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Business Information Systems

Stabilized Materiality: NASA's Enterprise System and the Loosely Coupled Equilibrium of Practice

Nicholas Berente, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia

28th Nov 2012  10:00 am - New Law Seminar Room 022

In  this paper we present a study of NASA's enterprise system implementation and  the subsequent four years of its adaptation. Through a grounded analysis of  loosely coupled misalignments associated with this implementation over time, we  document the complex relationship between the enterprise system and its  objectives of integration and control at two levels: the level of local  practices and the level of the organization overall. In contrast to many of the  prevailing studies on enterprise systems that emphasize the idiosyncratic  appropriation of such systems immediately after implementation, through our  multi-year analysis we found material effects of a stabilized enterprise system  at the organizational level. First, while certainly the system does not have  deterministic effects at the level of practice, this particular form  information system that spans an entire organization can have somewhat  deterministic effects on the overall organization. We refer to this as the  effects of the "stabilized materiality" of such a system that spans an entire  organization. Second, although the system itself is tightly coupled and is  intended to integrate and control certain processes in the organization, we  find that it is through a "dynamic loosely coupled equilibrium" on the local  level that that this stability is enabled. Based on these findings, we conclude  that the stabilized materiality of a tightly coupled enterprise system can  simultaneously enable legitimatization and tight integration on an  organizational level, while allowing for locally situated actions subject to  less-than-complete levels of integration and control.