Seminar Series November 22, 2013

Executive Summary of the MISRC Seminar on 11/22/2013


When non-standardized people meet standardized enterprise systems
Professor Nicholas Berente, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia

The goals of enterprise system implementations typically involve efficiency, speed, productivity, and cost savings through standardization of key business processes throughout an organization. Because of this standardization, enterprise systems generally offer greater control and accountability and seamless data and process integration throughout an enterprise. One might say these goals relating to standardization describe the "logic" of an enterprise system.

The logic of an enterprise system is certainly desirable for much of the organization, but there are areas where it is sometimes not -- areas rife with non-standardized knowledge workers. Knowledge workers such as scientists, engineers, programmers, and complex-product salespeople are highly skilled (and typically highly paid) specifically because their work cannot be so readily standardized and requires extensive training, judgment, and creativity. Efficiency and control are certainly desirable, but these take a back seat to non-standardized tasks that involve innovation, design, negotiation, and revenue generation. These "non-standardized" goals of innovation, creativity, and revenue generation have logics that can be sometimes at odds with the standardized logic of an enterprise system.

Nick Berente's presentation reports on a decade of research into the ways that knowledge workers deal with enterprise systems. Using an in-depth analysis of NASA's highly successful enterprise system implementation as his primary example, Dr. Berente explores the way that knowledge workers (such as scientists, engineers, and project managers) "loosely coupled" their activity from the enterprise system -- reconciling it with their on-going activity through shadow systems, avoidance, circumvention, and other tactics. Knowledge workers self-organize to reconcile their non-standardized activity with the enterprise system.

The presentation also provides examples of knowledge workers reconciling their work with enterprise systems in other contexts, including automotive engineering, complex sales, and healthcare. Dr. Berente concludes with tactics to consider when the logic of knowledge workers may not be entirely consistent with the logic of the enterprise system. These include: human intermediation; alternative system control; discretion; and recreation tactics.

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