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The evolution of Information and Communication Technologies: co-construction with users

The evolution of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is closely linked, on the one hand to their uses and appropriations by human actors, on the other hand to the functional scope they cover and to the technical performance they achieve within organizations.

But this three-dimensional vision is relatively recent. It is the result of research that has highlighted the oversizing of the technological dimension to the detriment of the other two: human and functional.

Our article presents the evolution of ICT through a three-dimensional approach, trying to explain the paradigms that were used to build this approach. While apprehending the contributions of the evolution of ICT from several angles, we note the importance of new questions such as the dimension

The digital field is a cross-cutting field, located at the crossroads of several disciplines: information and communication sciences, management sciences, human and social sciences and computer science.

As a result, the literature is full of expressions used to designate the relationship to innovations and digital devices. We talk about Information Technology (IT) or Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

It often happens that these acronyms are supplemented by the term “news” to refer to New IT or News ICT.

In our view, this term is far from being neutral and totally “relative” because it is a corollary of the moment of the appearance of the technologies in question, but also of the knowledge and degree of expertise in the technological field of the individual. who uses it.

Talking about ICT here reduces the risk of confusion, while emphasizing the info-communicational aspect.

The increased development of ICT is largely explained by the diversity of information, the widening of the scope of functional coverage and the accessibility by human actors to information capital.

But this would not have been possible without the appropriation of technological tools by users whose perception of ICT has evolved over the years, also leading to profound changes in use.

Indeed, the use of digital technology was initially limited to a restricted functional scope of individuals in a purely professional context. Over time and the diversity of technologies, this scope has expanded to personal domains.

We also note that the evolution of ICT is now forced by uses, which leads us to appreciate the importance of uses and users who are far from being passive in this evolution. Along with this observation, we consider the study of digital uses through three dimensions: technological, functional and human (Bouzidi, 2001).

The objective of our work is therefore to focus first on the evolution of ICTs through uses, then secondly on the fact that the human dimension plays a primordial role in the study of uses, which necessarily lead to a change in ICT.

These symbiotic developments between ICT and uses bring with them many questions around respect for the environment and what is called “Green IT”. We will therefore also focus on this new dimension of apprehension of ICT.

Indeed, although all the actors talk about it, few are those who adopt the best practices related to the latter, both in terms of the processes of use, and in terms of the design and development of technological tools.

 From the evolution of ICT uses

Several authors have attempted to identify the main trends in ICT research. Let us quote, for example, the authors Reix and Rowe (2002) who identify two approaches: on the one hand, the study of the process of implementation and development, of effective and operational systems, and on the other hand, the analysis the impact of the use of digital on the organizational level.

In the same perspective, Laudon et al. (2006) qualify these approaches as technical and behavioral, which they complete with a third transversal level: the socio-technical approach.

The latter takes a broad view that comes as close as possible to the reality of the uses of ICTs and which seems most in line with the concerns of current research within organizations.

The difficulty of having a single view and a homogeneous definition of the concept of organization has been noted by several researchers. Among the definitions that exist in the literature, we retain the one proposed by Laudon et al.

(2006), for whom “an organization is a more or less stable and formal social structure, which draws resources from the environment, then transforms capital and labor into products and services by means of a production process” .

These same authors identify characteristics common to all organizations (policies, culture, etc.) and others that are specific to a given organization (environment, objectives, functions, etc.).

We use, for our part, the concept of organization in order to refer to a social system which brings together a set of human actors, financial, technical and technological means, processes and operating rules allowing the performance of functions dedicated to the production of goods and/or services making it possible to achieve the assigned objectives.

Externally, the organization is in strong interaction with the socio-economic world that surrounds it and for which it implements all its potential to preserve its activity and its development.

Moreover, in an organizational context, the notion of use implies an interactional dynamic mobilizing actors and activities of manipulation and exploitation of info-communicational devices (Ihadjadene, Chaudiron, 2010).

Use is “a stabilized use of an object, a tool, to obtain an effect” (Perriault, 1989). However, the study of the uses of ICT was non-existent in the research carried out under the system-oriented paradigm. The latter deals with languages for representing information and formulating responses.

This approach is found in almost all of the applications developed in the 1970s, to which we associate the failure of digital projects due to the lack of user involvement (Chaudiron, 2004).

Initially, the introduction of technological tools was characterized by the automation of organizational tasks to optimize work processes and increase productivity: it is essentially the processing of information and the automation of industrial processes.

The time is not yet for questions about user needs, but for the development of ICTs and their performance with the sole aim of improving, or even automating, certain functions of the organization.

Therefore, we observe the appearance of an activity-oriented paradigm aimed at completing the foundation of ICT through the consideration of functional components and operational, strategic and organizational objectives.

This paradigm is widely used in the study of the sociology of uses. The advent of the Internet and web technologies is one of the successful launch pads for digital technology, followed by other developments of tools accessible to a large number of users.

This period is marked by the increasing use of microcomputers and software tools that promote use through direct access to information resources. In this regard, technological innovations cover the operational and decision-making aspects that relate to structured and unstructured information (Sfez, 1993).

ICT will therefore aim to provide quality and relevant information for the management of business processes, decision support and knowledge sharing within the organization.

Communication support will then represent one of the priorities of researchers, with the development of two main axes: internal communication with the emergence of tools to support collective communication and cooperation and inter-organizational communication.

with the development and generalization of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and network communication. Therefore, it is possible to share and have technological resources on demand; moreover, uses develop, settle and change according to the evolution of ICT.

In addition, software developments, with the development of specialized interfaces, have made it possible to cover a much wider field, accessible to users, whatever their levels and their needs.

Since the continual fall in the price of hardware and software, the improvement of means of storage, operation and communication, the proliferation and use of ICTs have continued to become widespread.

Thus, we note, in the literature, an overabundance and a domination of technical and functional discourses relating to digital technology.

The apprehension of this must be based on a multidimensional approach and must not be limited to the technical and functional aspects because the human aspect plays a primordial role (Foucaut, Odile, Smaïl, 1995; Guyot, 2006).

The use of ICT is based on a distribution of tasks between the human actor and the system. The latter manages repetitive operations and mass processing, while actors take care of so-called intelligent operations.

As sophisticated and advanced as they are, ICTs cannot function without the involvement of actors and taking into account their professional environments (Saadoun, 2002).

We use the concept of actor to refer to an isolated individual, or to groups of individuals mobilized in a process of research, exploitation, dissemination of information and knowledge through digital devices.

To the evolution of ICT through uses

The expansion of ICT has therefore considerably changed the way organizations operate and their management. This change was made without any real break with so-called disruptive technologies.

A technology can be considered as such if it replaces a previous technology, if it modifies a market or if it is accompanied by profound organizational changes (Zeleny, 2009).

By apprehending the evolution of ICTs through the human and social dimension, we wonder how they fit into uses.

The use referring to the notion of habit is apprehended as a “social construct” which involves various levels which are “the genealogy of uses, the process of appropriation, the development of the social link, and the integration of uses in social relations” (Jouët, 2000).

The look at the evolution of ICTs can be approached through the sociology of uses. The centering of research around the study of uses in the organizational sphere and the socio-professional sector in general was observed only from the 1990s.

A conceptualization of uses is made possible by taking into account the context of use, mobilized technologies, practices as well as forms of communication implemented (Chambat, 1994).

In addition, “the social depth of use” is rooted in the mobilization of resources and interdisciplinary currents (Jouët, 2000). In addition, it should be remembered that social uses are generated by individuals or groups of individuals.

With the rise of web technologies, we are witnessing “collective and networked uses” of ICTs (Proulx, 2005) and the emergence of “communities of practice” within organizations on a national and international scale (Wenger , 1998).

More deeply, the sociological look at the issue of ICT uses focuses on the transformations induced by the massive introduction of digital technologies and connected objects, and their impact on social activities. This paradigm shift materializes both at the individual and collective level.

On the one hand, the profusion of digital upsets our “relation to self” and our own social frame of reference, and this, from the moment when digital abolishes spatio-temporal borders. On the other hand, digital devices affect our relationships with the constituent actors of the public space.

These different developments lead to the integration of social issues in the study of ICT (Vayre, 2013). The focus is more on the link between the technical and the social which therefore modifies “the foundations and values of social organization as a whole” (Chambat & Jouët, 1996).

The “process of social inclusion” of ICTs remaining long, the evolution of their uses reflects the need for the user to adapt to the technology, often for the exercise of a function (Jouët, 2000).

The apprehension of ICT and their use comes down to identifying the technical device, hardware and software base, but also the organizational framework, the practices and the procedures associated with them (Benghozi, Cohendet, 1999).

The notions of use and information practices have been widely used by the French-speaking and English-speaking research community since the transition from the system-oriented paradigm to the user-oriented paradigm.

Indeed, around the 1980s, the user-oriented paradigm made it possible to focus more attention on users and on the understanding of mechanisms such as the way in which they formalize their informational needs and use the functions of the system to satisfy their expectations.

(Chaudiron, Ihadjadene, 2002; Polity, 2001). Several studies, such as human-computer interaction or needs engineering, have gone in this direction. Indeed, it is no longer a question of having a purely technological vision, but of thinking and conceptualizing the uses allowing the emergence of ICTs.

