Office Automation

Table of Contents

  1. Analyzing An Office - presented by Sheralyn Mann
  2. Methodologies of Office Automation - presented by Rod Brassard
  3. Other Office Automation Links
  4. References


Office Automation is the attempt to use new technology to improve a working environment. Throughout the semester, the 547 class has seen many presentations on computerization, from virtual reality and information visualization to the future of the information highway. But the remaining concern is how to determine what type of automation tools, if any, an office needs.

To determine which technologies may benefit an office, a careful examination of the environment is required. There are two main perspectives that can be used: analytical and interpretist. The analytical perspective has 3 views: office activities, office semantics and office functions. The interpretist office has four views: work role, decision taking, transactional and language.

Analyzing An Office

It is important to understand an office environment before technology can be successfully applied. However, a complete analysis can never be achieved due to the complexity of the multiple dimensions which must by examined:
  1. Geographical - the physical placement of the office
  2. Temporal - hours of work
  3. Activity - tasks that are performed
  4. Structural - worker management relations
  5. Spatial - area where people work in relation to co-workers
  6. Economic - criteria that drive an organization
  7. Social - reasons why people become motivated to produce results
Analyzing an office is not only difficult, but also continuous, for as new technologies are introduced, the affects always need to be measured.

Perspective 1: The Analytical Office

The analytical office, otherwise known as systems rationalism, focuses on organizational and economic efficiency. This perspective views the company as a structure which can be analyzed by breaking down activities into functions. These functions are performed because people are responsible to support the organization.

There are three views which use the analytical office perspective:

The Analytical Office - Office Activities View
An office is considered to be a place where operations are performed to support the organization. This view focuses on what activities are performed, how much time is spent on each activity and what procedures are followed to carry out a task. The Office Activities View is the most popular view of the office because it provides the simplest way to empirically measure what goes on in an office. Technology can be applied more easily to observable tasks, but this view does not attempt to understand why the tasks are performed.

The Analytical Office - Office Semantics View
Otherwise known as the problem solving office, the Office Semantics View concentrates on both how and why tasks are performed. This view attempts to search for procedures that directly achieve goals. However, goals can be specified or inferred and therefore may be hard to analyze. Inferred goals can be found by interviewing personnel or tracing organizational responsibilities but an observer may struggle to find the true motivating factors behind behavior.

The Analytical Office - Office Functions View
Offices can be defined by a finite set of procedures and functions which people combine to form aggregates. These aggregates, also called higher level functions, manage information, resources and people. Aggregates are then further combined to achieve goals.

Perspective 2: The Interpretist Office

The interpretist office, or segmented institutionalism, states that intergroup conflict is the norm and the organization is viewed as a culture. The office is an unstructured and informal environment of human interaction where a miniature society develops complete with social rules.

It is inherently difficult to analyze an office using this perspective since the company is considered to be non-deterministic and political. Any analysis tends to focus on gaining knowledge of the all human interactions in the social setting.

There are four views which use the interpretist office perspective:

The Interpretist Office - Work Role View
The Work Role View studies the office by analyzing a persons duties relating to the performance of a function or task. The basic assumption is that roles define the expected behavior of an individual in any social setting. For example, any secretary performing a certain task will behave in a specified way. The Work Role View defines three types of roles that people may have in an office:
  1. Interpersonal - people act in specific ways that support authority hierarchies
  2. Information - people both transmit and gather information
  3. Decision - people act as resource allocators, negotiators and problem solvers
The Interpretist Office - Decision Taking View
The Decision Taking View focuses on what types of decisions are made, who decisions are made by and why decisions are made. Emphasis is also placed on information processing, awareness and judgments a person uses when making decisions. Proponents of this view may suggest knowledge-based or decision support systems to improve the office environment.

The Interpretist Office - Transaction View
The Transaction View considers offices to be stable networks of information exchanges that define goals. Goals are dynamic social constructs which are determined by the resolution of conflicts between groups of people. People who are involved in the conflicts behave opportunistically and try to define the goal to reflect their opinions and values.

The Interpretist Office - Language Action View
Also known as the Rule Reconstruction View, where language is defined to be the mediating force of human interaction. Therefore, human interaction can be improved by increasing the quality of communication, perhaps by using electronic conferencing and email.


Analyzing an office is subjective. A persons view of an office will be influenced by education, cultural background and personal experiences. Experts may even disagree on what the most important aspect of the office is.

The perspectives and views are not mutually exclusive and would perhaps give the broadest most accurate view if they were combined.

Other Office Automation Links

About the Office Automation Systems

Interpersonal Computing and Technology:Vol2,No3

Collaborative Information Retrieval: Gopher from MOO

Automation Can Help To Avoid Malpractice

Technology Management: Three Keys To Success


Mumford E. (1986). The Office Of the Future. Computer Bulletin

Christie B., Gardiner M. (1986). Office Systems. Information Technology and People. pp. 85-102. F. Blackler & D. Osborne.

Hirscheim, R.A. (1986). Understanding the Office: A Social-Analytical Perspective. ACM Transactions On Office Information Systems. pp. 331-344.

Sheralyn Mann
Last modified April 8, 1995

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