An Enterprise Resource Planning System Implementation Process as a Co-emergence of Organisational Learning and Communities of Practice

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Embargoed until 2016-01-31
Copyright: Chadhar, Mehmood
In the information systems (IS) discipline, there has been a continued interest in comprehending and explaining how the implementation of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems instigate organisational change processes and bring about desirable outcomes. Extensive literature on ERP implementation identifies numerous factors that affect organisational changes, including staff training, top management support and involvement, active user participation, external knowledge acquisition, knowledge co-creation and sharing, staff learning and many more. Despite the maturing of ERP technologies and a wealth of knowledge available on ERP implementation, organisations continue to experience considerable difficulties and rarely achieve desired outcomes. The key challenge for an organisation implementing an ERP system, emphasised in the literature, is to understand and enact new business processes inscribed in ERP and thus undergo a profound organisational change. The thesis addresses this challenge by approaching ERP implementation as an organisational learning process. When an organisation is planning and configuring ERP and then implementing it in its specific business processes, all its actors have to learn, individually and collectively, and engage in instigating change in practice. To conceptualise ERP implementation as an organisational learning process, the thesis builds from two theories of learning: community of practice (CoP) theory that draws attention to situated learning in practice and a theory of single- and double-loop learning by individuals, groups and an organisation as a whole. Within such a theoretical foundation, the thesis examines the following research questions: How does organisational learning emerge and assist the actors in an ERP implementation? How do CoPs facilitate organisational learning during an ERP implementation? To answer these questions, a qualitative case study was conducted in an information technology (IT) services company in Australia during its SAP implementation (over 14 months in 2009–2010). The analysis of empirical data (interviews, observations and company documents) reveals that the company first failed to implement SAP (Phase 1), then succeeded in SAP-enabled transformation at the operational level (Phase 2) and eventually achieved the desired organisation-wide transformation (Phase 3). Importantly, these three phases of SAP implementation were characterised by not learning, single-loop learning and double-loop learning respectively. In-depth analysis also revealed that the spontaneous formation of communities of practice around SAP interpretation and application in practice in different departments stimulated ‘learning by doing’, leading to single-loop learning. Further institutionalisation of communities of practice and the formation of a ‘community of communities of practice’ across the company resulted in double-loop learning and a successful transformation of processes company-wide. Lessons from this case study suggest that the emergence, maturing and institutionalisation of communities of practice were the key mechanisms by which SAP implementation transformed from not learning to single-loop and double-loop learning, leading to gradual SAP-enabled transformations. Grounded in the empirical findings, the thesis proposes a processual model of ERP implementation as practice-based organisational learning as a major theoretical contribution. It posits a relation between a gradual ERP-enabled organisational transformation and ongoing practice-based learning by doing in emerging communities of practice mutually intertwined with single- and double-loop organisational learning. The proposed model addresses the key challenge of ERP implementation by contributing to a practice-based and more refined understanding of its complex and emergent nature. Further, it opens up new avenues for exploration of practice-based learning and ERP-enabled organisational change processes. The model is also expected to help practitioners to plan, monitor and manage ERP implementation and organisational change better.
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Chadhar, Mehmood
Guo, Zixiu
Cecez-Kecmanovic, Dubravka
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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