It is no longer the human who must adapt to digital, but rather the opposite. The development of intelligent technologies, of objects connected to each other and communicating automatically reflects this evolution.

Technologies are no longer an end in themselves, but become a means of overcoming the constraints inherent in people, organizational environments and financial means, among others.

 Uses today: a hybrid approach

The approach on which we rely in our research is considered multidimensional (Bouzidi, 2001).

The first dimension, qualified as “human and organizational”, constitutes the base of any organization. Indeed, the human actor represents the key element in the use and appropriation of ICTs, and a fortiori in their conceptualization.

Without adequate preparation and appropriate organization, ICTs do not provide economic, social or societal performance. They even constitute a “danger” to the survival of organizations. What is difficult to highlight in this dimension is its collegial, cooperative, global aspect and not its individual aspect.

This dimension is inspired by the user-oriented paradigm and is based on the principle that use certainly depends on technical aspects, but also on the actors involved and their informational needs (Bouzidi, 2001).

It approaches the analysis of uses with a view to anticipating the informational behavior of the actors.

However, it is structured around several aspects: the identification of the actors involved in the usage process, the definition of their profiles (individual and collective skills and performance) and the analysis of their informational needs.

The second dimension characterizes “the activity or profession exercised”. The use of ICT is instantiated at the level of the support functions and the business functions that make up the activity.

A real optimization of the functions is achieved by the use of ICT which, very quickly, covered a very wide or even total functional perimeter of the organizations. This dimension is inspired by the activity-oriented paradigm whose significant elements are at the functional level.

It is a question of identifying the functions, the processes and the representative information flows which result from it, and this, in coherence with the uses and the information practices of the actors in a framework of production or management of information (Rastier, 1989 ).

Several components are broken down: the organizational, functional and temporal levels.

The organizational level describes the activity studied as an organization (the financial framework determines the economic resources available to the organization, the legal framework relates to the analysis of the ethical rules that govern the activity, etc.).

It is a question of understanding the modes of operation and governance that govern the organization and the methods of alignment with the uses of the actors.

The different functions come from the personal sphere, that is to say components specific to the individual in his private universe, unlike the functions and/or attributions relating to the professional sphere.

The functional level is linked to the study of the functions that make up and structure the activity, and to the mapping of those deemed to be the most representative with regard to the uses of ICT.

The temporal level addresses the evolution linked to the socio-economic context and the capitalization of the experience of the actors in terms of use.

The third dimension, qualified as “technological”, includes all the hardware and software tools. It constitutes the digital support on which the two previous dimensions are based.

Indeed, no one can do without the digital component, regardless of the functional area in which he works, his cultural, social and economic environment. Having these digital tools is no longer an advancement today, but a necessity.

Otherwise, we will only fall behind trying to catch up. The identification of the devices deployed, both in the private and professional spheres, the adaptation of the tools according to the uses and the evaluation of their contributions constitute major elements.

This dimension is similar, in form, to the system-oriented paradigm which is centered around attributes and technical devices.

Similarly, it includes, in substance, the contributions of the user-oriented approach, particularly with regard to the analysis of the digital environment and the identification of the essential components of an approach that can support actors in the exercise of their info-communication practices.

It is broken down into several aspects, in particular its levels: functional (the architecture of the digital environment), organizational (all the resources to be put in place) and operational (the implementation and use of the tools and the importance of the support and change assistance phase).

Without claiming to offer a definition that perfectly covers all the aspects identified, the following diagram represents the fundamental aspects, the basis of a perception of the uses of ICT.

Our three-dimensional approach is an approach that can be described as hybrid.

It takes into account the three factors characterizing organizations in the integration, use, appropriation and evolution of ICT: the “human” factor which identifies the place of human actors, the “functional” factor which characterizes the activities and the “technological” factor which includes hardware and software tools.

However, it is important to remember that these dimensions are intrinsically linked. No dimension, on its own, can make it possible to describe an organizational problem and even less to understand in an exhaustive way the question of the evolution of uses.

Indeed, given the diversity of points of view allowing to approach the uses, a positioning in this field must combine a multitude of looks in order to bring out the dynamics, the conceptual richness and the complexity of the field.

This is made possible through the crossing of views on ICT, the interaction and complementarity between the different aspects identified.


The uses of tomorrow: towards an eco-responsible approach

The issues related to ICTs and their development have therefore been identified and have not escaped the notice of both private and public organizations.

It is from the latter that the concept of smart cities, or “intelligent cities”, emanated, combining both a reduction in functional and organizational costs and citizen satisfaction.

