The firm and the guild: a perspective on the future of knowledge work and information technology

Marc Demarest


Having exhausted the economic benefits of the automation of production work, and already committed to their strategies with respect to the automation of service work, commercial firms are now turning their strategic attention to knowledge management and the automation of knowledge work. These firms will adopt one of two generic approaches to process and workflow-based IT automation of knowledge work: empowerment or control. The firms’ strategic decision will be made not on the basis of market sector or segment, as has been the case in the past, but on the strategic basis of competition: design-centered process inovation, or cost-centered price or product leadership. Design-centered firms will select empowerment paradigms for the IT-based automation of knowledge work. This paper examines this strategic bifurcation, and outlines directions for IT ethicists committed to empowerment paradigms.