Digital technologies and functional reorganisation: implications for working conditions and skills.

Type de publication:

Conference Paper

Source:

Gerpisa colloquium, Bordeaux (2024)

Résumé:

The introduction of digital technologies has transformed manufacturing significantly, both in reconfiguring the global value chain and in intra-firm organisations, changing the way different production phases interact and the specific activities each entails.  Specifically, the digitisation of productive processes has exploded the potential of interconnectedness and interdependence among the different functions, inducing higher integration but also overlapping and new types of workloads. A debate has flourished around the effects of digital technologies on reshaping the traditional GVC organisation into research and development (R&D), management, production, and marketing due to the possibility of reallocating value-added products along the chain.  From a different perspective, a vivid debate has been concentrating on firm-level implications, concerned with the tensions that involve the functional specialisation of the different areas of the firms. There seems to be a consensus in the literature that ongoing technological transformations induce a reorganisation of corporate functions.
In contrast, single units receive larger and more differentiated demands from other intra-firm units and external agents (stakeholders). The increased capacity of digital connections among different corporate functions creates integrating solutions, and feedback flows previously unimaginable between the firm and the surrounding business environment.  Such possibilities emerge as drivers of important organisational transformation, particularly in production.
This research aims to analyse how the functional reorganisation induced by digitalisation has affected the production department (shopfloor) of an automotive company (Automobili Lamborghini) and what repercussions can be evidenced in the tasks performed by workers, their working conditions and the new skills and competences they are asked to put in place.
The methodology adopted in this work is the case study, which relied on semi-structured interviews with key informants and two visits to the plant in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy. During 3 days of fieldwork in May 2023), 19 interviews were carried out involving workers from different company units (shopfloor, Urus and Huracán assembly lines, Information and communication technologies, digital car development unit, purchasing and testing).  Nearly 1000 minutes of interviews were gathered, partly in the plant and partly remotely, through video calls.
The findings evidenced that the increased interconnection and data-sharing possibilities of digital technologies enhance customization options and increase the range of services that can be offered to customers, allowing clients and other firm units to access the shopfloor in a much more integrated way.  Consequently, workers on the shopfloor experience an increase in the demands they are called upon to satisfy, both from within the company and from outside it. These new demands are directed to workers from both upstream functions (e.g. pre-production, such as R&D, design, product development and finetuning, management and supply purchasing) and downstream functions (e.g. marketing, sales and after-sales activities, technical assistance, maintenance), which call for deeper integration with production. These demands contribute to reshaping the way work is conceived and changing the tasks connected to the traditional flow of the assembly line and the skills required of operators, generating tensions due to increased and different types of workloads and stress.   

 

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