More Repugnant VA Chronicles! – When will this Insanity END?

I-CareMonday and Tuesday this week, 28 and 29 June 2021, the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) returned three more investigations, inspections, or criminal reports.  While no veteran is dead in this batch of reports (Thankfully!), the behavior exhibited remains egregious and blatantly criminal, and the bureaucrats and bureaucracy remain intact to continue to commit malfeasance, misfeasance, and malpractice!

Before getting into the VA-OIG reports, I want to hand out some praise.  The El Paso VAHCS was the focus of a major problem just a couple of years ago when the VA Police attacked a veteran and ended up pulling his arm out of his shoulder socket.  I am now a patient at the El Paso VAHCS, being seen at the VA Out-Patient Clinics instead of the Las Cruces Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC).  While the fallacious claims of the Phoenix VAMC continue to dog me, I am very happy to report that the VA Police in El Paso were professional, polite, and the customer service displayed was top-notch.  Growth has occurred since the veteran incident mentioned, and I, for one, am grateful!VA 3

The VA-OIG has announced that Dr. Kenneth C. Ramdat has received one year of probation after being allowed to “plead guilty” to touching two women’s breasts without permission.  When the VA is compared to a criminal syndicate, where the administrators are actively against the employees and the patients, I can see the connection!  What else happened at the Louis A. Johnson VA Hospital in Clarksburg, West Virginia, while this doctor was on staff and is not included in the criminal trial?  West Virginia keeps coming up as another morally distressed VA Health Care System; what is the VISN doing to improve the environment for illegal activity?  If Phoenix and VISN 22 are an example, nothing, which is negligence worthy of criminal investigations!VA 3

How can employees trust each other when plea deals are allowed, and behavior worthy of criminal punishment exists?  I was physically attacked, as an employee, by another employee, and the administration swept the incident under the rug.  After being discharged during probation, I learned that the employee who attacked me had done this previously with no punishment and the revelation that the administration was gunning for my removal for reporting the attack.  How many VA Employees lost their jobs before Dr. Ramdat was finally forced to be held accountable for sexual assault?  Why the plea deal?  Doesn’t this plea deal re-injure the victims, the perpetrator got off, essentially?

Sexual assault pled down to simple assault with probation – criminal syndicate indeed!Plato 2

Kristopher M. Voyles’s trial ended with a sentence of 27-months in prison, 3-years supervised release, and restitution of $20,502.  While this is a good sentence for theft of medical treatment, Mr. Voyles was never charged and investigated for the actual crime, identity theft of a veteran!  Mr. Voyles stole the name, date of birth, and social security number of a veteran fraudulently created documents, and then obtained care.  Thus, theft of medical care was criminal activity.  Until we read, “Subsequent investigation revealed that Voyles had previously been prosecuted by Atlanta, Georgia authorities for using the same veteran’s identity to obtain prescription drugs from the VA Medical Center in Atlanta.”VA 3

Do the veterans targeted know that Mr. Voyles stole their ID and used it fraudulently?  How did Mr. Voyles repeatedly target and steal the identities of veterans?  Is the ID Theft related to any VA data breaches, losses of veteran identities, or IT problems consistently occurring at the VA?  Were any of these questions asked during the “subsequent investigations?”  If so, where are those VA-OIG reports?  This criminal intentionally targeted veterans, stole identities, used those identities; how many other veterans’ identities does he have or have access to?  The Department of Veterans created the problem of ID Theft; when will they be held accountable for the loss of ID?  Better still, when will the data theft from the VA end?

Knowledge Check!Our final example (today) for the repugnant and criminal behavior of VA Employees needs a little background to be fully understood for those outside the military and government employment.  In government, contracting officers liaison between the facility receiving goods and services, the government paying for goods and services, and the third-party hired to provide goods or services.  Some third-party contractors receive government-issued identification cards similar to an employee identification card, both of which are called a “Personal Identity Verification” (PIV) card.  These cards act as keys to the facility, prove identification and authorize the contractor to be doing what they are doing.  The contracting officers are the end-all in the responsible party for that third-party contracted vendor.

VA SealContracting officers and third-party contractors act under Federal Regulation called “Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).  FAR is like the Bible; it has everything in it outlining duties, responsibilities, and authorities.  Contracting officers are supposed to know the regulations before contracting goods and services, and they teach the contractor their responsibilities.  Especially where a PIV has been issued, the contracting officer, as the liaison, IS THE Responsible Party, not the contractor.

Now, gauge the following VA-OIG report with these facts in mind.

The VA-OIG “… examined a random sample of 46 professional service and healthcare resource contracts. None of the reviewed contracts had adequate evidence to demonstrate FAR requirements were met. VHA contracting officers’ noncompliance with PIV card requirements occurred because they were unaware of their responsibilities and the requirements. In addition, VHA did not have policies or procedures detailing supervisory oversight of contracting officers’ duties regarding PIV cards, the internal audit office did not review compliance, and there was no automated tool for continuous tracking and monitoring of PIV cards issued; to contractors’ personnel.”VA 3

Did you catch that; a 100% failure in a random sample of contracts, contracting officers, and oversight supervisors were unaware of their roles and responsibilities.  How long has this failure been occurring?  How many government PIVs are available granting access to facilities where the contract has concluded?  This is not the first time the government contracting officers and offices have utterly failed to perform their roles and responsibilities; yet, this is one of the most dangerous to the PIV system’s security, safety, and reliability.  This is just an investigation from the VA, how bad is this problem across the entire government contracting establishment?

QuestionI cannot understand how a contracting officer, with all the training, re-training, and refresher training that is mandated, could use the excuse, “I didn’t know that was part of my job!”  As a person who has worked around contracting officers, I knew this was their job, and I am not a contracting officer.  It is simply common sense; if you facilitate obtaining identification, keys, and access codes, you are responsible for getting these things back!

While the behavior of the contracting officers is part of the problem, the culture of passing the buck and dodging responsibility is readily apparent in the following statement from the VA-OIG list of recommendations.  “The OIG also recommended VHA assess whether the existing and planned information systems could have the functionality to allow effective and routine monitoring of contractors’ PIV cards or a new system is needed.”  Designed incompetence will allow the IT failure to be the problem, to finagle more money from Congress for IT infrastructure upgrades and new systems, as the legacy systems were purposefully designed not to accommodate regular, daily, routine activities!VA 3

I refuse to believe the VA has ever designed a system that works, is cost-effective, does its job, and can be useful.  Why; because, having worked at the VA, been a patient at VAMC’s across the country, and reading the VA-OIG reports, the VA has proven their utter incompetence!  If a local hospital allowed this type of failure in their contracting department, heads would roll, and Congress would be demanding investigations to ensure HIPAA was not breached.  Yet, the VA can get away with murder, and Congress cannot even care, let alone issue a mild rebuke or increase scrutinization.

Angry Wet ChickenThus, I call upon every American to share my disgust and demand action!  Stop allowing this detestable behavior, paid for by taxpayers, to thrive.  End the abuse!  Not just for veterans harmed by the VA bureaucracy, but for your hard-earned tax dollars and the disrespect the elected officials display towards you, the boss!  Tell me, if your employees displayed the same behavior witnessed by elected officials and bureaucrats of all stripes, how long would they keep their jobs?  If your boss showed you the same disrespect, how fast would you be looking for new employment and telling everyone not to apply there?  Now, answer this question, “Why do we accept this abuse by government officials and elected representatives?”

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: Information Security Report – VA Administration is STILL Failing!

VA 3Since the first time the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) lost my identity, e.g., the unencrypted hard drive incident, I have monitored the VA’s data security practices.  Let’s say I have a vested interest in data security, having lost thousands of dollars to identity thieves and having been bankrupted twice!  Thus, imagine my surprise when today, the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) released the annual audit results of the VA’s information security practices as required by the “Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA)” and saw the VA remains out of compliance!  Not just a little out of compliance, but so far out of compliance that they have aged issues that are almost old enough to drink.