For (Bibri & Krogstie, 2017), it is therefore essential that the development of so-called smart cities be done through green technologies (Green IT). These same authors speak of smart sustainable cities.

Integrating these socio-economic realities, the “contemporary” uses of ICT are increasingly tending to move towards increasingly “green” modes of communication and information consumption.

The literature refers to “green ICT”, “eco-ICT” or “Green IT” (Flipo et al., 2016). More deeply, a usage analysis approach must certainly focus on a global and multidimensional vision, without omitting a transversal level materialized by an eco-responsible dimension.

Three essential pillars of sustainable development must be integrated into the process: economic, environmental and social (Bohas, Bouzidi, 2012).

The apprehension of uses and the consideration of needs are observed in the long term through a participative and collaborative vision where the link and social cohesion remain essential.

ICTs lead to the creation of value through an economy based on innovative production and distribution methods.

In this sense, digital is called upon to revolutionize the conditions of production through better accessibility to information and innovative professional practices geared towards the “Green” (Bouzidi, Boulesnane, 2016).

The essential challenge consists in offering economic dynamics based on sustainable modes of production and consumption, through two fundamental aspects. On the one hand, the technological choice and the implementation of resources based on the least energy-consuming technologies possible.

On the other hand, the uses and practices are made with an awareness of the actors-users for the adoption of eco-responsible practices and a regulation of the process of resource consumption (Bouzidi, Boulesnane, 2016).

The essential challenge consists in offering economic dynamics based on sustainable modes of production and consumption, through two fundamental aspects. On the one hand, the technological choice and the implementation of resources based on the least energy-consuming technologies possible.

On the other hand, the uses and practices are made with an awareness of the actors-users for the adoption of eco-responsible practices and a regulation of the process of resource consumption (Bouzidi, Boulesnane, 2016).

ICTs, beyond their functions of information processing, media and communication tools, make it possible, through a spatio-temporal space inaccessible to man, to compensate for certain absences of uses and to correct others in various contexts, highlighting certain limits.

The massive democratization of ICTs, imposed by markets and/or organizations, reveals different kinds of inequalities. Several researchers believe that ICTs, which constitute a third industrial revolution, are the cause of persistent inequalities in most industrialized countries.

As Katz and Murphy (1992) point out: “The wages of the most educated and therefore the most skilled individuals have increased considerably relative to the wages of the low-skilled individuals despite the increasing supply of skilled individuals”.

The share of the digital divide can partly explain these developments.

The widespread development and use of ICTs are not without constraints. Many studies highlight the risk of overwork on technological tools: “visual fatigue” or “mental load” (Smith et al., 2003). Other studies have focused on the suitability of the digital tool for its use (Hinckley, 2003).

But these are only recommendations with a strong ergonomic connotation. The operational and psychological meaning (Brangier et al., 2009) is not without problems for users. Beyond the physical and psychological limits, there are also ethical and moral limits and even obstacles.

The security of data available on networks, and more particularly in the cloud or social networks, plays a key role in this context. ICTs allow access to all kinds of professional and personal data in large quantities.

The protection of the digital identity of legal and natural persons is therefore threatened, especially since, in this cyberspace without borders, the legislation on this subject is very different from one place to another (Kesan et al., 2014 ).

Nevertheless, safeguarding uses will also depend on all players in the digital industry (Rastogi et al., 2015).ICT allow rapid communication and exchanges but often convey “infopollution” and an information overload which constitute a real inconvenience for the user both personally and professionally.

Not to mention the question of the intrusion of the professional field into the private sphere, which is accentuated by the massive integration of technological tools and the “trivialization” of their use.

Each great wave of technological innovation is accompanied by profound changes in information uses and practices. We have thus sought to highlight the fact that the construction of ICT evolves with uses and practices.

The posture around ICT covers a co-constructed vision, according to the relationship established between the technique, the human and the use. The conceptualization of this notion requires a multidimensional reflection. The first relates to the technological dimension.

The second is built around human and social practices. In this regard, it would be futile to claim to cover all the dimensions, given the variation in the points of view used.

Indeed, the name ICT, seemingly simple, raises a series of ambiguities: we must not be satisfied with a juxtaposition of approaches because its apprehension presupposes a centering around the notion of use.

Furthermore, technical determinism must be questioned because it is essential to consider that human use influences technology and that, conversely, technology influences uses. It goes without saying, and like any “evolution”, that of ICT raises other questions.

We mention in particular their “energy-intensive” nature and a stronger integration of a dimension oriented towards eco-responsibility of both the different actors but also of organizations and public authorities.



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