Cultivating the 'Generic Solution' -- The Emergence of A Chinese Product Data Management (PDM) Software Package
This is a study of the design and development of an Organisational Software Package (OSP). It particularly focuses on the ambitions and supplier strategy of building a ‘generic software solution’ (i.e., a software system that in principle can be used by everyone). The study is located in the distinctive context provided by China, with its particular history and in a period of rapid economic reform. The starting point of this research is the apparent empirical and theoretical gap in the social study of Organisational Software Packages, in which the construction of standard solutions and the supply side of the technology's story have been largely overlooked. Moving beyond conventional information system design perspectives, this thesis draws upon concepts developed within the Social Shaping of Technology (SST) perspective, adopting an interdisciplinary approach to analyse the creation and evolution of OSPs, which enables us to address both the dynamism and continuity of these developments. In order to avoid the shortcomings of snapshot studies, we applied the concepts of ‘social learning’ and in particular the ‘biography’ of software package to examine the evolution of the OSP supply as the supplier developed its product and market strategy over a number of product cycles. Lastly, we applied Rip’s (Rip and Kemp 1998) technological transitional model to explore the influence of both the broad socio-economic context and institutional arrangements on the OSPs' development, as well as the contribution of these and related changes to changing the setting of technology. Methodologically, an extremely detailed longitudinal and contextual analysis has been undertaken through a qualitative historical case study of the evolution of a Chinese software package from 1998- 2005 in the context of China, triangulating different methods: interviewing, document analysis and participant observation. The empirical findings of this study firstly show that achieving the ‘generic’ is not an impossible goal but is rather an evolutionary process which is filled with struggles and tensions. OSP suppliers are forced to maintain a strategic balance between a range of contextual factors with technical, financial and social dimensions. Secondly, and perhaps the key contribution of this study, is the complex multi-locus and multi-layered account it offers of the OSP innovation process, according to which the supplier learns about the representation of users and use in both ‘local’ and ‘community design’ spaces with different approaches and foci through interaction with user organisations and other social players. The findings show that OSP suppliers are required to readjust their relationships with user organisations and establish cycles that move between seeking to achieve the economic imperative through standardisation and seeking to accommodate local user requirements. Thirdly, while this empirical study confirms some observations that have been made about packaged OSP production in western countries, it also reveals some specifically Chinese characters. These particular features of the development process which were identified in the Chinese PDM development were framed (using the terminology of Rip’s transitional model) by the unstable landscape and socio-technical regimes. Finally, this case study also throws light on the applicability of SST in developing countries and on the policy and practice of China’s future technology development.