ApathyThe annual audit is conducted by a third-party, “CliftonLarsonAllen LLP,” who audited 48 major applications and general support systems hosted at 24 VA sites that support the VBA, VHA, and National Cemetery administrations.  The VA-OIG reports the following:

The firm concluded that VA continues to face significant challenges meeting FISMA requirements and made 26 recommendations for improving VA’s information security program. Specifically, VA should address security-related issues that contributed to the information technology material weakness reported in the FY 2020 audit of VA’s consolidated financial statements, improve deployment of security patches, system upgrades, and system configurations that will mitigate significant security vulnerabilities and enforce a consistent process across all field offices. The firm also recommended VA improve performance monitoring to ensure controls are operating as intended at all facilities and communicate identified security deficiencies so the appropriate personnel can mitigate significant risks” [emphasis mine].

Is the connection between application and administration clear?  The security deficiencies cannot even get assigned to the right people because organizational communication is ineffective, unclear, and atrociously designed to create designed incompetence or a ready-made excuse for failure!  Material weaknesses have been carried forward from one fiscal year (FY) to another since the first breach of data security, e.g., the unencrypted hard drive episode.  The administration has a second built-in designed incompetence issue, material deficiencies, even though since 1995, the VA has been “upgrading its IT infrastructure to meet the needs of today’s veterans!”  The VA has bragged about how technically up to date they are, but the audit continues to find material weaknesses leading to data insecurity!

Police and Government Lines of CongruenceWhile the VA deserves congratulations on closing two antique audit items, they were expected to close ALL aged items during the 2020 FY.  Yet, the administrators were still able to skate responsibility, skirt accountability, and act like Sonja Henie at Oslo.  Tell me, if your boss expected you to complete a bunch of items, gave you a full year to complete these items, would you be fired for only completing two items?  I know I would!  As a project manager, if I didn’t have a plan in writing, showing completion dates, inter-relationships, and explicit action items set up within 30-days of being assigned the tasks, I would have been fired!  Yet, somehow these VA Administrators, hired to perform these functions by the Government, cannot even communicate, let alone accomplish tasks assigned!  Who were the project managers, contract officers, and program managers, and their respective administration officials, line them up and fire them!

Detective 4The VA-OIG reports, “Despite VA’s commitment that the recommendations would be closed, some of them have been repeated for multiple years [emphasis mine].”  Is the connection between the administration officials, their assigned workers, and the failures and designed incompetence clearly observed?  I ask because the VA-OIG closed this report with the most useless conclusion I have seen in years of reading these reports!  “The VA-OIG remains concerned that continuing delays in effectively addressing the recommendations could contribute to reporting a material weakness in VA’s information technology security controls during the FY 2021 audit of the department’s consolidated financial statements [emphasis mine].”

Of course, the continued foot-dragging, skating, and designed incompetence will lead to problems in information security, cost veterans their identities and thousands of dollars individually, and continue to make the veterans victims of identity theft!  How could you think this would not happen?  “Hello!!!  McFly, is anyone home?”

Angry Grizzly BearThat the VA administrators continue to hinder improvement at the VA should be grounds for immediate dismissal!  Yet, these administrators are allowed to retire with full benefits, cushy benefits packages, and the veteran is left with nothing!  Where is Congress in enacting legislation that enables the Government to reduce, remove, or refuse a retirement package for administration employees who cannot or will not act in a manner that reflects competence and ability in following congressional demands and meeting operational standards?  Where is Congress working with the VA Secretary on productivity problems caused by administrators who actively hinder improvements at the VA?  Why is designed incompetence even allowed as an excuse for failure?

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: What Would The Founders Do – Privacy of Individuals

Angry Wet ChickenPrivacy is the paramount right of individuals.  To be free inside their own homes, their papers (business), and their actions.  Except, from every front, an individuals’ privacy is being stolen through technology, government edict, and the courts’ power.  Do you even realize how much of your privacy is being subverted for the gain of others?  The more I research privacy, the madder I get!

Here is the foundational statement by the Founding Fathers of America on an individuals privacy from the US Bill of Rights and US Constitution as amended:

      • Amendment I
        (Privacy of Beliefs)
        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.
      • Amendment III
        (Privacy of the Home)
        No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
      • Amendment IV
        (Privacy of the Person and Possessions)
        The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
      • Amendment IX
        (More General Protection for Privacy?)
        The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
      • Liberty Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
        No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Apathy1961, Griswold v. Connecticut Justice William O. Douglas declared there are “zones of privacy” that allowed Griswold to purchase contraceptives against the State of Connecticut’s desires.  Except, in ruling this way, the “zones of privacy” became the black hole sucking in all the abuses of privacy by technology companies, by the government, and by the courts.  Under the “zones of privacy,” abortion has been made legal along with gay sex, both of which fall into the founder’s old legal phrase, “The privacy of families.”

Millstone of Designed IncompetenceThe statute of “The Privacy of Families” stretches back into history and means exactly as it states, the government, the lawyers, and society have no business sticking their noses into “The Privacy of Families.”  Only to violate individuals’ privacy and intrude into an individual or family’s business, “Privacy of Families” has been used as a legal excuse for violating privacy and destroying individuals.  Consider the sale of educational research data from K-12 students, the sale of HIPAA data for research purposes.  If you live in a socialized medicine country, you have even less protection for your private medical data.  The business of buying and selling data for research purposes is vast, and anyone who can create an excuse can meet the legal standards of violating your privacy for “science.”

Is the problem a little more explicit; what started as a good thing, “zones of privacy” and “The Privacy of Families,” has morphed into the legal nooses of red tape hanging an individual and family over an ethical morass while some bureaucrat is chopping on the rope.  In a legal twist of irony, Alexander Hamilton had to admit he committed adultery and was bribed, over a honey trap created by a married couple, to beat a charge of worse behavior to his social reputation.  Hence, the citizenry needs to understand how far the government will stretch to breach an individual’s privacy.

Broken RobotDoesn’t America have laws like FERPA and HIPAA and other privacy legal requirements; absolutely, but are you going to trust the government to protect your records?  Were you affected by the OPM Federal Government data breach (2015), the multiple VA data breaches since the loss of 26.5 million unencrypted veterans records (2006), or been a victim of the DMV selling your personal data?  I guarantee you have been affected either as a primary, secondary, or tertiary victim of a data hack.  Yet, the FISA courts and the “Patriot Act” were explicitly invented to destroy individual and family privacy as unconstitutional actions by a legally elected government.

Reality check, what does the government hold as records?

The stolen VA data has included the names, Social Security numbers, dates of births, and disability ratings for 26.5 million veterans and spouses, on an unencrypted laptop hard drive.  Since this first data breach in 2006, the VA has regularly lost additional private medical records, emergency contact information, children records, and other data.  I have regularly received a letter from the VA that my data was included in a data breach.  I have written about how the VA brags that the flow of data from the VA into nefarious hands slowed a tenth of a percentage point and is to be applauded.  Not ended, not stopped, slowed a tenth of a percentage point, as if that was progress.

Angry Grizzly BearIf you believe the hype, the VA congratulates themselves for not losing any financial data, like account numbers, credit card numbers, and bank information.  Except if you lose someone’s full legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, that person WILL take a financial hit!  My identity has been stolen, cost me almost $5k in bank fees, overdraft fees, and other charges.  The day after I closed my bank account in Phoenix, AZ., a person with my identity walked into the bank branch in Janesville, WI., presenting a check for cash for $500.00.  I had spent from January to July complaining that my data had been hacked; the Janesville bank branch did not even bother to call the police.

