2010

Computer technology use in Australia is increasing, both in terms of computer use and internet use within and external to the workplace (ABS, 2007). With this growth in technology use and personal use of technology, the relationship between the user and the professional who provides the technology takes on a new importance as this relationship has been linked to the eventual acceptance or rejection of information systems (Gefen and Keil, 1998). Difficulties exist in the relationship between IT professionals and users (Butler and Fitzgerald, 1997, Stair and Reynolds, 2003, Nord, Nord, Cormack and Cater- Steel, 2007) and this dissertation seeks to explore this relationship. The topic of this dissertation is ‘The information technology gap: exploring the factors that potentially separate and differentiate IT professionals and users’. Separation in this context refers to elements where IT professionals and users exhibit different traits and characteristics, and differentiation refers to elements that may influence the choice of IT as a career. In this dissertation an information system is defined as an application of information technology in a social context. Information technology is presented as an engineered artefact, and the view of the individual in relation to technology in general is of interest rather than the view of a specific information system. The individuals in this dissertation are IT professionals and users, where IT professionals are defined as individuals who possess and utilise specialist knowledge in information and communication technology and users are defined as individuals who use this technology and are not IT professionals. The gap indicated by potential differences between the two groups is regarded as a barrier between IT professionals and users. This barrier is perceived to act as a hindrance to information systems success. The actual differences themselves that constitute this barrier are perceived as influencing the likelihood of an individual to either accept or avoid technology. The research questions address the identification of indicators that are suitable for exploring the possible existence of a gap represented by differences between IT professionals and users and the potential of these indicators to provide insight into the separations between IT professionals and users and the choice of IT as a career. In order to explore these questions an interpretive paradigm has been used with an idealist ontological view, antipositivist epistemology and ideographic research methods consisting of case study research. A multiple case study approach has been used consisting of preliminary interviews with IT professionals and users, interviews with IT professionals and users within a project undertaken between a large consultancy firm and a tertiary institution (Site One), interviews with IT professionals within a government organisation (Site Two), and one questionnaire deployment within an online community. The IT gap framework was developed as part of this research and used in the process of collecting and analysing information from the case study sites. This framework provides a set of factors that can be used to explore the differences between IT professionals and users. These are separated into three groups: societal factors, IT specific factors, and mental model factors. The societal factors describe demographic and socioeconomic attributes. The information technology specific factors refer to an individual’s experiences with technology in terms of expertise, training, and involvement in the information system development process. The mental model factors describe an individual’s attitude towards technology, personality, and communication behaviour. A range of factors within the IT gap framework were found to separate IT professionals and users after an analysis of the information gathered during case study research. IT professionals appeared to have been exposed to technology at an early and were more likely to be male than female. They tended to be more enthusiastic about technology and more likely to use technology recreationally than users. They had a more active interest in new innovations, felt a high level of control over technology, were more likely to describe themselves as risk takers and had a more positive attitude to change than users. Users were more likely to describe a fear of failure than IT professionals. In terms of differentiating factors, exposure to technology at an early age, a high level of enthusiasm for technology, a recreational and challenge based motivation for using technology, a propensity for risk taking and an embracive attitude towards change appeared to influence the choice of technology as a career path. Three additional factors were identified that while not clearly separating or differentiating IT professionals and users did serve as indicators for the divide between the two groups. IT professionals tended to view users as afraid of technology, however users themselves did not describe themselves as afraid. A second issue emerged in terms of image, with a number of users describing IT professionals in terms of the ‘geek’ stereotype and a number of IT professionals eager to distance themselves from such a stereotype. This issue appeared to be a source of discomfort and friction between IT professionals and users. The final issue was one of empathy, with negative views and a lack of understanding evident on both sides. An emergent issue that was relevant in terms of the focus of this research was intrinsic motivation, with the IT professionals in this study demonstrating intrinsic motivation to use technology. Users did not demonstrate the same motivation and this appeared to be a key difference between IT professionals and users. The IT gap framework was found to be useful as a tool for exploring the differences between IT professionals and users. In this dissertation a clear set of differences emerged between IT professionals and users. These are characteristics that assist in explaining the relationship between the two groups, and a greater understanding of this relationship can only assist the information system development process.