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The impact of using an ERP system on organizational processes and individual employees

Alessandro Spano and Benedetta Bell University of Cagliari

Contact person: Alessandro Spano, Department of Ricerche Aziendali, University of Cagliari, viale S. Ignazio, 17 09123 Cagliari, Italy Phone: +39+0706753400 Email: spano@unica.it

Abstract This article reports the results of a research aimed at investigating the impact of an ERP system on organizational processes and individual employees in a public sector organization (Italian Regional Council). Through a qualitative method (Focus Groups - FG) interesting results have come out: system introduction planning, organizational and technical aspects seem to be relevant issues to be addressed in order to improve ERP systems effectiveness. Through a structured questionnaire, a larger sample of employees will be involved in the second phase, aimed at testing the constructs which emerged with the FG analysis and the relationships among them.

Rsum Cet article prsente les rsultats d'une recherche visant tudier l'impact d'un systme ERP sur les processus organisationnels et les employs dans une organisation du secteur public (Conseil Rgional Italien). Grce une mthode qualitative (groupes de discussion FG) des rsultats intressants sont sortis: planification dintroduction du systme, aspects techniques et organisationnels semblent tre les questions appropries tre adress pour amliorer l'efficacit du systme ERP. Grce un questionnaire structur, un chantillon plus large d'employs sera impliqus dans la deuxime phase, visant tester les concepts qui ont merg avec l'analyse FG et les relations entre eux.

Key words: ERP systems, focus groups, organizational processes, individual employees, reactions.

1. Introduction and theoretical background This paper reports the results of the first phase of a research project on the introduction of an ERP system into a public sector organization (the SIBAR project, the Italian acronym for Regional Government Basic Information System, Sistema Informativo di Base

dellAmministrazione Regionale). An Enterprise Resource Planning system (ERP) is an advanced Information System (IS); it provides a comprehensive overview of the organization and a common database in which business transactions are recorded and stored (Umble, Haft and Umble, 2003). Moreover, ERP systems might help to reduce costs and improve inefficient processes (Harris, 2006). Even if in both, the private and public sector, large amounts of money have been invested in ISs to help people reach better decisions quicker (Olsson, 2004; Rosaker and Olson, 2008), in many cases the results achieved are not those expected and the debate has been thrown wide open as to the value of these ERP systems (Miranda and Kavanagh, 2005). Most research regarding ERP implementation has focused on the private sector, with relatively little research done in public organizations, especially regarding the impact on organizational processes and individual behaviours in a public sector setting. Even though ERP systems are more popular in the private sector, they have been gaining acceptance in the public sector as well (Sprecher, 1999). Some authors have argued that private and public sector organizations are not significantly different as far as ISs are concerned (Ward, 2006). Public managers, as they counterparts in the private sector, need up-to-date financial and cost information in order to take better decisions quicker, compared to the previous legacy systems. ERPs allow a better co-ordination of the different resources used in order to deliver services to citizens. (Sprecher, 1999). Other researchers have reached the opposite conclusion, pointing at significant differences between private and public organizations in regard to the impact of managing and implementing ISs (Rosaker and Olson, 2008; Raymond, Uwizeyemungu and Bergeron, 2005). ISs are not only related to technical aspects, but to managerial issues as well. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are currently used to modernize management systems in many public sector organizations around the world (Lips, Shuppan, 2009; Lenk, 2002). The role of IS and ICTs is fundamental to bring about transformational change in public service provision and administration (OECD, 2005). Governmental information systems are today a crucial element in making public sector organizations more accountable, efficient and effective (Rocheleau, 2006).

