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Who benefits from exploratory business research? The effect of sub-cultures on the implementation of an enterprise system: An Australian regional university perspective

Jeanne McConachie
I arise in the morning torn between a desire
To improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.
This makes it difficult to plan the day
(Charlotte's Web, White, 1973)

Research into the implementation of the PeopleSoft administrative systems at Central Queensland University demonstrates that all sub-cultures, except the Academics themselves, perceive that the Academic sub-culture holds the power to influence the success or failure of transformational change. Many participants asserted that the anticipated benefits from the recently implemented PeopleSoft system will be achieved not through autocratic leadership but through the Executive's ability to drive a common vision and empower staff. To address the question of who benefits from this study, it is necessary to look at the research from three levels: the researcher, the university and the broader business sector. Firstly, from a narrow perspective, the researcher stands to benefit personally from this research.

The effect of organisational culture has not always been understood when complex technological systems have been implemented. In recent years many large organisations, in both the public and private sectors, have turned to enterprise systems to integrate their administrative processes. Enterprise systems are packages of computer applications that support many, even most, aspects of a company's information needs. Such implementation is partly due to issues raised by Y2K and partly because enterprise systems are perceived to be a competitive necessity (Ptak & Schragenheim, 2000). To gain the anticipated benefits, large, complex enterprise systems require organisation-wide change in structures and processes. However, the emphasis on the bottom line when these systems are implemented often results in the culture of an organisation being overlooked or at least its influence on the success or failure of new technology assimilation being underemphasised. Therefore, the negative effect of the fragmentation of sub-cultures may inflate claims about the productivity to be gained through organisational change and the implementation of an enterprise system.

The recent commercial focus of university management has had mixed reactions from stakeholders. From a sector perspective, higher education has been strongly influenced by global trends. The business culture in higher education has been widely discussed and there is perceived to be a tension between commercial effectiveness and the traditional values of universities (Reid, 1996). University systems, according to Robbins, Millett, Cacioppe and Waters-Marsh (1998), can be described as 'political systems'. As such, the culture can be seen as a dynamic contest between various groups, where each group seeks to promote its own aspirations through the different decision-making mechanisms available (Robbins et al., 1998). Whilst the need for a more commercial focus is increasingly being accepted by some sub-cultures, mainly the university managers, it is not so well accepted by others: unions and academics. It is fair to say that academics are frequently cynical about the motives and objectives of university managers and governments alike (Coady, 2000).

External as well as internal factors have influenced the implementation of enterprise systems. Central Queensland University (CQU) is influenced by external factors such as globalisation, competition and government policy. Together with the internal concerns, these have manifested themselves in a particular set of issues: poor administrative processes, poor financial management, lack of quality mechanisms and information systems creaking under the resulting strain (Arthur Andersen, 1998). For these reasons, CQU's senior management and Council took the decision in 1999 to implement the PeopleSoft suite of administrative systems.

The implementation of PeopleSoft has been approached as a business process re-engineering project and this is forcing second-order structural and policy change on the university. The implementation partnership was outsourced to Andersen Consulting under the management of a Steering Committee. The implementation of PeopleSoft has been given the title of 'Project Renaissance'. CQU is not alone in its decision to drive change through an enterprise system: this decision has also been taken by thirteen other Australian universities (PeopleSoft, 2000).

The business organisational culture required to undertake successfully an enterprise system implementation is still foreign to many universities. Documents sourced from management meetings clearly demonstrate that senior management have high expectations of the university reducing costs from the implementation of PeopleSoft. Enterprise systems require stability and central monitoring. CQU does not have a well-developed organisational identity. The university does not have a strategic planning culture and has perhaps inadvertently strengthened some sub-cultures by decentralising its budget to campus, faculty and division levels. However, using private sector concepts, the senior managers at CQU have attempted many strategies to increase the awareness of the need for change. While recognising the need for a common understanding of the organisational vision, the senior managers have also identified and implemented innovations that are revolutionary to meet society's changing expectations and to transform the culture of the university.

The implementation of an enterprise system is one of the change innovations for CQU. The PeopleSoft project, through Project Renaissance, is the first time the university has outsourced a complex change initiative, allocated a large designated budget and seconded a team of people from their 'normal' work duties to undertake the change processes. Using Edgar's (2001) term, the project team consists of members of the 'S' generation. The 'S' generation are solo, employed on short-term contracts and single focused. Compared to the 'baby boomers' generation, members of this group are not interested in family friendly policies, long-term employment or community work for the university. Therefore, the sub-culture of the Project holds very different values from those of the conservative, traditional university staff.

