The False Promise of Technological Determinism: The Case of Enterprise Resource Planning Systems

Abstract

According to software vendors and consultants ERPs, transform the nature, structure and management of work regardless of organisational context. This article contests this technologically deterministic view of organisational change by demonstrating the role that discourse plays in the social construction of ERPs. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are computer-based technologies that integrate data across an organisation and impose standardised procedures on its input, use and dissemination. Because of this capacity for integration and standardisation, ERP systems are supposed to transform the nature, structure and management of work (thereby delivering significant cost savings and increased profits) regardless of organisational context (Buckhout et al. We examine the extent to which this technological determinist conception, advanced by consultants and vendors, holds true in relation to three case study organisations. In each case, the organisation deliberated as to whether ERP could deliver what the vendors and consultants promised. One organisation embraced ERP whole heartedly, one organisation adopted it very much on its own terms, and one organisation rejected its adoption. Rather than simply appropriating or subscribing to the technologically determinist discourse promoted by the ERP industry, managers in the different organisations were able to generate and sustain a range of different discourses consistent with their ERP implementation experiences. The paper is divided into four main sections. The first reviews some of the recent literature on ERPs and their implementation. It demonstrates the extent to which much of this literature presents organisational changes associated with ERPs in a technologically deterministic fashion. In the second section we specify the paper's research questions and outline the discourse analytic methodology employed to investigate them. A third section reports the results of the discourse analysis carried out in relation to our three case study organisations. The final section to the paper provides a discussion of our results and main conclusions. Originally derived from Manufacturing Resource Planning II applications, the current generation of ERP systems integrate data across an organisation and impose standardised procedures on its input, use and dissemination. They now boast a range of modules that include the original manufacturing 3 and logistics functions, complemented by various financial and accounting, human resource management, and sales and distribution applications. Leading vendors, like SAP, have also developed industry specific end-to-end solutions (Mabert et al., 2001: 70). Since the mid 1990s there has been massive growth in the number of organizations implementing ERP systems (Booth et that, in the US, almost …

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Grant2013TheFP, title={The False Promise of Technological Determinism: The Case of Enterprise Resource Planning Systems}, author={David E. Grant and Richard Hall and Nick Wailes and Christopher P. Wright}, year={2013} }