The need to increase efficiency is one of the most common reasons to implement an ERP system (Chang et al, 2000). In fact, ICT adoption by governments helps enhance productivity by reducing start-up time and cutting red tape (EU, 2006). Other studies focused the attention to change management where ERP implementation will involve changes to business processes (Parr, Shanks and Darke,1999; Holland, Light and Gibson, 1999; Bancroft, 1996), as they strongly support change management (Harris, 1999), supply chain management (Botta-Genoulaz, Millet and Grabot 2005; Su and Yang, 2010), and organizational performance improvement (Uwizeyemungu, 2008; Hendricks, Singhal and Stratman, 2007). According to Oliver and Romm (2000), organizations decide to implement ERPs solutions for different reasons: (i) the need to improve the performance of current operations, (ii) the need to integrate data and systems, and (iii) the need to prevent a competitive disadvantage or a business risk from becoming critical. In the European Union context, ICT is considered a fundamental tool to improve business processes and efficiency in the public sector and to deliver better public services (European Commission, 2007). In their study Holland and Light (1999) highlighted that ERP implementation may follow two paths, i.e. the choice of a standardized, almost ready-to-use package, with little adjustments required, and the customization of an ERP system to tailor it to the organizations needs. The first option appears to be more likely than the second one (Morton and Hu, 2008) especially because it is less expensive (Lindley, Topping and Lindley, 2008) However, this enforced standardization may not fit the organizations characteristics and, in turn, this may lead to the failure of the ERP systems implementation (Morton and Hu, 2008). In fact, ERP systems require organizations to comply with standard business processes used to design the ERP software packages and the most common ERP software, such as SAP, has pre-configured processes. As a consequence, one of the problems with ERP systems is their rigidity (Austin and Nolan, 1999). Even though ERP systems are perceived as rigid, some public organizations have experienced a greater level of flexibility in organizational processes after their implementation (Singla, 2008). Different ERP implementation projects may face similar problems (Roque, 2008a) and there are plenty of suggestions for successful ERP implementation in available literature (Cliffe, 1999; Roque, 2008b; Crisostomo, 2008a e 2008b). For instance, some authors (Allen, Kern and Havenhand, 2002) consider the critical factors influencing the success of ERP implementation in the public sector to be organizational culture, the conduct of past technologi3

cal implementations, relationship and knowledge management, and existing power structures in the organization. An ERP system may be defined as a software solution that addresses the enterprise needs of an organization, taking the process view to meet organizational goals by tightly integrating all corporate functions. ERP systems are designed to tightly integrate business processes across organizations (Sprecher, 1999). In fact, ERPs are based on a "process" view approach instead of a traditional "functional" view approach (Miranda, 1999). As a consequence, ERPs are useful to improve production processes (Parr and Shanks, 2000) to better understand value adding activities and improve service provision. Moreover, OKane, (2004) points out that the attention of researchers in implementing ERP solutions should shift from the hard elements to the soft issues related to such an implementation, i.e. address human-related and organizational culture problems, when trying to explain the antecedents of an efficient ERP implementation. Also an appropriate managerial intervention is required for an effective ERP implementation. Also Culture has a substantial and definite influence on organizations, organizational behavior, the management of organizations and the ERP implementation (Bancroft, 1996; Burn, Davison and Jordan, 1997; Burn, 1995; Cheung and J. Burn, 1994; Hall, 1990; Thanasankit and Corbitt, 1999; Weber, 1951; Tricker, 1988; Malling, 1998; Thanasankit,1999; Hofstede, 1991); it can be argued that cultural differences will mean that factors important in one culture may be less important in another, and vice versa. The research aims at investigating the impact of introducing ERP systems on organizational processes and individual employees. The latter is related to individual reactions to the introduction of such systems from a psychological and a working behavioural point of view. In the first part, FG analysis with system users was used. This phase will be followed by a questionnaire survey to be given to managers and system users of the Sardinia Regional Council. This paper reports the results of the first part of this research, providing the analysis of three FG; the other steps are still in progress and the results will be presented by the end of 2010.

2.

