A very modern professional: the case of the IT service support worker

Trusson, Clive and Hislop, Donald and Doherty, Neil F. (2014) A very modern professional: the case of the IT service support worker. In: 32nd International Labour Process Conference, 7-9 April, 2014, University of London.

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Abstract

The IT profession has retained a reputation as a ‘privileged area of the labour market’ (Webster, 2005, p.4; Bannerji, 2011). Workers practicing IT skills have been at the forefront of the competitive drive for innovation and efficiency gains promoted by a neoliberal enterprise ideology (Blackler et al, 2003). In the last two decades, as systems thinking (e.g. Ackoff, 1999) and customer-centric practices (e.g. Levitt, 2006) have converged in a globally powerful IT service management (ITSM) ‘best practice’ discourse (Trusson et al, 2013), the IT service support worker has emerged to be a worker-type of considerable socio-economic importance. Aside from keeping organizational information systems operative, when such systems fail these workers are called upon to rapidly restore the systems and thus head-off any negative commercial or political consequences. Yet these workers are acknowledged only as objectified resources within the ITSM ‘best practice’ literature (e.g. Taylor, Iqbal and Nieves, 2007) and largely overlooked as a distinctive contemporary worker-type within academic discourse.
This paper, through analysis of salary data and qualitative data collected for a multiple case study research project, considers the extent to which these workers might be conceived of as being ‘professionals’. The project approached the conceptual study of these workers through three lenses. This paper focuses on the project’s consideration of them as rationalised information systems assets within ‘best practice’ ITSM theory. It also draws upon our considerations of them as knowledge workers and service workers.
We firstly situate the IT service support worker within a broader model of IT workers comprising four overlapping groupings: managers, developers, technical specialists and IT service support workers. Three types of IT service support worker are identified: first-line workers who routinely escalate work; second-line workers; and ‘expert’ single-line workers. With reference to close associations made with call centre workers (e.g. Murphy, 2011) the status of IT service support workers is explored through analysis of: (i) salary data taken from the ITJOBSWATCH website; and (ii) observational and interview data collected in the field. From this we challenge the veracity of the notion that the whole occupational field of IT might be termed a profession concurrently with the notion that a profession implies work of high status.
Secondly, the paper explores two forces that might be associated with the professionalization of IT as an occupation: (i) rationalisation of the field (here promoted by the British Computer Society); and (ii) formalisation of IT theoretical/vocational education. A tension is identified, with those IT service support workers whose work is least disposed to rationalisation and whose complex ‘stocks of knowledge’ (Schutz, 1953) have been acquired through time-spent practice laying claim to greater IT professional status.
Thirdly, consideration is given to individuals’ personal career orientations: occupational, organizational and customer-centric (Kinnie and Swart, 2012). We find that whilst organizations expect IT service support workers to be orientated towards serving the interests of the organization and its clients, the most individualistically professional tend towards being occupationally orientated, enthusiastically (re)developing their skills to counter skills obsolescence in an evolving technological arena (Sennett, 2006).

Keywords:professionalism, IT service support
Subjects:G Mathematical and Computer Sciences > G500 Information Systems
N Business and Administrative studies > N600 Human Resource Management
N Business and Administrative studies > N200 Management studies
Divisions:Lincoln International Business School
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ID Code:14288
Deposited On:10 Jun 2014 11:42

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