I last wrote about my research two months ago. Since then, very little has happened as I couldn't see how I could change to a more qualitative orientation. I had an epiphany on Saturday, when suddenly it became clear to me what needed to be done. I emailed my supervisor, and even wrote a revised chapter in my submission which I sent him. He suggested (and every suggestion by a supervisor should be taken almost as an order) that we talk in the evening.
So yesterday we had a discussion via Skype. It seems that one salient fact had passed him by: whilst I had been moaning that only ten companies had signed up, I did note that from those companies I could expect at least one hundred completed questionnaires. When my supervisor realised the importance of this last statement, he said that this would mean that the quantitative approach would definitely be possible. The fact that the respondents would be drawn from only a small number of companies is regrettable and probably means that any conclusions drawn from the 'company data' should be taken with a grain of salt, but this should not be a problem when my submission gets discussed by the research committee.
Greatly relieved, I said that the submission was about 99% ready: I needed to incorporate a few paragraphs which I had written about EyeCo in November (the company mentioned in the linked post, which does not use Excel) and add some new material in the methodology and conclusions sections. I intend to conduct about twenty interviews - spread over ten companies, this means two people per company. In these interviews, I can ask about subjects for which I couldn't find suitable questions.
I awoke in the middle of the night with a question on my mind: might it be possible that feral systems (and/or spreadsheets) are used because the companies think that it is not cost effective to employ a developer (internal or external) to develop the required reports? In other words, might they think that it is cheaper to allow a salaried employee to spend a few hours working on a spreadsheet than employ someone to develop a report? Obviously, I think not! In terms of economics, employing a developer to create the necessary report is a one-off cost whereas having an employer use a spreadsheet is a repeating cost, which over time is going to cost more than the developer.
This morning, I added the required material to the submission, which didn't take long, then sent it to my supervisor. He said that he would look at it as soon as possible, as there is a research committee deadline in a few days; if I miss this deadline, then I will have to wait another seven weeks.
Suddenly the prospect of completing the doctorate before my 60th birthday in August seems possible once again.