Methodology In the first phase of the research we used a qualitative methodology (FG) in order to

deepen comprehension concerning the introduction of an ERP system into a public sector organization, which, in the Italian context, can be considered as a new phenomenon (Steward

and Shamdasani, 1990). In the second phase, the most important constructs and subconstructs emerged with the FG analysis (Sedera, Gable and Chan, 2003) and the relationships between them will be analyzed with a quantitative methodology (structured questionnaire) involving a larger sample to allow for the results generalizability to the regional council. FGs are rarely used as a stand-alone approach, but are more often used together with other types of data gathering methods as part of a systematic approach (McClelland, 1994). FG is a collection of individuals selected to discuss and comment on a specific topic, based on their personal experience (Powell and Single, 1996). Compared to other qualitative methods (e.g. group interviews) in FGs the multidirectional interactions may solicit cooperation vs conflicts (Morgan, 1988). Group interaction will be productive in broadening the range of responses, activating forgotten details of experience and relieving inhibitions that may discourage participants from revealing information (Merton, Fiske and Kendall, 1956). The importance of this kind of methodology is still underestimated and very little previous research on ERP has used FG. In their study Tan and Pan (2002) built a model for evaluating ERP success to guide practitioners in planning, executing and optimizing its implementation; some authors (Van Velsen, Huijs and van der Geest, 2010) used focus groups to show different applications and development that are useful to personalize the ERP systems to better fit with the organization. Tadinen (2005) used FG to test the hypothesis aimed to investigate the importance of the soft factors across the ERP life cycle stages, asking users to identify in which stage(s) each soft factor is important; in fact, according to a model developed in 1999 by Ross, there are five stages in an ERP system life: design, implementation, stabilisation, continuous improvement and transformation. We carried out three FGs; the criteria to select participants, prepare the focus-setting, collect and analyse data was set out in advance and shared with the Sardinia Regional Council which financed the research. Selected participants, were willing to share relevant information (Steward and Shamdasani, 1990); data was complex, rich, never stereotyped, reflecting different typology of users opinion. The number of participants ranges from 8 to 12, as suggested by the literature; each FG lasted from 1,5 to 2 hours, audio-taped and transcribed. The FGs contents have been inputted in a Hermeneutic Unit and analysed using AtlasTi software (Muhr, 1991) according to the Grounded Theory methodology (Glaser and Strauss, 1967), an inductive methodology. The main points of the content extracted from the text are marked with a series of codes (quotation); the codes are grouped into similar concepts to create families (code families) which foster the creation of new theories rather than beginning by testing a hypothesis (bottom-up approach). There were 9 participants for the first FG who were users
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of the SB module (Basic System document and work flow management); for the second FG, 11 users of SCI-FI users (Integrated Accounting System - Financial) and for the third FG 12 managers, users of different modules. Participants have used SIBAR since its introduction (January 1st 2007); the majority are responsible for groups of users in their respective departments. After a brief presentation of participants, 3 questions were proposed: a) their reaction to the introduction of SIBAR (differences between the system previously used and SIBAR, positive and negative aspects, impact from an organizational and individual point of view); b) motivational aspects (use or rejection of the system); c) suggestions from real users to improve the system.

3.

Results This section reports results divided into code families: title and a brief description of codes

included are described, followed by a table reporting code frequencies.

How SIBAR has been introduced The code family How SIBAR has been introduced describes how the system has been introduced. In the second half of 2006, a preliminary analysis was carried out by the consulting company, with a group of employees to customize the system. Participants stressed the huge effort to kick-off the system by the first of January 2007 without any delays; other critical aspects related to the SIBAR introduction phase are pointed out. The code Training shows the employees complaints about the training activity that went in a blink of an eye, which was of low quality and not customized for individual training needs; Organizational lack highlights employees belief that the introduction phase was badly organized; there wasnt an experimental preliminary step to test the system; it has been imposed on all users since the 1st of January 2007. Colleagues support indicates that the majority of SIBAR learning experiences have been guided by other colleagues even if they did not receive any formal assignment or without being legitimised for that. As a reaction, some employees showed unhappiness at being trained by other colleagues while others were enthusiastic for the support received. Initial test emphasises employees belief that there was a lack of sufficient initial tests due to budget and time constraints; Standard system points out employees negative consideration towards the ERP system chosen, created for a private sector and imposed on their public administration. Consulting company incompetence shows how employees blame the con-

sulting company for not being sufficiently skilled in the accounting system of a public administration.

