Interpreting the implementation of integrated packaged software : the case of enterprise resource planning
This research is concerned with the role played by integrated packaged software in organisations and the validity of the emerging notion of improvisation in implementing such systems. It is informed by the information systems (IS) literature on systems implementation, improvisation, and social shaping of technology, and by the social science literature on the role of technology in society. It is also guided by the sociological approach of Actor Network Theory (ANT). The study examines social and organisational efforts to implement Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems in two international organisations, taking account of the role played by the system itself. The research findings deny both the technology and social deterministic perspectives and argue that the technology effect is a result of negotiation between the technology and society. The findings also argue that implementing a large, integrated, module-based packaged IS like ERP can be seen as an improvised activity, in which the plan is an actor and that drift is inherent in the process of moving the multi-layered project into different social and technical networks. The research therefore contributes to the long-standing debate about technology determinism and social construction of technology. By focusing on a structured technology, such as ERP and its implementation, the study extends existing work that supports the argument of IS improvisation and makes significant progress in appropriating ANT for its application in IS research. This novel application of ANT as a theoretical framework and analytical vehicle provides an alternative way of analysing the role of technology in organisations. It supports the social contructivism view without undermining the role played by the technology. This could provide a solution to one of the main difficulties of IS research, namely accounting for the capacity of technology without losing the social focus. The research findings invite practitioners to rethink and reflect on two aspects: how the evaluation procedures of IS implementation and use can best incorporate and encourage the improvisation view; and the role of technology in organisations and the way integrated systems projects are managed.