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.