Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Notes on 'The Fingertip effect" and ERP

D.N. Perkins introduced in his 1985 paper "The fingertip effect: how information processing technology shapes thinking" the concept of 'The fingertip effect' and defined it as follows.

Technology has a venerable history of putting things at our fingertips to be seized and used widely for their designed objectives as well as for other purposes. We can call this the first order fingertip effect, the difference an innovation straightforwardly makes. But a further question is often asked: 'What difference will it really make? The "really" refers not to the pragmatics of … computing but to deeper and more wide-ranging repercussions on society, personality and thought.

The papers which I have seen referring to the fingertip effect have concentrated on education; one paper (Barzilai and Zohar, 2006) investigates how computers have influenced academic researchers.

I propose to examine the fingertip effect with respect to how people use ERP programs, especially people without prior experience of such programs. In this respect, the first order fingertip effect is simply getting the work done in the way that the worker is used to doing it (or in the manner that the worker thinks appropriate).

If, for example, the worker is working in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) field, then she will be tasked with recording data about customer contacts: names, telephone numbers, email addresses. She will need to record meetings with those contacts, maintain mailing lists containing those contacts and record attendance at company events. Should this worker be new to ERP, then she will maintain all of the above in an external program, such as a spreadsheet; the information may possibly originate in the ERP program but will be maintained in the external program.

The second order fingertip effect would be changing the worker's manner of thinking by realising that using a relational database (which in this respect is ERP) is better than using a flat database (such as a spreadsheet) and that ERP provides much more powerful tools for manipulating the data. ERP programs by definition are multi-user whereas spreadsheets tend to be single user (and are often stored in locations which prevent multi-user use).

The general second order fingertip effect is 'buying into' the ERP model, especially for the more complicated functions such as MRP, purchasing forecasts, etc. These functions allow one to 'get the work done' (the shop floor knows what it has to produce) as well as
•    allowing the purchasing department to order supplies in an effective and timely manner
•    allowing the distributors to know when orders will be ready to be supplied
•    allowing managers to measure manpower work loads and adjust appropriately
•    allowing maintenance to be scheduled

Perkins' paper is concerned with students (primarily in secondary education), with a specific series of goals and rewards, whereas I am concerned with adults working in a business environment. I doubt very much whether many employees consider themselves to be in a learning environment. As such, the questions which Perkins poses and answers ("Is the opportunity really there?", "Do learners recognise the opportunity?", "Are learners sufficiently motivated to take the opportunity?") are not really relevant.

In summary, it would seem that there are two types of workers – those that are interested in getting the job done (by any means, even if this means using tools which are not recommended) and those that are interested in getting the job done in the most efficient manner and in changing the nature of the job so that it will be both more powerful and more simple.

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