The Office of Personnel Management data breach, June 2015 (you want to click that link) is as egregious a loss as humanly possible for several reasons:

      1. Nobody knows how long the tap was leaking data. If you believe the media, the tap was only open for a few short months.  If you believe the industry investigators, the tap had been in place for years.
      2. The data lost included everything on an SF-86 form for background checks and security clearances. My first SF-86 was completed over five days with a military recruiter.  It included all my brothers and sister private data, the names and addresses of friends and close associates, and extended family members.  My Navy SF-86 was longer as I had previously held security clearances, and a deeper check was ordered.
      3. Have you ever applied for a security clearance or applied for employment with the Federal Government? Do you have relatives or friends who work for the Federal Government?  Guess what; you are either a secondary or tertiary victim of the OPM Data Hack, and nobody has been held accountable, nor has a full accounting of the problem ever been made known to the public.

Dont Tread On MeHence, the next time you hear about the government “working hard to protect your privacy,” ask them about those data centers in Utah’s desert that hold private data for the government alphabet agencies.  Ask about the OPM and VA data hacks.  Better still, ask about the IRS data hack in the spring of 2015.  While the IRS claims “only 104,000 taxpayers were involved, the reality is much higher, and politicians play games with the truth.  Eventually, the game of political hot-potato will end, and that will indeed be a great and dreadful day!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: The Captivity of our Fathers: A Paradigm for Freedom!

Note: Today, I am revisiting a previous topic in an effort to improve base knowledge on key principles to freedom.

RememberTo remember is to do something necessary or advisable, which brings honor to the past and freedom to the present.  Remembering is the power to become aware that you are more than the singular person and many others have held a hand in making you, your personality, strengths, and weaknesses.  A greeting card reads, “I am a strong person because a strong person raised me.”  Remembering is also the power that propels the person from their starting point into a glorious future.  Ralph Marston has the last word on remembering, “Remember why you started, remember where you are headed, think how great it will be to get there, and keep going.”

The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints, revers as scripture “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” in which the reader is encouraged to “Remember the captivity of your fathers” (Mosiah: 27:16; Alma: 5: 6; Alma 29:11-12; 36:2, 29).  The captivity originally spoken of was physical captivity. Where a group of people had been militarily taken over by their enemies and were in physical bondage, slaves pressed into cruel service.  But, as this theme evolves, the reader is encouraged to remember other types of captivity their fathers have been subjected to, as a means of more fully enjoying the freedoms and opportunities they possess, because of their father’s captivity and their father’s release from captivity through action.

To the person escaping Cuba as Castro came to power, the captivity of communism and the celebration of freedom in America is a tangible memory and powers many a child of Cuban heritage to act and appreciate their freedoms dearly-won through their father’s actions.  The release from concentration camp captivity powered and motivates even to this day the children and communities where freedom now rings.  The captivity of those in the USSR powers the minds and freedoms of those living in Russia.  Problems still exist in all these communities, but the release from captivity is worth remembering.  By remembering, honor is paid to those who suffered that captivity, by the growth and development of those present and into the future by actions made today.

CaptivityCaptivity comes in many shapes, by many names, and is visible only through the suffering of those held captive.  Some captivity comes from external forces, including military conquest, law, religious beliefs, and more.  Some captivity arrives through individual choices as consequences, including sex, food, drugs (legal and illegal), alcohol, TV, Social Media, or any excessive habit-forming action.  Consider the captivity caused through debt.  For example, our children’s children’s children’s children have not been formed yet, but they are already in captivity to the National and State Debt burdens carried right now!  Is this fair to them?  We get benefits, and they get captivity, all through government refusal to act responsibly; how are those retirement benefits?

During a conversation with several older adults, I asked a question about illiteracy’s captivity.  I asked how many generations back in their families does it take to find an illiterate family member.  One fortunate person claimed it was more than 8 generations, and another said three, a couple said four, but a very elderly person in the back said 1, his parents never learned to read or write in their own native language or English.  This man is a Native American from a tribe in Northern Arizona; when I met him, he was in his late 80’s.

LiberationAs a child of 8, he was separated from his tribe, family, and the reservation he knew, loaded onto a bus, and sent to Oklahoma for a “White Man’s” education.  He spent 10-months of every year for the next 10-years going to school in Oklahoma.  During that time, he never received a single letter from his parents.  He was not allowed to speak his native language, and all native culture was forbidden.  He credits this traumatic period of his life as the crucible for all the good that has come to him through education.  His children and grandchildren all completed college, becoming engineers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, and more.  He had two great-grandchildren just entering college, and his first great-great-grandchild was soon to be delivered.  He told stories of his parents’ captivity to his children and grandchildren, and they are better people for remembering the captivity of their fathers.

On the topic of remembering his fathers’ captivity, specifically illiteracy, he remembers every day in gratitude, even though his parents’ thirst for learning meant he endured such harrowing experiences to go to school.  His fathers’ captivity drove and motivated him to ensure his progeny would not suffer the same captivity.  Who taught you to read?  Who taught them?  How has being taught to read released you from captivity of the mind, fear of the unknown, or superstition?

Tank Man - Tiananmen SquareAnother example is a similar question about our fathers’ captivity; how many generations back before your fathers never left a small land plot?  Whose only views of the world were restricted to that single plot of land due to law, debt, religion, melatonin, or some other chain.  One answered, his family had hated his grandfather for leaving a place of comfort in Scotland, for a rough life in America’s western states.  Many of his family only ever saw the titles, the land, the benefits and wanted those things.  The family desiring these things never saw the captivity, and the family remains broken and separate to this day.  Captivity of appetite is still captivity.

What was the captivity the grandfather escaped from if he had land, titles, money, servants, etc.; freedom to grow, change, and become.  As long as his family stuck to his fathers’ same life and ways, they would have a comfortable physical life.  Herein lay the captivity, and this gentleman tells his story as a caution about researching family history.  I have always held this story, not as a caution but as a parable regarding individual choices.  Born into freedom and plenty, but requiring ceaseless toil, members of this gentleman’s family preferred captivity and luxury to hard work and accomplishment.  Meaning that by weaponizing history, choices are made, and captivity can be lusted for, and the consequence is a lost family.

Government Largess 2I see the welfare state in America that strips pride and accomplishment and replaces it with appetite suppression, and I see millions in captivity to the government dole.  Captivity that breeds wasted and blasted lives, people who have potential are dying under government handouts, forever stuck in subsistence living and not knowing how to escape their choices’ captivity.  Where but for the work requirement for welfare assistance, that same person would know and understand different lessons and potentially choose a different path; thus, discovering that captivity is broken through work.

I see the captivity of thought, children raised in homes as rigidly controlled as Nazi Propaganda mills, controlled by the captivity of their parents’ hate and choices, and becoming leeches and vermin to America’s health.  Consider upon the state of these children and weep for their lost innocence and America’s future.  These are the children in the streets since May 2020 throwing bricks, lighting fires, attacking helpless victims, and causing such tremendous violence upon the American Soul.  Look upon these children in mental captivity and remember, “But for the grace of God go I” (John Bradford).

Other types of captivity our fathers suffered and our children are suffering include mental/physical/sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol, criminal activity, gangs, single-parenthood, the loss of the nuclear family, technology, and so much more.  Why should a person remember the captivity of their fathers?  Because by remembering, we recommit to not passing along that captivity to our children or communities.

Detective 4Recently, I was part of a discussion on technology; I mentioned captivity and technology and was mercilessly attacked for suggesting that technology is a form of captivity.  Thus, I put it to you, dear reader, is technology a form of captivity or not?  Are video games addicting and represent a form of captivity or not?  Are the needs for technology a type of captivity leading to large debts, broken families, and changes in how people think and act?

