Chapter 4: The GlobTel “Witech Relationship ”A ˜Standardization Perspective
4.1 Significance of standardization
In this chapter, we analyse the GlobTel “Witech GSA relationship using the perspective of standardization, which refers to the socio-technical processes through which various standards are implemented in organizations. The standardization perspective is significant since many firms with global operations base their strategy on the assumption that there are more similarities than differences in the world. Coordination of these global activities is then carried out through central control from headquarters, based on standardized products, processes and practices. Standardization becomes a key feature to build and sustain a relationship by homogenizing operations to the extent that the outsourcing and outsourced firms cannot be distinguished from each other. In software development, the role of standardization has in the past been discussed in the context of ˜internationalization of software packages (Taylor 1992; O Donnel 1994). The purpose of internationalization is to develop and market packages in a ˜mass-production mode. The analysis of standards has not been conducted in the context of the processes by which GSW is carried out. Also, the role of standards in the internationalization of software has largely assumed that through appropriate language-translation strategies, effective global products can be developed and cultural differences taken into account.
For example, Taylor (1992) writes :
The end goals of internationalisation, then, are to be able to have a sort of generic package, with an appendix or attachment that details all the cultural specifications. (1992: 29)
Standards serve the purpose of being a reference (for example, weights and measures), or developing compatibility between different systems (for example, plug and socket), or specifying minimum acceptable levels (of software quality for example). The idea of a standard is linked closely to the notion of a ˜universal , implying that one benchmark can apply to all activities and actors within a particular domain. So, a communication standard implies that all actors using a particular technology for communication would be subject to standard language protocols for communication. The idea of standards is not new, and was an important aspect of Adam Smith s notions of routinization spelled out in 1776. This could split even the manufacture of a pin into different tasks allocated to workers based on skills required. Instead of employing highly skilled and expensive workers to do the entire job from start to finish, sub-tasks could be split up among less qualified workers. In the early years of the twentieth century Fredrick Taylor s scientific management principles, based on similar concepts of routinization, increased the emphasis on productivity measurements of different sub-tasks based on predefined standards. While these principles of routinization and standardization have been widely implemented in the manufacturing sector, in recent years they have also been applied to the analysis of the service sector. In a wonderful ethnography, Leidner (1991) describes at length the processes of standardization as they play out in ˜interactive service work . While the objectives of standardization to support mass production are common to both manufacturing and service work, Leidner emphasizes the importance of distinguishing the processes through which standardization is achieved in the two cases.
Standardization has traditionally been an important issue in organizations. Enabled by processes of globalization, some organizations have become too large and diversified for tight central control. They have simultaneously become increasingly embedded in different contexts where they need to understand local particularities in a ˜deep and systematic way. This issue is especially relevant in the software industry where firms operating in a network structure seek to develop shared templates within which they can interact, share information and communicate with others in globally diffused networks. Today, both large and small firms are establishing GSAs with global partners to enable distributed software development. A number of countries and firms are involved in the network with design taking place in one country, development in another and integration and testing in a third. Typically, one location serves as the hub and is responsible for coordinating the different pieces of software development occurring in the various nodes of the network. Coordination is enabled by a networked technological infrastructure and the use of standard product designs, development methodologies and benchmarked management processes that serve as ˜best practices .
The various pieces of technological and managerial infrastructure that underlie a GSA, are held together by various standards “ formal and informal, explicit and implicit “ and represent expert processes that Knor-Cetina (1999) describes as being characteristic of ˜knowledge societies . She emphasizes the understanding of the functioning of these processes as largely an ˜empty space , that needs to be charted through empirical investigations. Through this case, we seek to chart some of these contours in the GSW domain, specifically focusing on the role of standards in sustaining , enabling and constraining the evolution of a GSA relationship. Knowledge required for the functioning of GSAs is not merely an external intellectual or technological product, but a production context that is developed over time and comprises heterogeneous elements bound together in a widely extended network. GSAs are fundamentally facilitated by complex socio-technical ˜information infrastructures (Hanseth 2001) including high-bandwidth telecommunications links, management practices and procedures and software development methodologies and practices. This infrastructure is sustained through a shared understanding in both the technical and management domains about how software development should go on, reflected in the existence and use of various standards.
To take into consideration these various facets of the GSA relationship, we adopt a general and inclusive conception of a standard implying a simplification and abstraction with the aim to define and communicate significant aspects of the processes, artefacts and structures across time and space . The objective of all standardization processes is to enable some form of universalization and mass production . In general, standards are agreed-upon rules for the production of (textual or material) objects required because they span multiple communities of spatially distributed practice (Bowker and Star 1999). Although standards help to provide a sense of stability for those involved in using the infrastructure on a day-to-day basis, as their temporal and spatial scope increases they take on an increasingly inertial nature and create an ˜installed base that makes it difficult and expensive to change. Unlike many other domains where standards are defined and enforced by external agencies (like the World Health Organization (WHO) for health standards), in GSA relationships standards are negotiated ˜internally at the social, political and cultural levels by the parties involved. This processes by which standards are negotiated, implemented and redefined is what we refer to as ˜standardization . Our interest in standards is in understanding their role in shaping the process of evolution of GSAs and it extends beyond the technical concerns of individual systems or the protocols to include the relationship in its totality and the standards that underlie it. These include standards for technical and physical artefacts, software development processes, management practices and the processes by which they play out in the everyday conduct of GSA relationships.