This is the research outline which I submitted as part of my application to the Henley DBA programme. I followed the format and structure defined in the guidance from the school, and spent an estimated 30 hours researching and writing this document. I expect that by the time the research part of the programme begins I’ll have completely changed my ideas, but document was successful in it’s purpose of securing my offer of a place on the programme.
An Assessment of the Strategic Implications for UK Businesses from Social, Cloud and Mobile Computing
A Research Outline for Henley Business School DBA Programme
|This document describes my proposed research for Henley Business School DBA programme, and is part of my application to the programme. The aim of my proposed research is to enable UK businesses to realise the strategic opportunities presented by three emerging disruptive computing technologies; Social, Cloud and Mobile. I have been professionally consulting in this area for five years. Amongst the key themes and issues that have arisen from my prior research are; the value of IT; the failure rates of IT projects; disillusionment with social computing; the adoption of technology; the business case for social computing; and the changes in management practices required for organisations to benefit from these new technologies. I anticipate that my research will take an inductive approach and be based on mainly qualitative research methods, most likely in the form of case study development. I believe that this research is important because it will be the first empirical study addresses the combined impact of three converging technologies. I hope to develop a framework that will enable businesses to develop short, medium and long term business strategies for realising the opportunities that these disruptive technologies will present.|
1. Research Area and Research Question
The working title for my proposed research is:
“An Assessment of the Strategic Implications for UK Businesses from Social, Cloud and Mobile Computing”
My aim will be to:
- Enable UK businesses to realise the strategic opportunities presented by emerging Social, Cloud, and Mobile computing technologies
I will answer this high-level question by satisfying the following specific objectives
- Assess the current and likely future macro-environmental conditions for UK businesses
- Examine the implications of the use of technologies the productivity of individual information workers
- Examine the implications of the technologies on group and team effectiveness
- Examine how the technologies will impact interactions with customers, partner and suppliers
- Assess the impact of the use of the technologies on organisational performance and competitive advantage
- Examine IT project management and change management methods with regard to these new technologies
- Assess the changes in management practices, organisational structure, and organisational cultures associated with the use of the technologies
Social Computing is the general term which refers to the intersection of social behaviour and computer systems. Cloud computing refers the provision of IT as a utility which is consumed over the internet. Mobile refers to Internet enabled mobile technologies such as slates and smartphones. Individually these disruptive technologies create massive opportunities and challenges for corporations. Combined I believe that they will change the future of business.
2. Prior Research
My proposed research is focused on the area in which I have been professionally consulting for five years. As part of my continual professional development I follow industry analysts; technology vendors; and industry and management publications. I regularly attend (and speak at) industry events and conferences; follow key industry and academic figures through social media services; and I read key publications and texts. The following list briefly summarises some of the key themes from my prior research which I believe will influence my own work.
The Value of IT
Nicholas Carr famously asked, “Does IT Matter?”, and argued that as a commodity IT delivers no competitive advantage (Carr 2004). The IT industry responded by claiming that it’s the use of the technology that delivers the value and advantage (Simon and McDowel 2004). With Cloud technologies computing becomes not only a commodity but also a utility. This has led to comparisons between Cloud computing and the development of the Electricity Grid (Carr 2009). Can utility computing deliver competitive advantage?
Failure rates of IT projects
Since 1996 the Standish Group have conducted an annual survey which concludes that approximately 70% of IT projects ‘fail’ to deliver on time, to budget and to specification (Standish Group 2010). How might IT Project Management and organisational change methods need to change to address the challenges that new technologies bring?
Disillustionment with Social Computing; the diffusion of innovation; and the adoption of technology
There is growing evidence that many business have rushed to deploy social technologies in recent years but are now becoming disillusioned as the low adoption rates amongst employees mean that the investments made are producing no returns (Realwire 2011). There is a significant body of research relating to the diffusion of innovation and the adoption of technology (Moore 1998). What must businesses do to ensure that new technology initiatives based on social, cloud and mobile technologies are taken up and used by employees, partners, customers, and suppliers?