The Old Testament carries a similar theme to remembering our fathers’ captivity when Israel’s children were commanded to remember the Passover.  Yom HaShoah (יום השואה) and in English as Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Holocaust Day, is another holiday set apart for remembering the captivity of our fathers and recommitting to freedom from oppression.  Buddhism has Bodhi Day, upon which the full day is set apart for remembrance and meditation.  Catholics have All Souls’ Day as a day for remembering the past, honoring the lives of loved ones lost, and recommitting to a brighter future.

These holidays are mentioned, and more exist, to help the reader understand the importance of remembering our fathers’ captivity.  America’s fathers have fought much and bled much, suffering incredible injuries, all to make the future better.  Can we, the recipients of these sacrifices to shed captivity, do less and lose this great Republic, without suffering our fathers’ indignation in the future?

Washington at Valley ForgeConsider the frozen feet and fingers of Valley Forge; what was a little frostbite when compared with the glorious vision of freedom to the soldiers on duty there?  Consider the bloody battles of the Civil War, the fear, the anger, the soul-shattering pounding of the guns.  Both sides considered themselves correct, both sides wanted a vision of freedom, but only one side could win, and in winning bring complete freedom to all the people of America.  Consider the soldiers, sailors, airman, and marines in Afghanistan, South Korea, Africa, and every other place America sends her military might, can we sit at home comfortably and not feel gratitude for their sacrifices, the heat, and cold they suffer, the wounds, the physical and mental strain?

LinkedIn ImageRemembering is an action, a thought process with the impetus power to drive an individual’s commitment and effort.  Let us not forget our fathers’ captivity and by remembering act in a method that will secure liberty, justice, and freedom for our children’s children.  America is in danger of being lost; this great Republic, blessed with a Constitutional form of government, is in danger.  I, for one, refuse to sit idly by and lose this precious country.  I implore you to remember the captivity of your fathers and join me in voting intelligently, join me in throwing off the shackles which threaten to bind us down in captivity to communist and socialist styles of governance.  Join me in taking back America!

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.
All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Structured Incompetence – The Department of Veterans Affairs and Congress

I-CareThe Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is allowed the ability to govern themselves, provided they meet specific guidelines and legislated goals and directions.  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) was established to provide legislators and the VA with tools and processes to improve, as well as to investigate root causes, and make recommendations for improvement.  But, here is the rub, the VA-OIG has no teeth to help their recommendations hold the attention of those in charge to make changes.

In December 2014, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), passed Congress and was signed into law by the president; FITARA is a historic law that represents the first major overhaul of Federal information technology (IT) in almost 20 years. Since FITARA’s enactment, OMB published guidance to agencies to ensure that this law is applied consistently governmentwide in a way that is both workable and effective.  2014 saw the VA slow the loss of private data from the VA, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Data Breach is gaining momentum and will crest in 2015, and in case memory has failed 2014 saw an explosion in VA malfeasance get uncovered starting with the Carl T. Hayden VA Hospital in Phoenix, AZ.

December 2020 will mark the sixth anniversary of FITARA, and President Trump signed a five-year FITARA bill in May 2018.  The VA-OIG in reporting progress on FITARA at the VA has this to report,

“… The audit team evaluated two groups of requirements involving the role of the VA chief information officer during [the] fiscal year 2018. They related to the CIO (1) reviewing and approving all information technology (IT) asset and service acquisitions across the VA enterprise and (2) planning, programming, budgeting, and executing the functions for IT, including governance, oversight, and reporting. The audit team found that [the] VA did not meet FITARA requirements and identified several causes.”

The number one reason for non-compliance after almost six-years was, “VA policies and processes that limited the chief information officer’s (sic) review of IT investments and the oversight of IT resources.”  Not mentioned in the VA-OIG report is how many of these processes and policies had been enacted since 2014.  The VA’s own processes and policies reflect structured incompetence, making a ready excuse to be out of legal compliance with legislated obligations.  If this was a private business, and the legislated obligations were not being followed exactly, no excuse could keep the leadership team out of jail and the business in operation.  Hence, Congress why do you allow this egregious behavior by public servants?

On the topic of structured incompetence, foot-dragging, and legislated obedience, the VA-OIG issued a glowing report of compliance because the VA was found to be in compliance with three of the five recommendations from a VA-OIG inspection on the Mission Act from June 2019.  The progress made was on all aspects of the Mission Act except mandatory disclosure.  Why does this not surprise me; of course, the VA has had, and continues to suffer from, a horrible case of refusing to report, disclose, and communicate without severe prodding and legislated mandates.  Thus, I congratulate the VA on being in compliance with the Mission Act for the last three consecutive quarters on a total of three recommendations from the VA-OIG; this is a good beginning, when can we expect improvement on mandatory disclosure?  Structured incompetence relies upon disclosure malfeasance, collective misfeasance, and leadership shenanigans.

On the topic of structured incompetence, the VA-OIG reported that the Northport VA Medical Center in Northport, New York, prior medical center leaders did not plan effectively to address deficiencies in aging infrastructure.  Which is the polite way of saying, the buildings are old and maintenance has been creatively haphazard, so when steam erupts from fittings and contaminates patient treatment rooms with asbestos, lead paint, live steam, and other construction debris, a small problem becomes a multi-month catastrophe.  Thankfully, the VA-OIG reported no harm to the patients or patient care restrictions from this episode.  Unfortunately, the VA-OIG cannot hold the managers and directors of engineering services responsible.  Having worked in several capacities in engineering I am astounded at the following recommendation from the VA-OIG, and covered under creatively structured incompetence:

“… The OIG recommended that the medical center director develop processes and procedures for submitting work orders—including for notifications when work orders are assigned and reviewed for accuracy and consistency—to help the center’s engineering service prioritize work and manage [the] resource.”

Will the VA-OIG please answer the following questions, “Why is this the hospital directors’ job?”  You have an entire engineering plant, with a supposedly competent director to oversee engineering operations, why and how should the hospital director be focusing such extensive amounts of time on the job that rightly belongs to the engineering plant director?  There are several technology-based programs and options that can perform this work, and form reports automatically based upon performance by engineering staff in completing work orders.  Why is the VA-OIG recommendation not including an automated process to improve performance?  The lack of oversight in the engineering department is both creatively and structured incompetence, because the VA-OIG report recommended following the master plan, reporting progress to the master plan, and suggested that the director of the engineering plant needs to be doing the job they are collecting a wage to perform.

Behavior-ChangeOn the topic of creatively structured incompetence, we find the following from the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).  A veteran patient that spends more than 21-days in hospital for treatment is supposed to be placed on 100% disability, and be paid at the higher disability amount.  Those veterans with mental health concerns are supposed to have additional support to aid them in managing their benefits from the VA.

The VA-OIG estimated VA Regional Office employees did not adjust or incorrectly adjusted disability compensation benefits in about 2,500 of the estimated 5,800 cases eligible for adjustments, creating an estimated $8 million in improper payments in the calendar year 2018. The OIG estimated 1,900 cases did not have competency determinations documented for service-connected mental health conditions.”

Why is this another case of creatively structured incompetence, because every time the VBA gets caught not doing their job, the reason is training, reports not properly filed, and lack of managerial oversight.  I could have predicted these reasons for structured incompetence before the investigation began.  That managerial oversight, employees not filing proper and timely reports, and training not occurring for employees has been an ongoing and repeated theme in VBA incompetence since early 2000 when magically the VBA was behind in processing veterans’ claims for disability.  This theme stretches to the VBA inappropriately deciding claims for spine issues.  The same theme was reported in the VBA improperly paying benefits.  The list of offenses by the VBA is long, and the excuse is tiresome.  The VA-OIG reported:

Employees who processed benefit adjustments also lacked proficiency. They lacked sufficient ongoing experience and training to maintain requisite knowledge. This is also why employees were unclear on the requirement to document the relevant competency of veterans admitted for service-connected mental health conditions.”

