Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Economic and Information Systems - Faculty of Commerce


When an organisation is looking for a computer-based system to support part of their operation it is not uncommon for them to consider purchasing an application software that is already in use in an organisation similar to itself. Those responsible for the system's acquisition are considerably influenced by any advice they receive on experiences with the proposed new system from those who have successfully used the application. Such communication between organisations may only occur at management level so that actual end-users are rarely involved. Issues of system usability are therefore assumed to be unproblematic, as the system has been used in a comparable real world situation. Even less of a consideration is whether the context of use in the receiving organisation is similar to those where the system is currently being used so that systems implementation can take place with ease. The study presented in this thesis confirms the importance of critical contextual factors that affect the capability of people in an organisation and the performance of the whole organisation when a complex new system is implemented. It also demonstrates the relationships between contextual factors and the importance of these factors. The research has used a grounded theory approach to reveal details within complex phenomena in an organisation when a substantial new system was implemented. This approach has been shown to be eminently suitable for the study which involved a new timetabling system in an educational institution. Furthermore, Activity Theory was seen as an appropriate framework to display and interpret large amounts of inter-related data in a holistic and comprehendible way. The study revealed three critical issues: Knowledge Transfer, System Capability, and Organisational Context that appeared to be related to the problems of implementing the new information system in the organisation. These three issues are the main categories emerging from the data analysis leading into the effect of 'influencing capability and thereby organisational performance' which was designated as the core category. From a holistic view, the Activity Theory interpretation revealed that the dominant activities of the organisation in the case, teaching and learning were distorted by the new system as people in the organisation put more effort on getting the system to work rather than doing their own job. This research adds to the understanding of a common situation where management have an over simplified view of organisational work and assume that implementing a new computer based system can quite easily improve the performance of the organisation. However the nature and the processes of most work are more complicated than they realise so that it is rarely simple to implement a system to support a job that is inherently complex. Traditional organisations, which rely on a 'command and control' approach to management, do not handle complexity well thereby restricting the ability of staff to use their knowledge of the real conditions to adapt their work to suit changing organisational systems.

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