Researcher examines software/user relationship

When Catherine Hajnal was a systems analyst at Esso, she learned first-hand that users aren’t easy to please.

The 37-year-old business professor at Carleton University says despite designing some “”really neat systems and new reports,””

no one was ever satisfied 100 per cent.

“”It’s not always easy to translate what users want into code. Part of this is users not always being able to articulate what they want,”” Hajnal says. The other side of the coin was the challenge of defining process in your head and the assembly-line pace of the job.

“”Users are always requesting changes that reflect the changes taking place in the business. This is a good thing, but it can be unsatisfying because you never get to say you are done done done.””

Hajnal says her experiences in the private sector led her to conduct what may be some of the first Canadian research that examines how enterprise resource planning (ERP) packages, like SAP’s and PeopleSoft’s, affect the companies that deploy them. She has been studying the relationship between people and technology for 11 years.

Enterprise integration software provides corporations with the ability to share data through a computer network by harmonizing different departments. The warehouse clerk, for example, can scan a shipment of running shoes into a company’s database, and a manager in the finance department is able to locate the shipment instantly and better serve the customer. The focus becomes working toward a collective goal rather than different departments operating independently of each other.

But, as Hajnal has discovered in her research, the transition to enterprise systems can be painful.

“”What I find is most employees haven’t had training on process and to think across the organization. They are still focused on their own job,”” she says. “”Companies don’t appreciate that employees need to think process, and recognize that their role will impact others very directly.””

Hajnal says corporations focus on teaching employees how to use enterprise software, without taking time to explain the logic behind it. Consequently, employees keep operating as detached individuals rather than as important parts of the larger picture.

Hajnal says she has been studying businesses that are living and breathing the ERP experience. She has done a number of interviews with employees to get their experiences with the software, as well as online and paper-based surveys, and focus groups with corporations.

“”We’ve looked at the traditional big business, as well as small and medium business to see how their experience is similar or different from larger firms,”” she says. “”Anecdotally, initial results seem to suggest that smaller firms are just as successful if not more successful because they have less baggage than a big firm when implementing an enterprise system.””

She is also examining public sector implementation. The Canadian government deploys \large enterprise system and faces unique legislative challenges regarding the sharing of information, says Hajnal.

Although her research isn’t finished, Hajnal says she hopes it will help make the transition smoother for companies by educating them about the drastic effect the technology will have on how they do business.

Paul Boudreau, a member of Nortel’s Optical Components Solutions division in Ottawa, says Hajnal’s research has already had an impact. Boudreau was responsible for the implementation of SAP’s R/3 enterprise software in his division.

“”Her research is critical because it emphasizes the fact that you have to think of an organization as an entire entity to be efficient,”” he says. “”It’s very applicable to business today . . . because she’s talking about the inner workings of how we get a product or service to the customer.

“”Everything that she’s come up with we experienced in our implementation,”” he adds.

Hajnal says she hopes to publish the results of her study by the end of the summer.

In the meantime, she continues teaching her students the importance of thinking across the organization. “”If they can leave here appreciating the concepts and goals behind enterprise systems, then they will become a valuable contribution to any organization trying to implement the systems.””

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