Spreadsheet End User Development and Knowledge Management

Spreadsheet End User Development and Knowledge Management

Anders Avdic (Örebro University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch568
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Abstract

In the early days of computers, expertise was needed in order to use computers. As IT tools have become more powerful and user friendly, more and more people have been able to use computers and programs as tools when carrying out working tasks. Nowadays, it is possible for people without special IT training to develop Information Systems (IS) that only IT specialists could have done some years ago. In this paper End User Development (EUD) using a Spreadsheet Program (SP) is discussed from a knowledge management perspective. EUD can be a part of an organization’s effort to take advantage of existing, often tacit, knowledge or creating new knowledge. An end user is a person who acts both as a user and a systems developer. A typical feature of an end user is that he has a good (often unique) knowledge of the business and the work related to the IS in question, which is called the User Developed Application. It is the combination of these two sorts of knowledge which is the key to EUD as knowledge management. The aim of this of this chapter is to relate EUD to knowledge management and, specifically, to describe how tacit knowledge can be audited when end users develop spreadsheet systems for their own domain of expertise. The main source is a set of qualitative case studies carried out between 1995 and 2005. (Avdic, 1999; Westin, Avdic & Roberts, 2005)
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Background

There are many reasons for professionals to use personal IT tools such as spreadsheet programs in their daily work. One is to increase their knowledge and understanding of their professional domain in a changing world. The use of spreadsheet programs in order to develop systems for decision making is an alternative to more traditional systems development, where IT specialists assist in specifying information needs and other requirements as a basis for a systems development process where the IT specialist is the developer. This “traditional” procedure is often the only option since developing the system, especially its technical parts, is complicated and not possible to carry out by non-IT specialists. When the technical dimensions are uncomplicated, there are some interesting benefits for professionals to develop their own systems.

End User Development is herein defined as “…the use of the adoption and use of information technology by personnel outside the information systems department to develop software applications in support of organizational tasks.” (Brancheau & Brown, 1993) In our case studies, we have studied end users developing systems using spreadsheet programs. The end users have worked as controllers, administrators, civil servants, production planners, and managers in private companies and local government organizations. Some studies have been longitudinal, the longest one ten years. One thing they have had in common is that they are all professional experts in their domains. All of them have had the possibility, to a large extent, chose their own working situation and how to carry out the way they work.

Knowledge Management “is the name given to the set of systematic and disciplined actions that an organization can take to obtain the greatest value from the knowledge available to it.” (Marwick, 2001) Focus here is more on “obtain greatest value” than “systematic and disciplined.” The forms of EUD that are discussed here are often related to groups that could be described as Communities of Practice (Wenger, 1998) and whose development activities, to a large extent, are about making tacit knowledge explicit. (Polanyi, 1967) Among the practitioners’ working situation and domain of expertise, there has been organized and disciplined activities in order to explore the knowledge domain by developing spreadsheet programs in various forms of cooperation with colleagues and peers. This is, to a large extent, an expression of social learning, which is a fundamental concept regarding communities of practice. (Wenger, 1998)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Communities of Practice: Groups of people in organizations with common goals and a common repertoire of concepts and knowledge. They share what they know and learn from one each other regarding aspects of their work and provide a social context for that work.

Tacit Knowledge: Knowledge, experiences, and abilities that are not articulated, represented or codified.

End User Development: The adoption and use of information technology by personnel outside the information systems department to develop software applications in support of organizational tasks.

Knowledge Management: A set of systematic and disciplined actions that an organization can take to obtain the greatest value from the knowledge available to it.

Explicit Knowledge: Codified knowledge.

End User Developer: A person with a deep knowledge of the business, who develops end user applications that supports him/her in his/her work.

End User Application: An information system developed by an end user developer in order to support him/her in his/her work.

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