Past practice for the implementation of new initiatives by CQU, such as transferring from a college of advanced education to a university and extending on to international and regional campuses, has been to introduce change as part of the day-to-day business of faculties and divisions. The integration of the newly formed enterprise systems project has presented a challenge to the senior management of the university.

Because of its importance, the cost of information technology (IT) is a large percentage of the budget at CQU. As a regional university with an expanding number of campuses, CQU has a high reliance on technology. Despite its isolation and relatively small size, CQU nonetheless needs managers and staff who can effectively operate in a changing society. The level of change required by PeopleSoft has increased the awareness of senior managers that IT needs to be managed. However, recent advertisements for senior management positions do not nominate as essential criteria the skills and attributes to lead a multi-site, technology-enabled environment. The ongoing challenge for CQU is how to provide effective communication and leadership to thirteen campuses to ensure that the university's values and vision are held in as high esteem as the local regions' and work units' objectives.


This article is based on a study conducted for a doctorate in business administration. During the study, I was an employee of the university and therefore an insider. However, I wanted to remain an outsider to the actual process when examining the impact that general, academic, project and senior executive groupings had on the success of the implementation of the PeopleSoft system. Accordingly I was not directly involved with either the change management or the implementation of the enterprise system (see also Jarzabkowski, 2001 and Harreveld, 2001, both in this issue). This study was undertaken because the managers of the university at the end of the first phase of the enterprise system project required information regarding possible barriers to the university achieving the anticipated increase in the level of productivity. The project's costs had increased and 'buy-in' from all groupings of the enterprise system did not appear to have been achieved.

Whilst the research approaches are important, their importance is predicated on providing relevant information (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). This research addressed Patton's (1996, p. 14) challenge in which he asserts that the central issue is to do research that will be useful and actually used. The purpose of this research was exploratory because management and staff suspected that there were difficulties in achieving the anticipated level of benefits from the PeopleSoft software. However, they did not know either the impact that sub-cultures would have on the implementation or the level of change that could reasonably be expected.

A two-staged approach was used to the data collection. Stage One collected data using an organisation-wide telephone survey. Although the university management was interested in findings from the telephone survey, such a survey had limitations and did not access all data available. The data from Stage One were used to assist in the design for the focus group approach. Stage Two collected data using the focus group approach. Participants in the focus groups were placed in homogeneous groupings of Academic, General and Project. Because of the small number, senior executive members were interviewed on a one-to-one basis.


Staff of CQU perceive themselves to be change-weary. White's (1973) opening quotation effectively explains the relationship that many CQU staff have with continuous organisational change. Apart from the general changes in higher education, there have also been many internal changes which staff perceive have highly affected the university. In the last five years the university has restructured the faculties, appointed a number of new senior managers, expanded the number of campuses and heavily promoted commercial activities. Staff perceive that the changes were poorly communicated and badly managed. On the one hand, all of these factors have been challenging and unsettling for staff and have led to a climate where further change is regarded as unwelcome. On the other hand it is recognised that achieving productivity gains from the most recent initiative, an enterprise system, has become one of the important objectives of the university. Maximising the value from the recently implemented PeopleSoft software has become so important that many use the words 'transformational' and 'revolutionary' when describing the system's impact on the university.

As is the case with many large public and private sector organisations, the complexity of universities has been increased by technology. Technologies, especially enterprise systems, have invalidated traditional first-order, planned change. Second-order, high-risk change that transforms an organisation is essential to implement successfully an enterprise system (Davenport, 2000). Figure 1 demonstrates how PeopleSoft entered the university and impacted on the organisational culture.

Traditional methods of managing change will not work in the present unpredictable environment and information technology is one of the major reasons for the unpredictability of the environment. When implementing technology, the management of human and organisational risk is not only more difficult than managing the technical risk but also crucial to the success of an enterprise system (Olson, 2001). CQU needs to move beyond the typical traditional public sector, 'head office' centric view. Developing strategies that are appropriate for a traditional one-campus organisation, reliant primarily on government funding, will be ineffective.

At the beginning of the PeopleSoft implementation project all sub-cultures understood that the upgrading of the university's administrative systems was imperative. In line with recommendations from many researchers, the decision at CQU was made very early that, wherever possible, functionality would mean the implementation of the 'vanilla' model. The 'vanilla' model was perceived to mean that the software would be implemented as closely as possible to the original product. The disengagement by many staff, particularly the Academics, from one of the largest change initiatives in the university's history is attributed to the perceived inability to make any changes to the software. The disengagement by one of the major sub-cultures impacted heavily on the business process re-engineering.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Using an enterprise system to drive organisational change

In addition, the Academic and General staff perceived that the Project Team was either unable or unwilling to understand the needs of the organisational culture of the university (Senior Management notes, September 1999). The Project Team could not understand the organisation's culture which included the need to consult broadly. The young Project Team consisting of seconded university staff and consultants had timelines they were determined to meet. Because Academics did not engage in the implementation process, many of their perceptions were based on prior knowledge, media 'hype' and second-hand information from General Staff. However, the Academics have formed their own realities regardless of the basis on which their perceptions were formed. Even if the perceptions of Academics are incorrect they have their own consequences. One such consequence is that Academics have not engaged in the implementation of PeopleSoft, the most expensive change initiative undertaken by CQU.

Culture, information technology and change are intertwined (Schein, 1992). When organisational culture is treated as a unitary concept, leaders reduce their analytical power (Pettigrew, 1986). However, a common vision will require that many of the elements of sub-cultures will also be evident in the organisational culture. At CQU, Academic, General, Executive and Project staff formed some broad perceptions about the implementation of PeopleSoft at CQU that are common across the organisational culture. Significantly, when these broad perceptions are analysed at the sub-culture level, the varying roles and expectations affected each sub-culture's perceptions of the implementation of PeopleSoft at CQU. The common broad perceptions include:

These common perceptions will be presented in turn. Change weariness. The university exhibits a change-weary organisational culture. The complexity of change and the unpredictable environment have impacted heavily on all staff. Continuous change has lessened the Academic staff's willingness to engage in the level of change necessary to implement successfully the PeopleSoft suite of systems. Figure 2 shows that Academic staff perceive that all the new initiatives in the last five years, except PeopleSoft and the GST, have impacted heavily on their workloads. The young Project Team do not value constancy and permanency and therefore do not understand the traditional sub-culture's fear of change and loss of jobs.

The then Vice-Chancellor stated that the implementation of PeopleSoft was expected to reduce 200 positions. However, negativity towards change is to be expected as the higher education sector is in a period of crisis and the majority of Australian universities have low staff morale. Many Academics are disillusioned about the increasing focus on commercialism and the expansion of campuses which they perceive is changing values and roles (Surry, 2000).

Figure 2

Figure 2: Responses to survey questions (35, 36, 37, 38, 40 & 43) for Academic & General staff

Need for the system. At the beginning of the Project there was a high level of understanding of the need for an enterprise system and an acceptance of PeopleSoft as the correct choice of software. At the completion of Stage One, the Academics, in particular, demonstrate a low level of knowledge of the Project's achievements. The staff (except the Executive) agree that the university did not understand and anticipate the impact of second-order change that is required for an enterprise system.

Within CQU, the organisational 'culture' is becoming increasingly fragmented, possibly because of the change-weary culture. The Academic and General staff have formed an alliance against the Project and to a lesser extent the Executive. The lack of shared values and fragmentation of the sub-cultures has not assisted the university to gain the necessary synergies among IT, leadership and culture (Schein, 1992). The achievement of shared values and a high level of trust, particularly across the multi-sites, is essential because otherwise individual resistance to change will reduce the university's ability to adapt to IT-enabled change.

Impact of organisational politics. There is agreement that the university did not effectively manage organisational change driven by PeopleSoft, but the perceived reasons for the inability to manage change vary. The Academic and General staff reported that the Executive was unduly influenced by the Project Team's slick presentations. It is perceived that organisational politics is rife because Senior Management did not have an overview of what the system can and cannot do. In contrast, the Executive reported that the university's culture is conservative and difficult to change. The Project perceives that the university has an 'immature' attitude to managing change and needs to improve its decision-making framework. Not unexpectedly, Academic and General staff are less likely to want to be involved in change at the university-wide level than at campus, faculty and divisional levels because of the fragmentation of the organisational culture.

The decision to change the implementation priority from the student system to the finance system reduced the understanding of the need for the system and, therefore, the support for the Project. The decision was considered top-down, politically-based and achieved coercively by dictates from the Project and the newly appointed Finance Director. However, one member of the Executive asserted that:

Executive made the decision to implement Finance first because we understood the urgency of improving our finance record keeping. We must gain benefits from PeopleSoft; the risk is very high.
The lack of transparency around the decision to change the implementation priority has reinforced the Academics' feeling of powerlessness and increased the perception that, because of the high level of organisational politics within the university, change is not well managed.

Leadership. At CQU, benefits enabled through the implementation of PeopleSoft are a leadership challenge. Only some members of the Executive believe that change is being well managed and that innovation and new organisational processes are being encouraged. The Academic, General and Project staff are critical of the Executive's management of the Project and organisational change. The Executive implemented a strategy of appealing for organisational support for the Project. However, the consequence of the appeal is that Academic and General staff have reinforced their belief that the university cannot manage change and the organisation lacks strong leadership and an agreed vision.

