The Unintended Consequences of Implementing Information Technology: Understanding the Impact of Misalignment between Mental Models and Organizational Structure


In this research, I study the unintended consequences of implementing information technology. Understanding the causes of these unintended effects is important because information technology is ubiquitous in the modern economy. I used three research protocols to study this phenomenon. The first approach was a literature review to explore and understand what was already written on the subject of implementing information technology. The second approach was an experiment using the beer distribution game to study the implementation of information technology. The third approach I used was a case study in which I used system dynamics modeling to study the information technology in an engineering and architecture firm.

I tested the implementation of information technology in the beer distribution game by modifying the play with a change that simulated implementing information technology. I compared the performance of test subjects with control groups that played the game at the same time, without the modification. I also compared the subjects' performance against the performance of trials first published in 1989. I hypothesized that implementing information technology would result in an immediate improvement of the teams' performance. The results of implementing information technology in the beer distribution game were not as expected; implementing information technology did not improve performance. When it became clear that my experimental hypotheses were incorrect, I went back to the literature to see if there was an explanation for this failure that could be derived from the literature on the beer game.

I studied the information technology in the case study firm in order to extend the learning from the experimental research. The results of the experiment were not as I expected; I learned a great deal about the effect of information technology in a very controlled experimental setting. By expanding the research to include a case study I was able to explore the behavior in a more realistic environment. The beer distribution game provided me with an unexpected insight into the alignment of users mental models and the structure of the organization. The case study was completed using system dynamics tools to model, and then simulate, the effect of misalignment in a real world organization.

Considering the results of the beer distribution game and the case study, I suggest that one explanation for the unintended consequences of implementing information technology is the misalignment of users' mental models with the altered structure of the organization after information technology is implemented.

System Dynamics, Information Technology, Unintended Effects