Machine Centred versus human Centred
The discussion here is based on the difference in approach to the design of the work system when we prioritise either the needs of the machine (in this case the IS) or the needs of the people. Adopting a human-centred design approach the objective would be to implement the technology to make the work of the participants as effective and satisfying as possible. With a machine-centred design approach the technology and process is designed to simplify what the machine must do. Therefore the human participants are expected to adjust to the weaknesses and limitations of the machine.
This dilemma is an evolution of that which has existed since the industrial revolution with the creation of the principles of FW Taylor and their ultimate use in designing the Fordist production lines of the early 20th century. While there are similarities with current information systems implementation today we should be in a better position to avoid the negative effects on the worker. Firstly, we have more knowledge of the needs of the worker and what makes a good or bad job and secondly we have more flexible and capable machines.
Despite this the tradition is still to assume that the people - the technology users - are more flexible in that they can understand the technology by reading manuals and that they will be able to follow procedures regardless of how arbitrary or illogical they may seem. Therefore the tendency may still be to follow the machine-centred path and compromise the needs of the worker.
However to optimise the balance it is necessary to understand the differing abilities of both the people and the technology. Here the same set of comparisons holds true for the machines that replace the physical effort of the worker and those that are now replacing the mental capabilities of the worker. The table below adapted from Alter (2002) shows a comparison of some of the characteristics that need to be considered when choosing whether a human or machine 'worker' will carry out a task.