ProblemsHow ironic that the root causes of a VA-OIG inspection would find people being paid to perform a job, but are not actually doing the job because they lack proficiency, training, managerial oversight, and are unclear on what they are expected to do in their jobs.

To the elected officials of the US House of Representatives and the Senate, the following are posed:

  1. If you hired a carpenter to enter your home, perform work, and you discover that the carpenter does not know the job they were hired and contracted to perform, what would be your response?  If your answer is to keep that non-working carpenter in that position, in your home, I must wonder about your intellect.
  2. How can you allow this structured incompetence to live from one VA-OIG report to the next? How can you justify this behavior at the VA?  How many other offices of inspectors general reports are reporting the same structured incompetence in Federal Employment and you are not taking immediate action to correct these deficiencies?
  3. Why should anyone re-elect you; when we the taxpayers endure this incompetence, paying you and them to abuse us. You were elected to oversee and manage that which we cannot; yet, you continually strive to perform everything but this essential role.  Why should we re-elect you to public office?

GearsThe following suggestions are offered as starting points to curb structured incompetence, improve performance, and effect positive change at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which includes the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemeteries.

  1. Implement ISO as a quality control system where processes, procedures, and policies are written down. The lack of written policies and procedures feeds structured incompetence and allows for creativity in being out of compliance with legislated mandates.
  2. Eliminate labor union protection. Government employees have negotiated plentiful benefits, working conditions, and pay without union representation, and the ability for the union to get criminal complaints dropped and worthless people their jobs back is an ultimate disgrace upon the Magna Charta of this The United States of America generally, and upon the seal of the Department of Veterans Affairs specifically.
  3. Give the VA-OIG power to enact change when cause and effect analysis shows a person is the problem specifically. Right now, the office of inspector general has the power to make recommendations, that are generally, sometimes, potentially, considered, and possible remediations adopted, maybe at some future point in time, provided a different course of action is not discovered and acted upon, or a new VA-OIG investigation commenced.  This insipid flim-flam charade must end.  People need to be held liable and accountable for how they perform their duties!
  4. Launch a VA University for employees and prospective employees to attend to gain the skills, education, and practical experience needed to be effective in their role. I know from sad experience just how worthless the training provided to new hire employees is and this is a critical issue.  You cannot hold front-line employees liable until it can be proven they know their job.  Employee training cannot occur and be effective without leadership dedicated to learning the job the right way and then performing that job in absolute compliance with the laws, policies, and procedures governing that role.  Training is a leadership function; how can supervisors be promoted and not know the role they are overseeing; a process which is too frequent in government employment.

I-CareI – Care about the VA!

When will the elected officials show you care and begin to assist in improving the plight of veterans, their dependents, and their families?

 

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

 

Customer Call Center Leader – Part 6: The Role of Technology in Creating a Culture of Adaptability

The role of technology is to act the neutral part in the human work relationship. Technology is a tool, like a hammer, designed for a specific role embodying potential for good or ill, delivering a specific role, and serving a specific function. Technology is not positive or negative and possesses no value matrix beyond addressing the concern, “does technology fill the role it was designed for or not” (Budworth and Cox, 2005; Ertmer, 1999; and Ropohl, 1999). Technological philosophy, detailed by Ropohl (1999), provides greater details into the underlying core issues leaders and organizations face daily when merging technology and people together. Yet, always in application do we find managers attempting to make technology more than what technology can ever be, the neutral variable in the human technology work relationship while thwarting culture and other organizational changes.

The automatic dishwasher is an example; if the dishes go in dirty and come out dirty, the blame is the technology instead of the human interaction in the technology work relationship. I was on a call to customer service recently and heard no less than five times in a 10-minute phone call, the “system is slow,” the “computer is not working right,” or some other similar excuse from the agent not being able to answer questions from the customer. How many times has human resources heard, “the car wouldn’t start,” “my GPS gave me wrong directions,” or my personal favorite, “the alarm clock failed.” The technology is not at fault as the neutral variable; human interaction with the technology is where the fault lies.

Application of technology to leadership and organizations may be summed by Wixom and Todd (2005) as they quote Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) for the specific principle espoused by Trist (1981) and applicable here, “For accurate prediction, beliefs and attitudes must be specified in a manner consistent in time, target, and context with behavior of interest” (Wixom and Todd, 2005, p. 89). Virtual and non-virtual teams are connected by the specific behaviors of those being led; the attitudes of the users predict beliefs and flow into production, especially into call centers and other front-line/customer-facing positions. Technology brings leadership into possibility, but the potential cannot be realized unless the leader knows how to harness negative beliefs, core out the actual problem, address user concerns, and then redirect the negative into either neutral or positive productivity.

The answer to leaders needing to harness user beliefs is found in proper communications aided by technology, as detailed by London and Beatty (1983). Empowering the users with 360-degree feedback, empowering the leader with another channel for 360-degree feedback, and operating a third channel for the organization in 360-degree feedback places the user in the driver seat to improve their technology beliefs and attitudes. Ropohl (1999) and Omar, Takim, and Nawawi (2012) combine to complete the puzzle in addressing how technology applies to leadership and virtual teams by underscoring the people element in the technological equation. Omar, et al. (2012) claim,

“…Technological capability refers to an organisation’s [sic] capacity to deploy, develop and utilise [sic] technological resources and integrate them with other complementary resources to supply the differentiated products and services. Technological capability is embodied not only in the employees’ knowledge and skills [combined with] the technical system, but also in the managerial system, values and norms” (Omar et al., 2012, p. 211).

360-Degree FeedbackAs the image reflects in the convergence of the three channels of 360-degree feedback, the power of communication is enhanced by the technology employed as a neutral variable in the human technology work relationship. If technology fails, the relationships in the channels remain and the relationships are not separated or closed. When discussing flexibility and adaptability in organizations, clearly understanding the roles of technology and communication empower the combined user, leader, and organization relationships.

The leader and organization need to understand and develop these principles to harness the innovative power of the human element where technology interacts with the human work relationship. If technology, especially technological improvement, is not thought through, planned, discussed, and elevated, Dandira (2012) claims the result is ‘Organizational Cancer.’ The power of technology as a force multiplier to unleash the power of humans cannot be understated, but the flip side of the technological coin is that as a force multiplier, if technology is not handled correctly, the negative aspects are as large as the positive aspects. Toor and Ofori (2008) detail how leaders need to understand and embody the differences between managers and leaders to contribute fully to the technology implementation and daily use in production. If leaders cannot lead physical teams, they will never understand virtual teams where technology must be understood more completely, and managers need not ever apply as the mindset is not conducive to creating success in the human technology work relationship.

A recent technological change was heralded, marketed, bragged, and positioned to the stakeholders in a company as akin to being better than “sliced bread.” The new system was discussed for three years before images of the new system began to be floated. Everything was prepared to have the technology play a more flexible and vital role in the organization. The problem was managers and programmers implemented the technology instead of users and leaders. User interfaces were ungainly, illogical, and made no sense in the completion of user work processes. More specifically, the impact for every single process and procedure in the current technology was not considered and revamped during the rollout of the new system. The result was chaos among users, failure to deliver the promised products and services, and a customer service disaster. Early in the rollout of the technology, managers directing the rollout were alerted that processes and procedures needed to be revamped, and the user was being left behind in how the system was “supposed to work” resulting in compounded chaos, increasing customer dissatisfaction, and further diminishing the company reputation. The managerial response was to “sit and wait” for the programmers to finish building the system and changing the technology to “fit.” Where a leader was needed, a plethora of managers existed and they actively worked to make the problems worse for the end user, the customer, and the other managers.

