Friday, February 17, 2017

My research is effectively dead

On the same day that I received the letter from the journal editor asking me to referee a paper, I also received a letter from my doctoral supervisor. He informed me that he and the research committee chairman were very concerned about the small number of completed questionnaires which I have obtained from companies, and asked how I intended to increase the number substantially.

My interpretation is: you will be permitted to continue with your research if somehow you increase the number of questionnaires to 150. As there is no chance of this happening, my research is effectively dead.

I haven't been happy - both figuratively and literally - for some time about the number of questionnaires, so in a sense I am relieved that someone else has made the decision for me and 'pulled the plug' on something which is going nowhere fast.

I considered a few options, of which the best seemed to be to start from scratch with a new, albeit related, topic. Obviously, I will have to write a new research proposal which will have to be accepted by the research committee, then write a new intermediate submission which again has to be approved. 

I have told my supervisor of my decision and I await his response (which may take a week). In my letter, I explained approximately what I intend to research and stated that I didn't have a formal title. After thinking about it some more, I think that the new title will be something like "Examining the benefits of consultants in the post-implementation stages of ERP installations". 

As opposed to my original research, which is based on questionnaires, this will be 'case study' research, carried out with two companies both of which have cooperated fully with my research until now and with whom I work as a consultant. The methodology will be interviews with five to ten people in each company, discussing how their usage of ERP has changed from before I started consulting with them to how it is now and how the company has benefited as a result. The already collected questionnaires may have some value. 

One of the foundations of the research will be a simple question of economics: is it better to employ a developer for a one time, but moderately expensive, cost, or allow employees to use any solution (mainly spreadsheets) at a constant cost of time, at the risk of bad data? This became very clear to me yesterday evening when I was shown a spreadsheet containing  invoices which the customers have yet to pay, which is created daily by a secretary at one of the companies. It seems that my job in this coming week will be to write a program which will output this data in a minimum of time and of course, more accurately. There is also a striking example from my own company: the financial comptroller used to take four days a month to compile a report; after speaking to me, I managed to reduce the required time to four hours a month - an eightfold saving of very expensive time.

I reckon that I can use about 50% of the material which I have already written. All the psychological material can be discarded, and the rest will have to be re-targeted. Fortunately, in the introduction and literary survey, I discussed the subjects 'customisation' and 'misfits', which are very much connected to the new, more refined, topic, so I already have this material in hand.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Reviewing someone else's academic work

I wrote last time that I had been invited to review a paper about an ERP implementation. I was sent this paper but discovered that the document was empty - for a while, I wondered whether I had been the victim of a scam or a virus attack - but after contacting the journal editor, the documents were sent again and this time were readable.

The paper discusses an ERP implementation for a national electricity company in Africa. The paper shows that so far, the implementation has failed, which does not come as much as a surprise to me. There isn't a particularly good fit between such a company and ERP to start with. It seems that the vendor, contractor and company didn't do their homework very well and that the users were not prepared in advance. Unfortunately, this happens frequently.

Also unfortunately, I couldn't recommend the paper for publication. There were many mistakes in English and strange adjectives used (e.g. "unappealing commitment"). But even ignoring such issues, the paper wasn't very good. There were very few references, which is odd considering the number of papers about ERP implementation (I don't remember the exact figure, but my literature survey states that about 80% of ERP research is about implementation). The methodology is ok, but data is presented in a haphazard way and the conclusions aren't stated in terms of the original objectives.

I can understand how the writer(s) will feel when they receive the feedback - I have been in the same position three times. At least I totally understand the subject matter, which is more than can be said for those who reviewed my work. I have tried to point out where the work can be improved. I was sorely tempted to send back a copy edited version of the manuscript, but that's not my job.

It will be interesting to see whether there is any follow-up to this review.