3: The Research Question and Methodology – ERP and Information Systems

3
The Research Question and Methodology

This chapter presents the research question and methodology. Researchers have often built their analyses on the fact that enterprise resource planning (ERP) is a package contributing to the information system (IS) integration. As a result, research has not made sufficient effort to study the possible involvement of ERP systems in IS disintegration, although such a possibility could exist. Whatever the reason for the disintegration, the lack of investigation in this field is significant and it should be studied. A possible disintegration or regression from a total integration of IS (TIIS) to a hybrid integration of IS (HIIS) or to a disintegrated information system (DIS) will be taken into consideration in our book. This matter could be important because practitioners and end users who manage an ERP project to improve the architecture’s integration could sometimes be surprised once the project ends and the ERP is deployed. Instead of a desired integration, a kind of IS disintegration can occur. For example, within an IS, an evolution from an ERP 1st G toward a new architecture could lead to a regression of the integration rate which existed before this evolution.

This chapter aims to understand and explain the main reasons why these unwanted scenarios could happen. Knowing these reasons allows all stakeholders to avoid these scenarios, which could lead to IS disintegration instead of integration. This research attempts to explore and identify eventual relationships between the evolution of ERP systems and IS integration or disintegration. The aim of our research is to know if the relationships between the ERP systems and the IS are guided by certain factors and, as a result, this study intends to understand, more in-depth, the factors affecting these relationships.

As an ERP is an indicator of IS integration, the selection of a suitable package and the success of its implementation could improve the integration of the existing system. By contrast, the failure of an ERP system’s implementation cannot promote IS integration but could rather maintain the existing system in a state of disintegration. Therefore, the literature review related to ERP selection criteria and to main reasons for the success or failure of ERP implementation is our point of departure.

The study and analysis of this literature review enabled us to identify certain factors which establish and guide the relationships between the evolution of ERP systems and the IS. We have derived and deduced, from this literature review, the seven research factors (Economic crisis and competitiveness (ECCO), Total dependency on the ERP vendor (TDEV), Project management ERP (PMER), Interoperability of the ERP (INTE), Evolution strategy of existing systems (ESES), Complexity of ERP (COER) and Evolution strategy of ERP vendors (ESEV)). These relationships typically lead the IS toward integration, provided that some defined values of these factors are met. However, when these defined values are not satisfied, the desired integration could be replaced by a kind of disintegration. In other words, the values improving IS integration, which have often been studied in the literature, help to deduce logically the opposite values which will not help IS integration and could rather provoke its disintegration.

Consequently, the identified factors are variables that need to be rated or evaluated because they are able to take different values. This rating helps to evaluate the impact of the values taken by each of these seven factors on IS integration or disintegration. The purpose of our research is to know whether a given arbitration by firms and/or by ERP vendors related to these factors (choosing defined values for these variables) could guide the evolution of ERP systems and therefore impact IS integration or disintegration.

Based on the literature review and on a logical analysis, it was possible to measure each variable and to give it two different values: positive and negative. Each value allows us to measure a different impact of the ERP system’s evolution on the IS and thus to study various possibilities of evolution. A positive value is attributed when this factor promotes IS integration; while a negative value is given when this same factor provokes IS disintegration instead of its integration. Globally, IS integration is obtained when the values of these factors are often positive; when these values are often negative, IS integration could be compromised.

The literature review also permitted us to determine some correlations between these variables. For example, causal correlations are used to indicate that a change in one variable could be the result in changes in other variables. Many combinations and interactions can exist between these factors and it is useful to explore them. This research tries not only to discover and understand the values of these factors, but also to analyze their interactions.