Creating a culture follows a basic set of principles, namely, the example of the leaders, including their words and actions, followed by repetition, and the passage of time (Tribus, n.d.). Tribus (n.d.) specifically places the core of culture in the example of the leaders regardless of whether the organizational leader is a leader or a manager as evidenced by action and word. To create a culture specific to adaptability, several other key components are required, namely, written instructions, freedom, and two-directional communication in the hierarchy (Aboelmaged, 2012; Bethencourt, 2012; Deci and Ryan, 2000; and Kuczmarski, 1996 & 2003). Two-directional communication has been warped into 360-degree communication. Regardless of name, the input from the workers and the customer is more critical than the voices of managers to organizational excellence.

Alvesson and Willmott (2002) add another component to this discussion. As the organizational culture takes hold of an individual employee, the employee begins to embody the culture, for good or ill, in their daily interactions both personally and professionally. This hold becomes an identity adding another level of control from the organization over the employee binding them to the organization. The identity control becomes a two-edged sword because the employee will form loyal opposition that can be misinterpreted to be intransigence, and the loss of that employee causes other employees to question their identity and the organizational culture. More to the point, the changed employee becomes habitualized into the current culture and then hardens into intransigency when changes are needed to help the organization survive.

Creating a culture attuned to adapting, the organizational leader needs to communicate, be seen exemplifying the organizational culture, and building that culture one employee at a time; until the changed employees can then begin to sponsor other employees into the organization’s new culture. The organizational leader must set clear goals, define the vision, and obtain employee buy-in prior to enacting change, then exemplify that vision after the change (Deci and Ryan, 1980, 1985, & 2000) while remaining open to the possibility of a need to change direction if indicated. Key to this process is Tribus’ (n.d.) [p. 3-4] “Learning Society” vs. “Knowing Society.” The distinction is crucial. The organizational culture must be learned and the process for continually learning honed and promoted to protect the culture while adapting to variables both internal and external. Learning societies know change occurs because of new thinking and inputs and remains adaptable to that change as a positive force in improvement. Knowing societies remain afraid of changes due to the fear of losing perks, benefits, or personal power and actively thwart change at every turn, usually while preaching the need to change.

To be clear, technology is a neutral force and can neither be a positive or a negative in an organization. The need for leaders cannot be overstated as the driving force in organizational change, or simply day-to-day leadership. Leaders must be seen and heard living the organizational culture. If, and when, changes are required, leaders must listen to user, customers, and the managers, but the weight and value are not the same and should never tilt in favor of the managers. Finally, if the organization needs to adapt, the organization must provide employees in front-line/customer-facing positions with freedom to act and the technology to record the actions, which are supported by back-office processes and procedures that respond to the front-line, not the other way round.

With the “.dot com” bubble burst in 2000, the world of business changed dramatically. As more baby-boomers leave the workforce and are replaced with millennial workers, the business culture is going to change more. To adapt, the engaged and determined business leader needs to embody a spirit of freedom and adaptability into the business culture, into the processes and procedures that define “work,” and into the customer relationship (internally and externally) or the business will continue to fail, struggle, and breed chaos.

References

Aboelmaged, M. (2012). Harvesting organizational knowledge and innovation practices: An empirical examination of their effects on operations strategy. Business Process Management Journal, 18(5), 712-734.

Alvesson M, & Willmott H. (2002, July) Identity regulation as organizational control: Producing the appropriate individual. Journal Of Management Studies 39(5):619-644. Available from: Business Source Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 27, 2014.

Bethencourt, L. A. (2012). Employee engagement and self-determination theory. (Order No. 3552273, Northern Illinois University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 121. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1294580434?accountid=458. (prod.academic_MSTAR_1294580434).

Budworth, N., & Cox, S. (2005). Trusting tools. The Safety & Health Practitioner, 23(7), 46-48. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/201021810?accountid=458

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1980). The empirical exploration of intrinsic motivational processes. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 13, pp. 39–80). New York: Academic Press.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268.

Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Addressing first- and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 47(4), 47. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218016186?accountid=458

Kuczmarski, T. (1996). What is innovation? The art of welcoming risk. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 13(5), 7-11.

Kuczmarski, T. (2003). What is innovation? And why aren’t companies doing more of it? What Is Innovation? And Why Aren’t Companies Doing More of It?” 20(6), 536-541.

London, M., & Beatty, R. W. (1993). 360-degree feedback as a competitive advantage. Human Resource Management (1986-1998), 32(2-3), 353. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224341530?accountid=458

Omar, R., Takim, R., & Nawawi, A. H. (2012). Measuring of technological capabilities in technology transfer (TT) projects. Asian Social Science, 8(15), 211-221. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1338249931?accountid=458

Ropohl, G. (1999). Philosophy of Socio-Technical Systems. Society for Philosophy and Technology, 4. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v4_n3html/ROPOHL.html

Toor, S., & Ofori, G. (2008). Leadership versus Management: How They Are Different, and Why. Leadership & Management in Engineering, 8(2), 61-71. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)1532-6748(2008)8:2(61)

Tribus, M. (n.d.). Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools. Retrieved from: Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools Web site: http://deming.eng.clemson.edu/den/change_cult.pdf

Trist, E. (1981). The evolution of socio-technical systems: A conceptual framework and an action program. Occasional Paper. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://www.sociotech.net/wiki/images/9/94/Evolution_of_socio_technical_systems.pdf

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

 

Technology Integration: An Evaluation – Understanding Technology

Please note:  The following is Part II of the conversation on technology and the workplace.  While written from an academic perspective, the author hopes to launch a conversation on integrating technology and shifting the current paradigm into a more holistic and practical approach to technology.  Please comment.  – –  Thank you!

Currently many organizations have a problem with technology integration. A new operating system, new legacy systems for employees, and new support systems for employees and customers have all been launched, but the resulting chaos needs to be addressed. Even while the legacy systems and previous technology, had problems, the new is not trusted and a culture of distrust is representing Dandira’s (2012) leadership dysfunction causing organizational cancer. The organizational leadership disconnection to the problems of both the external and internal customers reflects poor technology integration. The following evaluation aims to both highlight the problem and offer best practices to correct the problem, not from a distant point in the future, but from where the organization is now. The purpose of this document is to positively affect the technology integration, bringing forth a new culture while correcting inherent problems in the current organizational design and culture.

Problem Statement

Ropohl (1999) defines the problem advocating that all technology comes with social change. The ideal technological integration would include aspects of Ropohl (1999) to both alert organizational leaders to the change, while also supporting the new culture with leadership presence. The reality is that current front-line thinking reflects organizational leadership as never considering the problems with integration such as, the problems experienced in learning curves to learn the new technology, processes disconnected from legacy systems to the new support technology, SOP’s not current or plain wrong, and never planned for the cultural or technological shift, only the technology was important. The consequence as detailed by Dandira (2012), exasperated current problems with employee and customer frustration including more regionalism, less collaboration, higher stress, and, most disruptive, political culture growing and separating the organizational leaders more from the front-line employees and external customers. The growing feelings of disconnection are the main target of this research. Since technology disrupted an already exasperated problem, the solution can, and should, include the new technology integration. Measuring the technology integration and providing empirical evidence in where to pour resources is the aim of this document.

