, Network Magazine: The Competitive Edge in Business Technology, January, pp. 58-60.

.The Reengineering Revolution・ (1998), Central, no. 1, pp. 62-67.

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.Technology & Productivity V Why We Get One Without The Other・ (1995), Bacal & Associates, [Online, accessed 25 March 1999].

Weicher, Maureen, Chu, William W., Lin, Wan Ching, Le, Van & Yu, Dominic (1995), Business Process Reengineering Analysis and Recommendations, [Online, accessed 27 March 1999].

Willets, Larry G. (1996), .The Best Ways to Survive Reengineering V Expert Tips on How to Reinvent Your Attitude・, Reengineering Resource Center, [Online, accessed 27 March 1999].

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