Table 1. How SIBAR has been introduced Codes Training Organizational lack Colleagues support Initial tests Standard system 1 13 5 16 0 2 2 8 10 5 2 2 3 3 4 8 0 9 6 4 Tot 25 23 21 11 10 8

Consulting company incompetence 1

Description of the situation The code family Description of the situation reports a description of the situation before and after the introduction of SIBAR, highlighting the differences with the previous system; negative aspects and positive aspects are pointed out as well. The code Preliminary expectations reports employees initial sympathy towards the system and its power to solve problems which the out-of-date previous systems had struggled to do (e.g. integration between different modules). Changes before-after SIBAR describes how the SIBAR showed its effects over time, especially for the phase from a paper-based to an IS system with electronic protocol, digital signature and multiple licence to input data. Traumatic change highlights how, due to the complexity of SIBAR, employees defined the change from the previous systems to SIBAR as traumatic, especially given the efforts made to adapt work processes to the new system.

Table 2. Description of the situation Codes Preliminary expectations Changes before-after SIBAR Traumatic change 1 3 9 9 2 12 15 13 3 17 6 7 Tot 32 30 29

Other software usage With the Other software usage code family a surprising aspect arises, which is related to the use of home-made software programs, not integrated with SIBAR, notwithstanding the huge investment made in the new IS; the presumed integration of the SIBAR (supposed to be an ERP) appears to be, in some cases, unfounded. Home-made software reports that the Planning and Accounting Department uses an internally realized software (made with the software ACCESS) to prepare the annual budget of the Sardinia Regional Council as a whole. The fact that the new system is not used for this fundamental task, calls into question the acceptance of SIBAR. Double check refers to the fact that users do not trust SIBAR and use other software (e.g. Excel) to double-check the accuracy of calculations (for example, for wages), automatically made by SIBAR.

Table 3. Other software usage Codes Home-made software Double check 1 0 0 2 4 3 3 4 3 Tot 8 6

Attitude The Attitude code family regards issues related to participants attitude toward and opinion of SIBAR. As regards the code Negative emotions, participants demonstrated a sense of powerlessness as they had had to put up with the introduction of the new system without having been previously asked. Also, there is a sense of disappointment and disillusionment when people realized that all its promised wonders were not all true. Positive emotions expresses participants positive sensations towards SIBAR, which is seen as an interesting system, full of potentialities with employees feeling proud to have participated in its introduction. Unsatisfactory system operating code is related to employees perception that the system did not work as they expected; Resentment towards the consulting company regards mistrust of the consulting company, which is blamed for the system's malfunctioning, as well as for mistakes made in the introduction phase.

Table 4. Attitude Codes Negative emotions 1 1 2 13 3 25 Tot 39

Positive emotions Unsatisfactory system operating

20 3

8 10 5

5 6 4

33 19 15

Resentment towards the consulting6 company

Positive aspects The Positive aspects code family reports various positive aspects and advantages of SIBAR; it points out some of the reasons for choosing SIBAR. The code Greater exchange with colleagues highlights how SIBAR increased the cooperation among colleagues to solve problems (greater solidarity and sharing of the same documents and resources). Support to planning describes how, thanks to SIBAR, the planning process is easier than before. Easier document visualization shows how employees appreciate the possibility to access documents from everywhere.

Table 5. Positive aspects Codes Greater exchange with colleagues Support to planning Easier document visualization 1 4 0 2 2 1 4 2 3 0 1 0 Tot 5 5 4

Reasons for resistance to SIBAR The Reasons for resistance to SIBAR code family tries to figure out why there is a resistance to using the SIBAR system, from both, a motivational and an organizational point of view. The code Lack of organization highlights employees' resistance to SIBAR as its introduction was not properly managed and had no clear and specific plan. They also felt resentment at being left out of the implementation process. Mentality/culture reveals that some employees refused to accept SIBAR because of a general resistance towards what is new and innovative. Managers influence describes how managers setting a good or bad example has had a deep impact on employees behaviour in using SIBAR. Initial difficulties emphasises the difficulties in using SIBAR because of its complexity; it does not seem to be user friendly and it requires a certain degree of adaptation.