A Technology Integration Model

Using the core business combined with the disparate duties of each region in the business model, it remains of premier import to not ruin the business model, but restrain regionalism and political games. Thus, Wixom and Todd (2005) provide sound guidance. By focusing resources, as suggested by Wixom and Todd (2005) on both “User Satisfaction” and “Technology Acceptance” the organizational leaders may begin to gather the much needed data to empower decisions. The Wixom and Todd (2005) model is as follows:

  1. Focus early design on user interface. This includes “how work is done” and “why work processes flow the way they do.” Organizations invest many resources into the user interfaces, but the common perception is that broken processes will remain broken.  The process is how the use will interface with the technology to do the work of the organization.  Even small shifts in technology will change the processes and they will need reviewing.
  2. Practical utility. This is not a job for marketing, or a role to be onboarded by a single department or entity. The question to focus upon remains, “Will the user be able to utilize efficiently the new technology?” Other questions branch from this question, pointing to how work is accomplished, why, where, when, and a dream list of users for the new technology.
  3. Attitudes and beliefs influence behavior. Employ “object-based beliefs and attitudes” to positively affect “behavioral-based beliefs and attitudes” (Wixom and Todd, 2005, p. 86). This simply means dispelling the beliefs that one legacy is inherently bad because of a lack of training or another employee’s personal opinion, and another piece of technology is inherently good for the same ambiguous reasons. Currently on the production floor, there are thousands of these beliefs and attitudes hampering productivity. Omar, Takim, and Nawawi (2012) discuss the principles contained here, in-depth referring to this as technological capability (TC). TC is more than the sum total of training, experience, technology, and access to technology; TC is the inherent momentum building motivation into an organizational culture.  Note, motivation is more than desire and capturing motivation, including negative motivation requires leadership interfacing with front-line employees directly, not through command edicts and measuring adherence through statistics.

Trist (1981) employs similar methodology in coal mining as suggested by Wixom and Todd (2005), in improving technology, by focusing on end users, making the processes and procedures easier to adopt, decluttering screens, moving buttons and links to a more natural position on screens, defining terms, etc. practical usability increases and the attitudes and beliefs change dramatically. Ropohl (1999) extends this discussion in reminding organizational leaders of the social aspect to work, especially when work involves high-level technology to accomplish social interactions. Wixom and Todd (2005) quote Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) for the specific principle espoused by Trist (1981) and applicable here, “For accurate prediction, beliefs and attitudes, must be specified in a manner consistent in time, target, and context with behavior of interest” (Wixom and Todd, 2005, p. 89). Specificity of connections between actual instances and timely response remains one of the steps missed. For example, why three legacy systems that all customer service facing employees should be knowledgeable in; when 50% of the front-line employees have no access to one legacy system due to work design. One system is only used for a single process infrequently employed to complete work; yet all three systems are not trained, necessitating desk guides, QA controls, and more resource investment for no appreciable gain. These long-term employees, considered as subject-matter experts, receive tasking’s to train new hires, but the long-term employee spends more time passing on genetic knowledge, assumption, bias, and opinion, than actually training to a specific standard.

London and Beatty (1993) offer sound counsel for the remedy in suggesting 360-degree feedback loops tailed to the end of each tasking. These feedback loops should be end user controlled, so if additional questions, comments, and concerns arise, the problem does not sit in a manager’s workload, but becomes part of the directors tasking to complete to the satisfaction of the front-line employee, not the director. Wixom and Todd’s (2005) model specifies both a need for practical utility and employing technology to change end used behaviors and attitudes. Integrating technology requires building trust. Trist (1981) discusses this topic obliquely when discussing how employees treated researchers until trust and relationships of trust were established. The same trust issues arise in Wixom and Todd (2005) and Ertmer (1999) capitulates that end user trust is a critical building block in socio-technical systems (STS), without this element, all the specialized technology in the world cannot overcome the inherent mistrust and thus lack of usage of technological solutions.

While discussing safety in the workplace, Budworth and Cox (2005) provide sound guidance applicable to technology integration by insisting that trust involves four elements: “Commitment throughout the organisation [sic] (especially from the top); Competence at all levels of the organisation [sic], through directors, managers, advisors and employees; A structure; and A high level of involvement” (Budworth and Cox, 2005, 46). These elements form the bedrock of any relationship in an organization requiring trust and receive reference in Trist (1981) when discussing the organizational changes required when performing STS successfully.

Scoring the Integration

London and Beatty (1993) demonstrate a valuable insight by describing many “360-Degree Feedback” loops as only “270-Degree” (p. 353). Thus, the first effort in scoring technological integration is ‘360-Degree’s’ of feedback. Those initiating the technological shift, regardless of the technology or lack thereof need to understand the social implications of the change.  A simple scorecard is an effortless tracking system and should be made available to all parties involved in the change. Budworth and Cox (2005) expound upon trust, developing trust, and keeping trust, this is a day-to-day action an organizational leader initiates to followers.

Coombs and Bierly (2006) provide the next items for measurement in scoring technology and the integration process is as follows, “The following six measures of performance are used as dependent variables: return on assets, return on equity, return on sales, market value, market value added, and economic value added” (Coombs and Bierly, 2006, p. 421). Several of these ‘six measures of performance’ include human elements to which McKinnon (2003) and Ropohl (1999) both espouse as critical to technology and integrating technology into an organization. For example, a return on assets for computers purchased to interact with server and intranet technology requires end users. If the end user is unable to effectively use the tool, maximum return on assets remains unachievable, linking back to Wixom and Todd (2005) placing premier emphasis upon “Practical Utility” (p. 86). The same process remains traceable from each of the ‘six measures’ (Coombs and Bierly, 2006, p. 421) to the model espoused and delineated by Wixom and Todd (2005) mentioned above. The same pattern then expanded to each of the items on the scorecard. Leadership, inferred from Robinson (1999) and Toor and Ofori (2008), requires action, differentiation, and risk, along with active empathic listening, to build committed followers. The leader must be a follower and their actions transparent to build the committed trust advocated by London and Beatty (1993).

Suggestions from Research for Best Practices

Ropohl (1999) advocates, Trist (1981) implies, Coombs and Bierly (2006) infer, yet Omar, Takim and Nawawi (2012) emphatically state, a holistic approach to technology integration in STS remains a primary goal.

“…Technological capability refers to an organisation’s [sic] capacity to deploy, develop and utilise [sic] technological resources and integrate them with other complementary resources to supply the differentiated products and services. Technological capability is embodied not only in the employees’ knowledge and skills and the technical system, but also in the managerial system, values and norms” (Omar et al., 2012, p. 211).

More simply summarized, get everyone involved, allow for suggestions from outside the core group of developers and programmers, and keep the three main principles expounded upon by Wixom and Todd (2005) to be the focal point of energy. Technology must first focus on how work is done currently and designed for how work ‘will be done’ eventually. Include the SOP’s in the design; operating procedures develop from both technology and human element exposure. By not including upgrades and revisions to operating procedures while designing and integrating critical design steps, opportunities will be missed and greater expense incurred.

Discussed extensively has been some manner of ‘360-Degree Feedback’ loop in communication. Organizational leaders need to face the fact that they do not have all the answers and feedback is valuable to building the type of trust needed in a constantly changing atmosphere. While feedback loops are part of best practices, the importance of these types of communication requires realization and action. Consider the external customer, as a valuable stakeholder, stop presuming organizational leaders know what is required in every process, procedure, and organizational action taken by every employee at every organizational level, obtain feedback and then market who suggested it e.g. the actual customer gets credit, to build trust and affection for the leadership and the organization by all outside the organization. The same principle applies to internal customers or employees; when a suggestion warrants inclusion, advertise who made the suggestion, when, and display how this is an improvement. 360-Degree Feedback loops also include policies, procedures, work processes, etc. Wixom and Todd (2005) along with Omar et al., (2012) advocate this action as initially prescribed by Toor and Ofori (2008).

