Inside the new sites of innovation: how user communities influence complex enterprise technologies
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User groups have been recognised as one of the most important coupling mechanisms between users and vendors. There are hundreds of such groups around the world attached to complex technological artefacts and systems. Innovation scholars have referred to these groups as the new sites of innovation and gone as far to suggest that vendors may struggle to survive without the user-led innovation that derives from these forums (von Hippel, 2005). This is particularly the case for software products. However, despite their growing academic and policy importance, and notwithstanding the fact these communities have been in existence for more than three decades, the Information Systems literature has not yet explained the complex workings of such groups. This study produces one of the first ethnographic studies of a major software user group linked to a complex packaged enterprise system. It describes and characterises the range of functions carried out by this group, which includes their internal workings and organisation, how members relate to each other, how the group links to the vendor and other intermediaries, and the group’s attempts to shape the development of its technology. A key focus of the work is the various tensions and barriers found in these communities. To analyse this group the study adopts and extends the Social Shaping of Technology (SST) and its recent offshoot, the ‘Biography of Artefact’ (BoA) framework. This thesis contributes to these approaches by showing the importance of multifaceted time dimensions and heterogeneity of spaces in examining users groups. Whilst existing studies using these approaches have looked at the evolution of technology over extended periods, this thesis contributes by considering the coevolution of the technology and the community attached at the same time. This allows us not only to gain a better conceptualisation of the user group but as a result see new forms of innovation invisible to more dominant perspectives. It challenges economist led understandings of user-led innovation which tend to give only a rather superficial understanding of the process by which users create new innovation. In particular, and through arguing for the need to take into account both ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in the process of user-led innovation, the thesis offers the concept of ‘artification’ to explain further complex outputs originating from the interaction of these actors in multiple spaces and over long periods of time. The thesis also extends theories of the Social Shaping of Technology by depicting innovation as an arena where different actor spaces act collectively, but also compete, and as a result wield influence on different stages of the technology lifecycle. This leads to a further contribution of this thesis in the field of Information Systems research by suggesting that enterprise software innovation is a community achievement. In particular, the research proposes the concept of ‘unification’ to show the collective acts of users in aggregating their needs to participate in the development of technology. The study concludes by offering insights and recommendation to practitioners and policy makers for deploying user communities for better technological outcomes, both in terms of design and development as well as implementation and use.