Paper Title: ‘Best’ for whom?: the tension between ‘best practice’ ERP packages and diverse epistemic cultures in a university context

Authors: Erica L. Wagner a, Sue Newell

Editor: Journal of Strategic Information Systems 13 (2004) 305–328

Summary of Content of Paper:

This paper is a use case study with a strong theoretical component.

During the study of the case I noted that the typical vision of scientists where a problem can be solved in a lot of different ways collide with the vision of professional accountants where a problem can be solved in one or very few similar ways. A vision of strong formalism opposed to a vision of flexible and adaptive intellect.

The principles that guide this study are based on interpretative paradigm. The method chosen is based on qualitative research.

The paper analyses by means of reports, interview, discussions, the adoption of an ERP system by a university.

The paper describes the difficulties of the adoption due to the double nature of the institution, at the same time a business company and an academic institution. The paper identify the main reason of this dichotomy: “Professional managers are running universities in North America, Western Europe and Japan in an effort to compete within a higher education marketplace that has grown increasingly complex and competitive over the past ten years”.
Which could be resumed as “competition for survival”.

The dichotomy creates tensions, resistance to ERP adoption, discussion on the real nature of the university, it unfolds the contradiction on the difference between the concept of diversity and homogeneity as they were in opposite directions.

The core of the problem lies in the profound cultural differences among the management structure of the institution: three different management areas were identified: central administration, the faculty, departmental administration. Each one with a very different view about management in general, financial management in particular.

ERP system aimed at imposing standards in financial management in a first phase, gradually reaching an homogeneity through standards in all other aspects of management.

The homogeneity has been perceived as the negation of diversity and peculiarities of the different academic departments in the faculty, leading to an active resistance to the adoption of ERP.

Eventually, internal negotiations led to an accommodation, but the discussion on the adoption of ERP systems has taken a different path, covering a higher significance on the real purpose of such systems.

Note that ERP system adoption and “best-practice” became synonymous along the development of the paper.

The paper concludes in a almost sibylline way: “Unless one believes that power indicates superiority, the notion of ’best practice’ can only ever mean the dominant perspective”
It leaves an open door for further discussions.

The abstract offers a clear explanation about research question and objective, it writes: “recent research has illustrated a gap between the espoused theory of a best practice
solution and the theory-in-use experienced”, and also “it is equally important that we begin to understand the reasons that such a gap exists”
Question are interesting because of the intellectual analysis about epistemic cultures, important because of the possible negative consequences of the adoption of a system without a serious analysis of the internal dynamic of an organization.
The work is original because the study involves a university, not the usual company-like environment.
The background research about interpretative paradigm is clear, because of the existing literature and relevant because is probably the best approach for the specific case.

The principles that guide this study are based on interpretative paradigm. The method chosen is based on qualitative research.
The research method is appropriate, but I should also added some quantitative research in order to explain in a exhaustive way the real reasons of the adoption of ERP system. Numeric figures could have helped to show the economic constrains that force to adopt a ERP system.
The methods are adequately described, in particular all interviews, transcription, pattern search.
The analyses were done correctly, based on interpretative research, therefore careful reading and understanding of individual knowledge and perception.
Qualitative data in the form of interviews and pattern research. Within the logic of interpretative research data are present.
The work is impeccable formal point of view.
Chapters and paragraphs accompany the reader through all the writing and make easier the reading.
There are almost no symbols, all terms are defined.
Probably numeric table and/or graphics could have helped to show the economic figures.

It is advisable to read the related books Chapman & Chua, 2003, Management Accounting in the Digital Economy and Knorr-Cetina, K., 1999. Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge.