Support Consultant, Irena Krstic, reflects on the 2018 STS Roundtable, a discussion on sociotechnical systems design innovation.
The STS Roundtable took place in Leidan, Netherlands, on September 5-7, 2018. My colleague, Wilma Paxton-Doherty and I were fortunate to go and increase our learning of socio-technical systems.
Founded in 1986, the STS Roundtable is a global (not-for-profit) network of business leaders, researchers, trade unionists, academics, managers, consultants, and students—who share the values, theory, and practice of “sociotechnical systems” (STS) design, with a common interest in developing more humane and effective organizations. The three days were broken up into themes: Disruptive Technologies and Theoretical Foundation, Automation in Action (Site Visit), and Ethics and Applications in Organization Design. Most of the attendees were practitioners of organization design, so it was fascinating to discuss methodologies, advancements and the place technology has in our field today.
Day One at STS Roundtable: Disruptive Technologies and Theoretical Foundation
The first day was all about technology that is having an ever-growing presence in our lives. We had a powerful keynote presentation by Martijn van Glabbeek, a business information architect with Alliander NV, the largest Dutch grid operator. The presentation really built an astonishing picture of where we are today—connected devices that talk to each other, a Google Assistant that makes your appointments for you seamlessly, and 3D printed food among them. We also dived deeper into technologies such as Blockchain, Cobots, Wearables, AI, Autonomous Vehicles and Rich Data Analytics.
It was fascinating to learn about some of these technologies and how they are being used to automate work, assist the disabled, and bring us into the future. There was an analysis on the macro, micro and meso impact that each of these technologies has, and it engaged critical conversations on the opportunities and limitations of all of these technologies.
Day Two at STS Roundtable: Automation in Action
Day two was centered around a site visit to one of Europe’s leading and most advanced container terminal operators, the European Container Terminal (ECT). ECT handles a vast majority of all the containers passing through the port of Rotterdam.
At the deep-sea terminals, ECT always puts the customer first. Everything is aimed at an optimum service and performance. We were led through the site by Henk-Jan Bax, manager of the technical maintenance department. There, we saw automated cranes, self-driving vehicles and a surprising lack of human employees. This inspired the conversation regarding the ethics around machines replacing humans in the workforce that would carry onto our final day.
Day Three at STS Roundtable: Ethics and Applications in Organization Design
We reflected a lot on the past two days and what the ethical implications are of the technology that is in some ways being forced on the workforce. The negative effects of phone and social media addiction, the ethics around data gathering, and the overwhelming sense that machines will one day take over many human jobs in various industries. All of this was critically discussed and analyzed to look at the opportunities and limitations of technology, and how as organization design practitioners, we can ensure that we stay ethical in our work. The result was an overwhelmingly positive discussion focusing primarily on the opportunities, while being cautious of the limitations that will always exist.
The STS Roundtable is a fantastic gathering of like-minded individuals from all industries, backgrounds, and locations. The purpose of the Roundtable is to provide an open environment in which to share research, knowledge and practice, and to support individual and community efforts in sociotechnical systems design innovation. The conference is held annually and has a global reach. One discussion point that came out of the conference was the desire to reach a more Millennial base. As there is a significant surge in Millennials that are working in technology, everything from 3D printing, to multiple coding languages, it is a surprising trend that more are not involved in the socio-technical conversation as it applies to almost every organization, cross-industry.
The 2019 conference will be held at University of Southern California. If you are interested in joining the STS Roundtable or would like to receive more information, you can go to http://stsroundtable.com/
Irena Krstic is a Support Consultant at ON THE MARK. OTM’s experience and passion for collaborative business transformation that’s supported by pragmatism, systems thinking, and a belief in people is unparalleled. OTM has been in business for 29 years and is a global leader in organization design consulting.