Security, Safety and High Reliability: Organizations in Complex Socio-Technical Systems

Toshio Takagi, Aki Nakanishi


TAKAGI, Toshio (Meiji University) and NAKANISHI, Aki (Meiji University)

The purpose of this thesis is to show the theoretical effectiveness of a High Reliability Organization (HRO) that attracts attention in organization studies.

In recent years, in the concepts of dynamic capability and operational capability in the Management of Technology (MOT) or Management Strategy, there has been one tacit understanding. In these discussions, it is to be assumed that the firms’ infrastructure already exists. In other words, the firms, as the subject of this research, have been limited to the activity of the technical system infrastructure (e.g., manufacturing, energy, and distribution) which has already been constructed. However, a new doubt arises. How can the firms’ capability within such an infrastructure be explained? That is, how is the infrastructure caused? And how does organizational change occur? We think that, from this aspect, our research is useful in organizational studies. As the recent organizational research illustrates, especially Actor-Network Theory (Callon and Law, 1997; Latour, 1999) and Practice Based Approach (Nicolini, et al., 2003), any organization is embedded in a socially constructed network, and the network cannot be separated from the organization (Latour, 1987; Ueno, 1999). It is important to research how the technical system is used by understanding organizational operations and organizational change.

Therefore, in this thesis, a HRO concept is presented as one means to understand an organization’s technical system. Such an organization is highly safe and reliable, though this organization’s environment is dangerous, meaning that a defect or mistake, and the ensuing trouble, is significant (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2001). That is, the situation is perceived to be sensitive, and the organization that installs the safety mechanism beforehand does so under circumstances in which the problem is very easily caused. The starting point of the HRO research is, “Why does the accident’s seriousness and frequency, and the type of accident occur differently among organizations?” The research also considers the point, “Awareness of the issues that allow the discovery of various influential factor groups, based on prior experience research” (Nishimoto, 2004). This is different from the existing research of on organization that considers a technical system that has already been constructed. Furthermore, since the technical system and the organization are closely related, an organization should be concerned because of this relationship, and decide whether a problem occurs within an operation.

The thesis develops from this as follows. First of all, it explains from what aspect the error study of an existing organization has advanced research. Next, it takes a general view of HRO and studies it from a point differing from existing research. Finally, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry, especially Internet Service Provider (xSP), is presented as a HRO case. Because ICT is a complex Socio-Technical system, there is a high possibility of connecting with the crisis with big and small mistakes, and the ensuring trouble. Therefore, the concept of HRO is easily suited. Moreover, these firms operate with the most advanced technology, as well as with various networks (e.g., government, firms, and consumers). In addition, the attitude of ICT operations is becoming more and more tough, bordering on the belief that, "Mistakes are not permitted." This is due to the enforcement of the Act for Protection of Computer Processed Personal Data Held by Administrative Organs, the introduction of Information Security Management System (ISMS), and the setting of Service Level Agreement (SLA). Therefore, showing the effectiveness of HRO in actual firms becomes possible by analyzing the ICT industry.


High Reliability Organization (HRO); Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry; Actor-Network Theory (ANT); Practice Based Approach; social constructed network

Full Text: