Balancing Local Knowledge Within Global Organisations Through Computer-Based Systems: An Activity Theory Approach

Balancing Local Knowledge Within Global Organisations Through Computer-Based Systems: An Activity Theory Approach

Somya Joshi (National Technical University of Athens, Greece), Michael Barrett (University of Cambridge, UK), Geoff Walsham (University of Cambridge, UK) and Sam Cappleman (Hewlett-Packard Ltd., UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-138-4.ch005
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Abstract

This article investigates how, and with what success, global organisations design computer-based systems for knowledge sharing which aim to balance centralised and standardised approaches against more diverse local needs. The empirical basis for the article is provided by an analysis of two different global organisations, each with its own knowledge-sharing infrastructure in place. We use third-generation activity theory as the theoretical basis for our analysis. The contributions from this article are twofold. The first is our theoretical lens, where activity theory is applied to the domain of global information systems and their organisational context. This analysis provides a new approach in addressing both the mediation of and motivations behind knowledge-sharing activity. The second contribution concerns the theoretical and practical insights this gives on the problems and challenges of achieving a balance between global and local priorities within highly distributed work contexts, and the role of computerbased systems in this arena.
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Introduction

Global organisations today face an inherent dilemma between maintaining closeness to their customers and stakeholders whilst the geographic reach of their operations and markets expands. There is a justified desire to retain the traditional economy of scale based on extensive routinisation and standardisation, in order to present a reasonably coherent and uniform face or identity (Ger, 1999; Leidner, 1993), but there is also pressure from local partners to pay closer attention to contextual details and to support different and often conflicting needs. The challenge that emerges from this is one of balancing the diversity presented by the increasing number of local stakeholders and partners, and at the same time working towards a degree of consistency and coherence in operations. Global information systems and infrastructures are aimed to address this complexity, but they remain limited in terms of the extent of contextual diversity they end up capturing (Pan & Leidner, 2003).

There is a significant body of literature concerned with the need for adaptation of information systems to local contextual demands. Typically this is discussed with reference to the heterogeneity of information systems and the subsequent need to adapt to local needs (Ciborra, 1994; Davenport, 1998; Kyng & Mathiassen, 1997); the inscription of interests into artefacts (Bloomfield, Coombs, Knights, & Littler, 1997; Sahay, 1998); and local resistance to top-down initiatives (Ciborra, 1994, 2000). Our intention in this article is to go beyond this acknowledgement of the situated nature of information systems and the dichotomy of global-local narratives by asking how firms attempt to achieve a ‘pragmatic balance’ (Rolland & Monteiro, 2002) between the uniqueness of local context and the implied uniformity of globally applicable ‘solutions’. More specifically the research question that we address in this article is: How, and with what success, do global organisations design computer-based tools for knowledge sharing aimed to balance standardised approaches against local needs?

In order to carry out this research enquiry, we draw upon empirical material from two case studies of global organisations, each with its own distinct computer-based knowledge sharing system in place. The first case is that of a leading pharmaceutical company working within the private sector, which we refer to as GP. We focus in this case on the integrated information system that provided GP’s communicators worldwide with the opportunity to share knowledge through a standardised interface. The second case study we examine is that of a not-for-profit organisation working within the context of open source software certification, in particular that based on Linux, which we will refer to in this article as LC. We focus here on the electronic mailing lists used by LC for both internal communications and product development.

The analytical lens of activity theory is used to analyse findings from the above case studies. This theory is described in the next section of the article. Following this, we provide a detailed description of our methodology and research design, before moving on to the analysis of the case studies. We then use results from our case analyses to draw some implications and conclusions for theory and practice.

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Associate Editors
Table of Contents
Preface
M. Gordon Hunter, Felix B. Tan
Acknowledgment
M. Gordon Hunter, Felix B. Tan
Chapter 1
Alexander Y. Yap
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Chapter 2
Robert M. Davison, Yuan Li, Carol S.P. Kam
In the last few years, Web-based surveys have received increased attention given their potential to cut the costs and time associated with... Sample PDF
Web-Based Data Collection in China
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Chapter 3
Jaymeen R. Shah
Privacy laws for the Internet are difficult to develop and implement domestically and internationally. A clear problem is how such laws are limited... Sample PDF
Privacy Protection Overseas as Perceived by USA-Based IT Professionals
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Chapter 4
Hongxin Zhao, Seung Kim, Taewon Suh, Jianjun Du
This study attempts to examine empirically how social institutional factors relate to Internet diffusion in 39 countries. Based on nine-year... Sample PDF
Social Institutional Explanations of Global Internet Diffusion: A Cross-Country Analysis
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Chapter 5
Somya Joshi, Michael Barrett, Geoff Walsham, Sam Cappleman
This article investigates how, and with what success, global organisations design computer-based systems for knowledge sharing which aim to balance... Sample PDF
Balancing Local Knowledge Within Global Organisations Through Computer-Based Systems: An Activity Theory Approach
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Chapter 6
Kevin K.W. Ho, Byungjoon Yoo, Seunghee Yu, Kar Yan Tam
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The Effect of Culture and Product Categories on the Level of Use of Buy-It-Now (BIN) Auctions by Sellers
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Chapter 7
Shirish C. Srivastava, Thompson S.H. Teo
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A Framework for Understanding Returns from E-Government
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Chapter 8
Juan Juan Zhang, Sang-Yong Tom Lee
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A Time Series Analysis of International ICT Spillover
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Chapter 9
William Wresch, Simon Fraser
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Technological Hurdles to Caribbean E-Commerce: Responses by Innovative Managers
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Chapter 10
Robert M. Davidson, Carol S.P. Kim, Maggie Y. Li, Yuan Li, Carol X.J. Ou
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Web-Based Surveys in China
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Chapter 11
David Gefen, Tsipi Heart
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On the Need to Include National Culture as a Central Issue in E-Commerce Trust Beliefs
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Chapter 12
Steven Hornik
The horizontal and vertical dimensions of individualism and collectivism are an important characteristic of cultures. These dimensions have many... Sample PDF
Culture's Impact on Technology Mediated Learning: The Role of Horizontal and Vertical Individualism and Collectivism
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Chapter 13
Tamara Dinev, Massimo Bellotto, Paul Hart, Vincenzo Russo, Ilaria Serra, Christian Colautti
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Internet Users' Privacy Concerns and Beliefs About Government Surveillance: An Exploratory Study of Differences Between Italy and the United States
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Chapter 14
Shaobo Ji, Qingfei Min, Weihe Han
The purpose of this study is to review current research activities concerning information systems (IS) in mainland China. We thus examined Chinese... Sample PDF
Information Systems Research in China: An Empirical Study
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Chapter 15
John Lim
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A Study in the East Asian Context on Computer Support of Pre-Negotiation and Negotiation Stages
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Chapter 16
Sang-Woo Lee, Myeong-Cheol Park, Dan J. Kim
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Chapter 17
Hazel Taylor
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Vendor vs. Client Risks in Outsourced IT Projects: An Agency Theory Perspective
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Chapter 18
Susan K. Lippert, John A. Volkmar
Research to date on information technology (IT) adoption has focused primarily on homogeneous single country samples. This study integrates the... Sample PDF
Cultural Effects on Technology Performance and Utilization: A Comparison of U.S. and Canadian Users
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Chapter 19
Thompson S.H. Teo
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Chapter 20
Clive Sanford, Anol Bhattacherjee
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Chapter 21
Susan A. Sherer
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Chapter 22
Ruey-Lin Hsiao
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Chapter 23
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Chapter 24
Shirley Chan
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