A systematic analysis of ERP implementation challenges and coping mechanisms: The case of a large, decentralised, public organisation in South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The relevance of this research stems from the persistent failure rate of large-scale Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementations. The foremost reasons advanced in explaining organisations' failure to achieve the desired ERP benefits, despite substantial investments, relates to the complex, risky and challenging nature of the implementation process. Understanding the ERP implementation challenges faced by organisations and the subsequent coping mechanisms deployed to overcome the challenges remain a pertinent research endeavour. Another eminent area of concern alludes to the limited significance attributed to the systemic analysis of the implementation process. This research describes the challenges faced by organisations during their ERP implementation process and explains the systemic interaction of the ERP implementation challenges. In conjunction, this study identifies the coping mechanisms established by organisations to overcome the encountered ERP implementation challenges. An interpretive research paradigm, in concurrence with an inductive research approach was adopted for the purpose of this research. This study was conducted within the context of a large, decentralised, public organisation. Two embedded case studies within the designated organisation were selected. At the onset of the study, the organisation was in the process of implementing a large-scale vanilla ERP solution. The study was qualitative in nature and data were collected through interviews, observations and documentary evidence between April 2012 and October 2014. The ERP implementation challenges and ensuing coping mechanisms were revealed through the use of thematic analysis. Constant comparative analysis allowed the researcher to compare and contrast the data and themes emerging from both cases. The systemic interrelation and interconnected nature of the ERP implementation challenges were, subsequently, examined, using the principles of system dynamics. Key research contributions comprise the development of both descriptive and explanatory knowledge. The research findings disclose numerous ERP implementation challenges resulting in the emergence of a taxonomy which includes organisational, project management, management, change management, technical and knowledge challenges. The proposed taxonomy provides a comprehensive breakdown and analysis of different ERP implementation challenges which adds to the existing body of knowledge on ERP implementation. The major theoretical contribution, however, is the explanatory theory arising from the systemic model of the dynamics of ERP implementation challenges. The theory provides rich insights into the complex and interconnected nature of an implementation process. Specific implications are drawn from the empirical findings to form theoretical propositions as principles of explanation and generalisation. Another key contribution includes an interpretation of how coping mechanisms are deployed by organisations to overcome the ERP implementation challenges. The predominant coping mechanisms include the use of workaround solutions, workgroups, super-users, and retraining, support, and rewards and incentives. The theoretical contribution can be generalised to large, decentralised organisations implementing ERP systems. The contribution to practice is to assist organisations in their implementation endeavours by empowering ERP implementers with the fundamental knowledge in order for them to better manage the inherent complexity of their implementation processes.