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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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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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
M. Gordon Hunter, Felix B. Tan
M. Gordon Hunter, Felix B. Tan
Chapter 1
Alexander Y. Yap
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A Composite Model for E-Commerce Diffusion: Revisited
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
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
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
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
Chapter 6
Kevin K.W. Ho, Byungjoon Yoo, Seunghee Yu, Kar Yan Tam
While previous studies on buy-it-now (BIN) auctions focus on the impact of BIN format on economic performances, our study focuses on factors that... Sample PDF
The Effect of Culture and Product Categories on the Level of Use of Buy-It-Now (BIN) Auctions by Sellers
Chapter 7
Shirish C. Srivastava, Thompson S.H. Teo
Though policy makers and governments are interested in understanding the returns from e-Government implementation, there are relatively few... Sample PDF
A Framework for Understanding Returns from E-Government
Chapter 8
Juan Juan Zhang, Sang-Yong Tom Lee
This article studies the role of international spillover of information and communication technology (ICT) in economic growth. We examine the... Sample PDF
A Time Series Analysis of International ICT Spillover
Chapter 9
William Wresch, Simon Fraser
Studies summarized by the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development continue to show that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in developing... Sample PDF
Technological Hurdles to Caribbean E-Commerce: Responses by Innovative Managers
Chapter 10
Robert M. Davidson, Carol S.P. Kim, Maggie Y. Li, Yuan Li, Carol X.J. Ou
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 Surveys in China
Chapter 11
David Gefen, Tsipi Heart
Deliberate exploitation of natural resources and excessive use of environmentally abhorrent materials have resulted in environmental disruptions... Sample PDF
On the Need to Include National Culture as a Central Issue in E-Commerce Trust Beliefs
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
Chapter 13
Tamara Dinev, Massimo Bellotto, Paul Hart, Vincenzo Russo, Ilaria Serra, Christian Colautti
The study examines differences in individual’s privacy concerns and beliefs about government surveillance in Italy and the United States. By... Sample PDF
Internet Users' Privacy Concerns and Beliefs About Government Surveillance: An Exploratory Study of Differences Between Italy and the United States
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
Chapter 15
John Lim
Two seemingly disparate phenomena, advancement in computing technologies and rise in complexity of business negotiations owing to globalization... Sample PDF
A Study in the East Asian Context on Computer Support of Pre-Negotiation and Negotiation Stages
Chapter 16
Sang-Woo Lee, Myeong-Cheol Park, Dan J. Kim
This study relies on a customer demand-based view to examine how mobile number portability affects competition in the Korean mobile... Sample PDF
Mobile Number Portability in an Asymmetric Telecommunications Market: Korea Case
Chapter 17
Hazel Taylor
As outsourced and multinational IT projects become more common, managing risks for these projects is increasingly important. The research reported... Sample PDF
Vendor vs. Client Risks in Outsourced IT Projects: An Agency Theory Perspective
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
Chapter 19
Thompson S.H. Teo
The Internet can be used for different purposes ranging from simple Internet presence to using the Internet for business transformation. This study... Sample PDF
Basic vs. Advanced Modes of Internet Adoption: A Singapore Perspective
Chapter 20
Clive Sanford, Anol Bhattacherjee
This article presents an interpretive analysis of the key problems and challenges to technology implementation in developing countries, based on a... Sample PDF
IT Implementation in a Developing Country Municipality: A Sociocognitive Analysis
Chapter 21
Susan A. Sherer
This article investigates IT investment management processes in the U.S. and Portugal. In Portugal compared to the United States, we find less... Sample PDF
Comparative Study of IT Investment Management Processes in U.S. and Portugal
Chapter 22
Ruey-Lin Hsiao
This article examines e-marketplace adoption difficulties from a contextualist perspective. The analysis of industrial characteristics will unearth... Sample PDF
Misaligned Market: The Importance of Industry Context in Technology-Mediated Exchanges
Chapter 23
Syaiful Ali, Peter Green
Information technology plays a significant role enabling organisations to achieve their objectives. Accordingly, the governance mechanisms over the... Sample PDF
IT Governance Mechanisms in Public Sector Organisations: An Australian Context
Chapter 24
Shirley Chan
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Mobile Phone Communication Innovation in Multiple Time and Space Zones: The Case of Hong Kong Culture
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