The Business case for social computing
Evangelists for social computing argue that business cases based on Return On Investment from process efficiencies are from the industrial age, and ill-suited to knowledge economy. (Rasmus 2010). The return on investment from software is only as predictable as the use of the software; and a key tenant of the use of social software within Enterprises is that its use should not be mandated or centrally controlled, it should be emergent (McAfee 2009). Critics argue that this is nonsense, and that no business should make significant investments in IT projects that have no clear, predictable or measurable returns.
Changes in markets, organisational forms, governance and individual behaviour
Business is an inherently social phenomena; it’s about people not technology. There is a deep and complex interaction between a society and its information and communication technology. Changing the way that people connect, interact and share information and ideas can have a profound effect upon management practices, organisational structure and culture.
Social, cloud and mobile computing have the potential to challenge some of the fundamental concepts that underpin modern businesses and markets. For example, organisational theory and economics have used transaction costs and bounded rationality as the basis for classifying markets and hierarchies as two distinct forms of organising production but communities and networks are now being proposed as possible alternative models for economic production. (Parameswaran & Whinston 2007). And social, cloud, and mobile computing are reducing transaction costs to a point where we may need to re-consider the Nature of Firms (Coase 1937). Throughout the twentieth century the prominent form of corporate governance has been on bureaucracy, characterised by hierarchical organisation, delineated lines of authority in a fixed area of activity, action taken on the basis of and recorded in written rules, officials needing expert training, and career advancement depending on technical qualifications judged by organisation not individuals (Allan 2005). Social technologies are characterised by grassroots development without a deliberately designed governance structure, meritocracy and democracy are commonly observed governance models in networks and communities (Parameswaran & Whinston 2007), and this can cause conflict within bureaucratic environments.
Research into Collaboration within organisations has found that many of barriers to collaborative working are related to managerial practices, structure, and culture and cannot be solved by technology (Hansen 2009). Research on the characteristics of individual knowledge workers and the nature of knowledge work has concluded that many current managerial practices with roots in Taylorism are ill suited to the demands of managing modern knowledge based businesses and workers (Davenport 2005). Social technologies are having profound impacts on the way that business interact with each other, relationships with customers and the dynamics of markets (Tapscott and Williams 2006). Cloud computing has the potential to exacerbate these changes as organisations move their data and systems to the public cloud, opening new possibilities for sharing and integration; blurring boundaries even further. What social changes will be required to enable businesses to realise the opportunities of new technologies?
The impact of social computing on knowledge management
Knowledge Management is now a well-established discipline, with approaching twenty years of research and practice. But social, cloud and mobile technologies provide a new frontier for Knowledge Management (O’Dell and Hubert 2011). Social technologies are inverting the traditional model of few creators and many consumers of content and ideas, and creating new ways to connect people and information. Cloud technologies offer new ways to for organisations to store and share content, data, and information. And Mobile technologies make the collective knowledge of organisations and networks available anywhere and at any time. How will these changes impact on established KM practices? And what new approaches will be required to realise the opportunities?
