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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Transformation in technology, organization and location : the case from the clinical laboratory system of British Columbia Morrison, James Ian


Multi-unit, multi-location organization is one of the most salient characteristics of contemporary enterprise. The transformation in the structure of enterprise from the independent, small-scale operation to the complex, multi-unit, multi-location system has been an integral part of wider societal change. Yet the current functioning of these systems and the processes underlying their transformation is not well understood. Particular deficiencies exist in our understanding of the relationship among the technology, organization and location of multi-unit enterprise. A case study of transformation in the British Columbia laboratory system between 1954 and 1984 shows that the spatial and organizational structure of enterprise is not driven by any single variable and, in particular, technology is not the "prime mover" behind structural change. The process of structural change is a synergistic one in which external environmental factors and strategic choice have a more dominant influence on transformation than does technology. Thus organizational and location options are not dictated, rather they are perceived and selected as a purposeful response to environmental conditions. This conclusion is reached from a critical evaluation of literature drawn from organization theory, decision-theory, cybernetics and the geography of enterprise; and from the case study. In particular, it is shown that in the 1950s and early 1960s, strategic decisions were taken that resulted in relative decentralization of laboratory activity, organizationally (down the hospital hierarchy) and geographically (towards the periphery). These decisions were taken in response to the changing political, social and medical environment. But these decisions clearly predate the availability of technologies that might encourage such dispersion, indicating that technology is not a necessary and sufficient condition for structural change. Technology can have an impact on the degree of centralization in multi-unit enterprise. In certain circumstances, the development and deployment of specific technologies coincides with a strategic decision to either centralize or decentralize activity. In such circumstances, equipment embodied technology can make a powerful contribution in transforming the relative centralization or decentralization of the system, but it does not determine the choice between centralized or decentralized. Rather, it amplifies the chosen direction. These findings have policy and research implications for society, for the urban system, for enterprise, in general, and for the future of the clinical laboratory system of B.C., in particular.

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