Table 6. Reasons for resistance to SIBAR Codes Lack of organization Mentality/culture Managers influence Initial difficulties 1 24 7 11 8 2 6 4 1 2 3 4 4 0 3 Tot 34 15 12 13

Problems As far as Problems code family is concerned, Slowness indicates that users are being asked to follow long and complicated procedures in order to do the same things they were used to doing before SIBAR. Data not reliable highlights that users do not trust the reports generated by the system and that it is sometimes difficult to find data one is looking for. Even worse, different reports provide the same data with contradictory figures (for example, expenditures). Two contradictory aspects refer to Licence number: on the one hand, participants complain about their limited numbers; on the other hand, there are unused licenses. Another significant problem is signalled by the code Integration; whether or not it is true, it is significant that users and managers perceive a low level of integration among the different SIBAR modules.

Table 7. Problems Codes Slowness Data not reliable Licences number Integration 1 5 1 0 3 2 10 11 12 3 3 9 8 6 12 Tot 24 20 18 18

Suggestions Codes belonging to the Suggestions code family are related to the third part of the FGs, which aims to collect suggestions from real users to improve the system both technically and organizationally. With the code Simplification-speeding up employees suggested making procedures easier and faster; in Training employees suggested providing a more focused training, instead of a general one; in Internal helpdesk they suggested creating an internal helpdesk with competent colleagues trained to use and teach other colleagues how to use SI-

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BAR. Disclose SIBAR potential aims at understanding all of SIBARs potentialities, considered vast but not well known.

Table 8. Suggestions Codes Simplification-speeding up Training Internal Helpdesk Disclose SIBAR potential 1 3 3 6 0 2 3 4 3 3 3 4 2 0 4 Tot 10 9 9 7

4.

Discussion and conclusions Using FG analysis we obtained interesting results, which will be further investigated with a

questionnaire survey. From an individual point of view, some users seem to be very pleased to use this system; it generates a sense of pride comparing the Regional Council with other Councils that dont have such a system and seems to have great potential to be discovered. Others complained about the way the system was introduced (top-down approach and limited preliminary sharing) and because the IS was designed for the private sector and then adapted to a public organization. We found some interesting differences among the three FGs. As far as preliminary expectations are concerned, participants in the first FG referred less often to positive expectations they had than the other groups, compared to the managers FG. Moreover, in the first FG they reported positive emotions more often than managers. Even though we have to test it with the questionnaire survey, measuring the expectation level and analysing the literature on the relationship between expectation and emotion related to ERP system introduction, it will be interesting to see if people who had lower expectations are the same that expressed positive emotions and if people with higher expectations expressed negative emotions. According to a previous article (Pollok and Cornford, 2004) in which authors used FG to let the users worries in relation to some of the new ERP system procedures to come out, we found that participants perceived the introduction of the new IS as traumatic and the cause of a significant change. However, the new system also enabled a greater sharing of experiences among users, initially driven by technical reasons (users asked their colleagues how to solve specific problems), and later it provide a means of getting to know colleagues they had not met previously.

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From the organizational point of view, they highlighted a lack of organization and an underestimation of the problems employees would face. Participants in the first FG stated that it was an element which caused resistance to SIBAR's introduction while the other two groups considered this aspect less relevant. Moreover, employees dont trust the consulting company. Indeed, believing it to be incapable of solving SIBAR problems, they proposed the creation of an internal group of users to suggest technical solutions and make SIBAR more effective. Lack of training is considered one of the main critical aspects by participants in the three FGs, and the first one in particular. One interesting aspect is related to the multiple objectives the SIBAR was meant to achieve (financial/non financial issues, human resources management, asset management, procurement, etc.); the system is extremely complex and might not have been understood by everyone, or might not have been correctly explained by the consulting company. This might have caused a negative perception, as people remain aware of only a limited number of advantages, but have been asked to bear its full weight; they think the impact that the SIBAR would have had was underestimated. These results are useful to develop the questionnaire for the second phase of the research, and thus combine qualitative and quantitative methods.

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