Defining and understanding cloud computing
“The interesting thing about Cloud computing is that we’ve re-defined Cloud Computing to include everything that we already do… I don’t understand what we would do differently in light of Cloud Computing other than change the wording of some of our ads.” This quote from Larry Ellison CEO of Oracle quoted in the Wall Street Journal, September 26th 2008 is representative of the confusion and frustration that surrounds Cloud Computing. Amongst the ever increasing cacophony of opinions, arguments and marketing messages on the subject of Cloud Computing a 2009 report from the University of California at Berkley stands out as a concise, measured, and well-structured approach to the subject (Armbrust, Fox & Griffith et al 2009). Amongst the reports key points are:
Cloud Computing is the sum of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), and Utility Computing
There are three new aspects in Cloud Computing
- The illusion of infinite computing resources available on demand
- The elimination of up front commitment by Cloud users
- The ability to pay for computing resources short term as needed
The key factors that will drive the emergence and adoption of Cloud Computing include:
- New technologies and software that enable large scale data centres to provide utility computing
- New technology trends (web 2.0) and associated emerging business models
- New opportunities for software applications (such as internet enabled mobile applications)
The key obstacles for cloud computing are:
- Worries over the availability of the service
- Lock in to proprietary platforms
- Data confidentiality and auditability
- Data transfer bottlenecks
- Performance unpredictability
- Scalable storage
- Bugs in large scale distributed systems
- Scaling quickly
- Reputation fate sharing
- Software licensing
3. The Importance of the Research For Theory And Practice
My proposed research will encompass Social, Cloud and Mobile computing; three of the most critical and strategic technologies today (Harrison 2010). In my initial research I have found that a few IT industry thought leaders and commentators have begun to consider and discuss the collective impact of social, cloud, and mobile technologies (Nichols 2011), but to date there appears to be no empirical studies in this area. My proposed research has the potential to examine and question some longstanding ideas and concepts in light of recent developments in technology. For example, cloud computing blurs the boundaries between organisations, and has the potential to lower transaction costs, this may add a new dimension to the discussion of why firms exist (Coase 1937). And Social computing brings a new perspective to the discussion of the most efficient organisational forms, and models of corporate governance (Allan 2005).
I believe that my proposed research is important from a theoretical perspective because it will fill the gap of empirical research in a specific area; and will re-examine existing ideas from new perspectives.
From a practice perspective I believe that my research is important because it will provide a framework for managers and leaders of UK business to understand the collective strategic implications of three highly disruptive technologies. It will articulate the value proposition for investment, and explore the relationship between the social and technology aspects that so often undermine technology investments.
4. My Interest In The Topic
My interest in this topic is both personal and professional. The development of social and mobile computing is a step change in the way that we communicate that I believe is as important as the invention of the printing press, or the telephone; and Cloud computing has been compared to the development of the electricity grid (Carr 2009). It took many years for the social and economic impact of these past technological to develop. Today the ever increasing pace of change means that we are able to watch a revolution unfold before our eyes. From a personal perspective I am fascinated by the way that new technologies are changing national and international politics; re-shaping our society; and changing the global economy. As a professional consultant my working life is spent helping business leaders understand how technology can solve their challenges today, and the possibilities that it will present tomorrow.
5. Possible Research Approach Or Research Methodology
My anticipate that my research will be based on an inductive approach. I will begin with the question, “What are the strategic implications for UK businesses of Social, Mobile, and Cloud Computing?”, and develop a theory based on observation.
At this very early stage I perceive three possible elements to my research. Firstly I expect to complete extensive research of secondary sources as part of a macro-environmental review. This will provide the context for my qualitative primary research in the next two stages. The second stage will be to engage with technology vendors to understand the current state and future trajectory of the three core technologies. My focus will be on the anticipated capabilities and use cases of the technologies rather than on the technical detail. This research may be completed either through interviews or surveys. The third and final stage will be to develop detailed case studies for a small number of businesses making investments in innovative change programmes or strategies based on social, cloud and mobile technologies. I hope to develop the case studies by working directly with the organisations, ideally making primary observations from within the project groups. Specific research methods could include in-depth interviews; focus groups; and surveys. Alternatively lessons learned, and documentation for past projects could provide a valuable secondary source of data. From my general observations I will attempt to identify patterns, form tentative hypothesis, and finally develop my specific theory.
6. The contribution I wish to make
From the perspective of theory I will be amongst the first to study the combined impact of three emerging technology phenomena, and I will contribute to understanding the strategic implications for businesses. From the perspective of practice I hope to develop a framework which will enable UK business to develop short, medium and long term business strategies for realising the opportunities from Social, Cloud, and Mobile computing.
7. Further relevent information
For the past five years I have worked as the Chief Technology Officer for anIT consultancy. My role includes providing consultancy services to our clients, and helping to determine the strategic direction of our own business. I anticipate that my research and professional work will complement each other perfectly. I also have an extensive network of industry contacts that I can leverage for my research.
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