Omar et al., (2012) provides the concluding and paramount best practice in technological integration into an STS model, “keep it simple.” Many times an axiom a useful to remember this principle is ‘KISS’ or ‘Keep It Supremely Simple.’ Trist (1981) exemplified this principle by keeping the pieces small, the approach simple, and allowing as much holistic growth from inside the organization as possible. Organizational leaders do not need to ‘dumb down’ the message, but simplify. The difference is vast; the approach declares the difference between ‘dumbing down’ and simplified communications. Consider a ‘dumbed down’ message originates from the position of, “I am better than you, you are too stupid to bother with, and I must talk to you in small terms for your benefit;” whereas, a simple message originates from a position of equality with a desire to be understood primarily. Dandira (2012) places the responsibility for simplicity at the feet of the CEO. When the entire organization, led by the CEO, is engaged in simplification, less political games occur, less regionalism, lowered stress, and higher productivity result. Dandira (2012) calls this approach a cure for organizational cancer, discovery of an organizational cancer cure and a best practice renders itself bench-marketable.

Conclusion

            This document has presented a STS integration model designed by Wixom and Todd (2005) as a preferred set of principles to launch STS. Many organizations are currently engaged upon a major or minor technology shift, thus some of the early design work has been done on the technology, but none of the processes control work have been revamped and new SOP’s published. This woeful lapse will continue to hamper STS until rectified and while this primarily will rest upon organizational leaders, purchasing buy-in from employees and other major stakeholders remains an advocated best practice. By calling upon other IT integration researchers, namely Omar et al., (2012), Wixom and Todd (2005), along with Ertmer (1999), other factors discussed include measurement tools and additional principles for design, implementation, and ultimately integration. The author advocates a holistic approach as supported by the research to embolden employees, value customers, and enhance the brand experience, regardless of position or role in the organization.

References

Budworth, N., & Cox, S. (2005). Trusting tools. The Safety & Health Practitioner, 23(7), 46-48. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/201021810?accountid=458

Coombs, J. E., & Bierly, P. E. (2006). Measuring technological capability and performance. R&D Management, 36(4), 421-438. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9310.2006.00444.x

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Addressing first- and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 47(4), 47. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218016186?accountid=458

London, M., & Beatty, R. W. (1993). 360-degree feedback as a competitive advantage. Human Resource Management (1986-1998), 32(2-3), 353. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224341530?accountid=458

Omar, R., Takim, R., & Nawawi, A. H. (2012). Measuring of technological capabilities in technology transfer (TT) projects. Asian Social Science, 8(15), 211-221. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1338249931?accountid=458

Robinson, G. (1999). Leadership vs management. The British Journal of Administrative Management, 20-21. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224620071?accountid=458

Ropohl, G. (1999). Philosophy of Socio-Technical Systems. Society for Philosophy and Technology, 4. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v4_n3html/ROPOHL.html

Toor, S., & Ofori, G. (2008). Leadership versus Management: How They Are Different, and Why. Leadership & Management in Engineering, 8(2), 61-71. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)1532-6748(2008)8:2(61)

Trist, E. (1981). The evolution of socio-technical systems: A conceptual framework and an action program. Occasional Paper. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://www.sociotech.net/wiki/images/9/94/Evolution_of_socio_technical_systems.pdf

Wixom, B. H., & Todd, P. A. (2005). A theoretical integration of user satisfaction and technology acceptance. Information Systems Research, 16(1), 85-102. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/208159952?accountid=458

© 2014 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

Technology and People – Shifting the Paradigm in Understanding Technology

Please Note:  The following is an academic assignment for UoPX.  I have published this work to launch a conversation about how technology is seen and understood.  I have several other pieces on this topic to share as part of understanding the role of technology in an organization.  Enjoy, comment, and even if you disagree, let’s discuss this topic.  – –  Thank you!

The role of technology is always the same, to act the neutral part as a force multiplier, not possessing the power to hold valuation as “positive or negative.” Technology is a tool, like a hammer, designed for a specific role, embodying potential, delivering a specific purpose, and serving a specific function. To repeat, technology is not positive or negative, cannot possess a value matrix beyond addressing the concern, “does technology fill the role it was designed for or not” (Budworth and Cox, 2005; Ertmer, 1999; and Ropohl, 1999). Technological philosophy, detailed by Ropohl (1999), provides greater details into the underlying core issues eLeaders, virtual teams, and organizations face daily when merging technology and people together.

Application of technology to eLeadership and virtual teams may be summed by Wixom and Todd (2005) as they quote Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) for the specific principle espoused by Trist (1981) and applicable here, “For accurate prediction, beliefs and attitudes, must be specified in a manner consistent in time, target, and context with behavior of interest” (Wixom and Todd, 2005, p. 89).  Virtual teams are connected by the specific behaviors of those being led; the attitudes of the users predict beliefs and flow into production. Technology brings eLeadership into possibility, but the potential cannot be realized unless the eLeaders know how to harness negative beliefs, core out the actual problem, address the user concerns, and then redirect the negative into either neutral or positive productivity. The answer to eLeaders needing to harness user beliefs is found in a non-technological advancement, but can be enhanced through new technology, 360-degree feedback communication loops as detailed by London and Beatty (1983). Empowering the users with 360-degree feedback, empowering the eLeader with another channel for 360-degree feedback, and operating a third channel for the organization in 360-degree feedback places the user in the driver seat to improve their technology beliefs and attitudes. Ropohl (1999) and Omar, Takim, and Nawawi (2012) combine to complete the puzzle in addressing how technology applies to eLeadership and virtual teams, by underscoring the people element in the technological equation. Omar, et al. (2012) claim,

“…Technological capability refers to an organisation’s [sic] capacity to deploy, develop and utilise [sic] technological resources and integrate them with other complementary resources to supply the differentiated products and services. Technological capability is embodied not only in the employees’ knowledge and skills and the technical system, but also in the managerial system, values and norms” (Omar et al., 2012, p. 211).

The eLeader and organization need to understand and develop these principles to harness the innovative power of the human element. If this is not thought through, discussed, and elevated, Dandira (2012) claims the result is ‘Organizational Cancer.’ The power of technology as a force multiplier to unleash the power of humans cannot be understated, but the flip side of the technological coin is that as a force multiplier, if technology is not handled correctly, the negative aspects are as large as the positive aspects. Toor and Ofori (2008) detail how leaders, especially eLeaders, need to understand and embody the differences between managers and leaders, to contribute fully to the technology implementation and daily use in production. If eLeaders cannot lead physical teams, they will never understand virtual teams, and managers need not apply. The case for leadership in virtual teams cannot be understated; user beliefs and attitudes are multiplied by the technology and through the technological interface. Virtual teams need to know, trust, and rely upon the organizational systems more so than physical teams, thus the eLeader has more to do and be, not less, than their physical team counterparts in leading well.

References

Budworth, N., & Cox, S. (2005). Trusting tools. The Safety & Health Practitioner, 23(7), 46-48. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/201021810?accountid=458

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Addressing first- and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 47(4), 47. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218016186?accountid=458

London, M., & Beatty, R. W. (1993). 360-degree feedback as a competitive advantage. Human Resource Management (1986-1998), 32(2-3), 353. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224341530?accountid=458

Omar, R., Takim, R., & Nawawi, A. H. (2012). Measuring of technological capabilities in technology transfer (TT) projects. Asian Social Science, 8(15), 211-221. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1338249931?accountid=458

Ropohl, G. (1999). Philosophy of Socio-Technical Systems. Society for Philosophy and Technology, 4. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v4_n3html/ROPOHL.html

Toor, S., & Ofori, G. (2008). Leadership versus Management: How They Are Different, and Why. Leadership & Management in Engineering, 8(2), 61-71. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)1532-6748(2008)8:2(61)

Trist, E. (1981). The evolution of socio-technical systems: A conceptual framework and an action program. Occasional Paper. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://www.sociotech.net/wiki/images/9/94/Evolution_of_socio_technical_systems.pdf

© 2014 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved