An Examination of the Impact of Expert Systems on the Firm: The Case of XCON
This article presents a new and different perspective on a familiar story. XCON, Digital Equipment Corporation’s (DIGITAL) expert system for configuring PDP and VAX computers, is a well-known commercial expert system. However, much of what has been written about XCON has been from either a technical or development perspective. IN a different vein, this research examines how the use of XCON changed the task (configuration) it was designed to support, how it altered the roles and responsibilities of the technical editors (the individuals who performed configuration), and how the system helped eliminate an entire step in the company’s manufacturing process, thereby saving Digital an estimated $15 million. Drawing upon the concepts of organizational information processing, as operationalized by Jay Galbraith, this study shows that use of XCON increased the information processing capacity of the organization. Moreover, the system altered the local execution of the configuration task and provided for a company-wide shift in the process of configuring. XCON allowed a more centralized, controlled, and detailed application of configuration knowledge. This augmented knowledge application and had the benefit of supporting Digital’s product strategy. The main drawback was an increased need to commit resources to ongoing maintenance of the evolving XCON system.
|Expert systems, knowledge-based systems, artificial intelligence, organizational impacts, technology impacts organizational information processing, XCON, manufacturing systems