Some change initiatives have failed to gain organisation-wide support because the managers have not broken down barriers to change (Senge, 1990) and demonstrated that the status quo is more dangerous than the change (Plant, 1987). However, other writers show that some change strategies have failed simply because managers are not up to the job (Mant, 1997). The implications of this research are that if the Senior Executive does not improve the management of change across all sites there is a risk that the dysfunctional clashes caused by the fragmentation of sub-cultures will result in failure, not only for the PeopleSoft Project but also for the university.

Recent documentation within CQU include the melding of Academic and General staff policies. Old rules are changing at CQU but it is not yet certain what the new rules are. Nevertheless, higher education institutions have the assumption that the full-time academic staff remain the essential core of a university (Coaldrake, 1999). Comments by General staff indicate that they perceive that Academics have the power to influence change. General staff stated:

Wait until the Academics realise the change in their roles. That is when the fur and feathers will fly.
The rubber will hit the road when the Academics realise it is not down there somewhere but actually part of their day to day life.
The Executive and the Project staff also perceive that successful change requires the support of Academics. Members of the Executive stated that a Senior Academic was seconded to the Project Team in order to gain the support of Academic staff. By contrast, the effect of continuous change is that the Academics perceive that they are powerless. One of the reasons offered for their lack of engagement with the implementation of PeopleSoft and change is that 'their opinion is never asked': 'Senior Managers made the decision to implement PeopleSoft so now they should wear the problem.' One Project member stated that, 'The organisation did not know what it wanted from the enterprise system and expected that PeopleSoft would deliver organisational benefits, savings and world peace'. An increased understanding of the values held within each sub-culture would reduce the tensions caused by the second-order change.


The search for good management in the higher education sector must not endanger the fundamental values that the university's culture should embody (Coady, 2000). The root of many of the problems faced in the implementation of IT is a lack of management skills within the university, particularly skills pertaining to managing change across multi-sites. Change in higher education is a double-edged sword. Mant (1997) believes that the critical analysis required to be an academic does not equip senior managers with the skills to empower and lead staff. At the beginning of this research, it was anticipated that the majority of staff would perceive that strong leadership is needed to influence the second-order change necessary to implement an enterprise system (Kanter, 1983; Senge, 1990). However, the results demonstrated that all sub-cultures, except the Academics themselves, perceive that the Academic sub-culture holds the power to influence the success or failure of change. Many staff asserted that benefits from the PeopleSoft system will be achieved not through autocratic leadership but through the Executive having the ability to drive a common vision and empower staff. However, the findings show that for change to be successful all staff, particularly the Executive, must not only be accepting of new ways of thinking but also have the influence to drive the change.

To summarise, within CQU there is clearly a recognised need to replace existing information systems and to lay the foundations for improved management information. However, there is widespread cynicism in the change-weary organisational culture about the benefits to be gained from an integrated system and about the ability of the university to manage the change necessary to achieve the anticipated results across the complex multi-site organisation. Further research is needed to establish when old styles of leadership may not work in an environment where managers do not meet face-to-face with staff regularly - if at all. The use of technology is one driver for increased sites, complexity and change.

To address the question of who benefits from this study, it is necessary to look at the research from three levels; the researcher, the university and the broader business community. Firstly, from a narrow perspective, the researcher stands to benefit personally from this research by gaining a higher degree. Secondly, the university will benefit if senior managers not only read the study but also use the findings to develop a learning organisation. Thirdly, however, to gain benefits from a broader perspective, other researchers and practitioners must find this work useful to increase understanding of the theory and concepts of the impact of organisational culture on change. To maximise the benefits at all three levels and to avoid the doctoral thesis becoming another dust collector on the library shelf will require the researcher to have the high level of leadership, negotiation, visionary and political skills necessary to make the study useful. Therefore, to gain benefits from the emotional, financial and physical costs of undertaking the study, the challenge for me is to encourage the university, other practitioners and researchers actually to use this study. This would prevent the outcomes from being reduced to narrow personal benefits such as gaining a higher degree and would extend to benefits for the university and the wider community.


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Author details: Dr Jeanne McConachie is Associate Director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Services at the Rockhampton campus of Central Queensland University.

Address for correspondence: Dr Jeanne McConachie, Division of Teaching and Learning Services, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton QLD 4702. email: j.mcconachie@cqu.edu.au

Please cite as: McConachie, J. (2001). Who benefits from exploratory business research? The effect of sub-cultures on the implementation of an enterprise system: An Australian regional university perspective. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 17(2), 193-208. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer17/mcconachie.html

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Created 12 Dec 2004. Last revision: 12 Dec 2004.
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