6.4 Case analysis: the perspective of space and place
The case analysis is presented at three levels of abstraction:
At the first level, the aspects of space and place are analysed in the three stages of the relationship
At the second level, we discuss the dialectical nature of the interplay between space and place
At the third level, the implications of this dialectical interplay are examined in relation to the process of growth of the GSA relationship.
In the initial stages of the relationship, MCI and India represented a ˜space for GlobTel, not different from the other labs they had worldwide. MCI was seen as an arena for ˜becoming , a location that could provide reduced costs for software development and improved access to skilled human resources. It was assumed that the local particularities of India could be superseded by the shared electronic spaces and MCI could become just another one of GlobTel s many development centres . From the start, GlobTel tried to standardize their operations so that their managers could seamlessly work across these settings as if still working within the GlobTel framework. Seen as a universal location for ˜becoming , in which universalized practices could apply, GlobTel introduced a number of their globally standardized approaches “ for example, the model of technology transfer and metrics for measuring lab productivity.
Understanding the sense of space is important because it helped to shape the expectations of senior GlobTel staff, and to provide them with a frame of reference to evaluate subsequent events. The development environment was replicated in the MCI lab with the inside of the lab resembling a modern North American office with videoconferencing and telecom links that allowed people in North America to ring MCI staff in India (and vice versa) as if making a local call within their own building. In trying to create a ˜place for their managers similar to that in North America, GlobTel assumed that MCI and Mumbai were a ˜space where local particularities could be superseded by the GlobTel standardized environments. Managers from both sides had to operate constantly and simultaneously in place- and space-based environments as they moved between India, North America and the electronic domains.
During the early stages, the partners were still getting to know each other, and the relationship was still relatively ˜ distant . There was uncertainty on both sides. The Level 1 work that was given to MCI did not require ˜shared spaces. The degree of shared spaces was minimal (9.6 kB baud), and this lower bandwidth in turn implied that lower-level work was given. More numerous visits of GlobTel s staff to India and vice versa helped to increase mutual familiarity . GlobTel s increasing investments in telecommunications infrastructure started to enhance the shared spaces, which further contributed to upgrading the quantum and level of work. These investments were interpreted by MCI as indicative of GlobTel s greater long- term commitment and desire to make India a ˜place . MCI reciprocated the investments by dedicating a large exclusive building in Mumbai for GlobTel work that would serve as a ˜place for both the Indians and the North Americans “ for the Indians, because it was an exclusive ˜island unique in the MCI structure, and for GlobTel because the physical and symbolical environment replicated their home office.
The increasing presence of GlobTel expatriates started to create tensions as MCI tried to protect their autonomy. In turn, GlobTel tried to legitimize their presence by pointing to various problems in MCI s management that created the need for physical supervision and correction, such as the issue of attrition. Expatriate visits were not welcomed by MCI because they were associated with control rather than with learning and developing a ˜place-like understanding. Both distance and proximity helped to shape interactions in the initiation stage. To counter the geographical realities of distance GlobTel introduced the proximity-enabling characteristics of telecommunication links and the presence of expatriates , The interplay between proximity and distance helped to shape the nature of work processes (for example, the kind of projects) and interactions (for example, the need for control and autonomy). Technology played a key role in shaping these dynamics as it provided the potential to bridge the geographical and temporal realities. It also inscribed symbolic meanings of commitment and proximity. These helped to shape the sense of space and place which actors experienced in the physical and electronic domains.
The period of growth was an interesting and dynamic time for the relationship of MCI and GlobTel. It was characterized by rapid growth in the number of developers, increasing levels of work and significant exchange of people from both sides. A turning point was the visit of very senior GlobTel staff members to India and their public announcements of commitment. MCI interpreted this not as a desire for control but as an expression of long-term commitment, of being included in the GlobTel ˜family . There was a ˜merging of places through these visits, as MCI became a ˜brother lab .
The merging of MCI and GlobTel had direct implications for the nature of work being done by MCI, because the focus shifted to transferring ownership to the MCI lab.
It would then have overall responsibility to support and enhance a piece of software or a product feature. However, to fulfil this responsibility, MCI needed more knowledge about how GlobTel did things, not through shared spaces but through physical ˜place-like proximity. But this physical proximity implied increased costs and was thus unacceptable to GlobTel. Simultaneously, GlobTel tried to establish their ˜place through adevelopment centre in India, which the Indian partners resisted as it was seen as detrimental to their business interests and autonomy. While the ˜brother lab status dissolved the sense of space and distance, its implementation presupposed a need for place for both sides but in opposite directions. Both MCI and GlobTel felt the limits of electronic space, MCI felt these limits in accepting the responsibility of full ownership and GlobTel in letting go of this responsibility freely .
The ˜space and ˜place metaphors, when integrated with the geographical and material realities, help understanding of some of the tensions in this phase. MCI s desire for geographical proximity to help develop a ˜ comfort level was balanced by GlobTel s cost considerations. Geographical proximity for GlobTel implied potential of loss of business for MCI. Both sides wanted simultaneously to increase proximity and ˜maintain their distance .
Stabilization was attained with both sides apparently understanding the place of the other and the activities that were legitimate in it. On the issue of attrition, for example, through negotiations over time GlobTel came to respect this as a local MCI problem. While both sides realized the gravity of the problem, they also came to respect the other s position on it.
While space and place are generative principles drawn for the analysis, they are not reductionist , as they are examined in relation to other events such as the ˜right-angle turn . MCI was largely excluded from this new development on grounds of increased need for expertise and proximity. GlobTel s legacy work found its ˜place in MCI, although reluctantly. This sense of stabilization appears temporary owing to the inherent tensions and contradictions that could potentially alter the dynamics of the relationship in the future.
After this first-level analysis based on the concepts of space and place, we present another level of analysis of the dialectical nature of the space “place interaction. This is then followed by an analysis of the implications of the dialectical nature of this interplay in the process of growth of the relationship.