With these concerns in mind, the main research question is: are there some factors that could explain the role of ERP system evolution in guiding the IS toward integration or disintegration? In order to investigate the main research question, the following subquestions were derived:

  1. – Should the competitiveness of a firm, especially within the context of economic crisis, be a criterion to be taken into account by all stakeholders within the framework of an ERP system’s evolution? If so, would IS integration be favored? If not, would its disintegration be provoked?
  2. – Should the dependency of a firm on vendors be a criterion to be taken into account by all stakeholders within the framework of an ERP system’s evolution? If so, would IS integration be improved? If not, would its disintegration be initiated?
  3. – Should a methodology for optimizing project management, based on best practices, be a criterion to be taken into account by all stakeholders within the framework of an ERP system’s evolution? If so, would IS integration be improved? If not, would its disintegration be possible?
  4. – Should improving interoperability be a criterion to be taken into account by all stakeholders within the framework of an ERP system’s evolution? If so, would IS integration be improved? If not, would its disintegration be initiated?
  5. – Should firms’ evolution strategies of existing systems be a criterion to be taken into account by all stakeholders within the framework of an ERP system’s evolution? If so, would IS integration be improved? If not, would its disintegration be provoked?
  6. – Should simplifying the complexity be a criterion to be taken into account by all stakeholders within the framework of an ERP system’s evolution? If so, would IS integration be improved? If not, would its disintegration be possible?
  7. – Should the evolution strategy of ERP vendors from 1st to 2nd G be a criterion to be taken into account by all stakeholders within the framework of an ERP system’s evolution? If so, would the IS integration be improved? If not, would its disintegration be initiated?

To achieve our research goal, we need to study the ERP system’s evolution, as well as the IS and the factors that can explain relationships between them. The theoretical framework is deduced from reviewing the literature and searching for other online sources (newspapers, interviews, online literature, etc.). Due to the lack of literature in the field of IS disintegration, we conducted an empirical study based on practitioners’ experiences via newspapers and interviews with professionals. The interviews were found mainly on the Internet, and the respondents held various relevant positions, such as ERP vendors, integrators, consulting firms, chief information officers (CIOs), consultants, project teams and end users, etc. This range of varying perspectives enabled us to collect several complementary points of views. Data triangulation was conducted to increase the reliability of our study.

The research methodology involves case studies that are used to explore the relationships between the evolution of an ERP system and IS integration or disintegration. Case study research is suitable for descriptive and exploratory research [BAX 08]. The proposed factors (variables) were verified and evaluated, and then they helped us to select case studies whose comparison could serve to identify patterns and findings [YIN 04]. The findings from case studies are provided, and the research propositions are reviewed, verified and improved.

Three case studies have been conducted: the first two case studies analyze the IS of firms; while the third case study studies the strategy of an ERP vendor. We analyzed some famous existing case studies (Hershey and FoxMeyer Drugs) retrieved from the literature. Many authors had analyzed these case studies from their point of view, while we studied them from another point of view related to the goal of our research. We believe that viewing the observations and interviews through the framework of the real-world case studies is the most valuable method to explore and understand the relationships between the evolution of an ERP system and IS integration or disintegration. We also found many interviews (web articles) with practitioners who answered questions related to the research question and the third case study (vendor Oracle). As a result, the comparison between three different case studies and the analysis of the review of the literature, followed by our interpretations and deductions, helps to reply to the research question.

We summarize the research methodology in the following stages:

  1. – exploratory and descriptive, focused on the literature review, allowing us to have the necessary knowledge to better structure our analysis and to deduce our findings [EIS 89, EIS 07];
  2. – inductive to develop a research field, such as IS disintegration, with little theoretical knowledge [SIG 07];
  3. – qualitative by case studies, which allow us to validate or invalidate the analysis deduced from the review of the literature;
  4. – interpretative because a discussion is being presented from the results of the prior research and the case studies, from which a conclusion is drawn.

We view this research as contributing to the description of the unusual relationships between ERP systems and IS. The analysis of ERP systems’ evolution and IS integration or disintegration is derived from a description, exploration and interpretation of the literature rather than being derived from a statistical analysis. Why? Because we are, principally, looking to highlight some new tendencies in the progress of evolution for which considerable observation is necessary. In summary, we determined that a mainly inductive approach together with a qualitative research method is the most appropriate way to fulfill the purpose of our research. Finally, this research methodology leads to the development of a typology by which we can establish some tendencies allowing researchers and practitioners to develop more knowledge in this field.