7.4 Conclusion


7.4 Conclusion

Studying the process of a GSA from a knowledge perspective drawing on concepts of knowledge sharing in communities of practice provides rich insights into the GSA phenomenon . These insights help to develop theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, there are insights into processes of globalization as perceived from a communities of practice perspective. The companies whom Sierra was attempting to emulate, such as Texas Instruments, Nortel, etc., are large ones with the capacity to make investments in the form of large numbers of expatriates , training programmes and other forms of standardization discussed in chapter 4. In contrast to these larger firms, Sierra represents the small and high-tech ˜born global firm described in chapter 1 as characteristic of the network society. These firms leverage the power of informational networks and intellectual capital to give them the potential to challenge the traditional large firms. Castells (2000) argues that such small firms still have handicaps of investments, personnel and brand name that they find difficult to overcome . Sierra, however, is an important contribution to Castells argument. Their problem was not investment or brand image but culture . Networks on their own are not enough, and aspects of history, size and geography are still important factors with which they have to contend.

This is true for communities of practice where ICTs do not offer the complete solution to stretching these communities across time and space.

A knowledge perspective emphasizes the complexities and risks of GSAs, particularly to smaller companies like Sierra. It is na ve to equate knowledge with information and assume that difficulties can be overcome with ICTs. It is instead important to see knowledge sharing as involving ˜ human knowers , rather than assume knowledge to be a commodity that is easily packaged, reduced, formalized and transferred. A human-knowers perspective emphasizes the process by which knowledge is as a result transferred. The challenge for practitioners istodevelop sensitivity to the importance of tacit knowledge and the difficulty of learning through practice when actors are separated. In GSAs, this means that ICTs must also support informal practices. It means a broader acceptance of the approach to heterogeneity within broader standardized templates.

Comparisons of the Sierra and GlobTel cases are interesting to illustrate some practical techniques and show how Sierra might have better managed the process. Sierra was a small firm, UK-based. Its relationship with the UK group was as a subsidiary as opposed to a JV. Sierra did not have the resources to move large numbers of expatriates to India to facilitate standardization in the same manner as GlobTel. Sierra did not have a ˜big-company reputation to draw the best graduates from the leading institutions such as IITs. Such graduates might potentially have had the kind of critical creativity that Sierra s approach required, towards the end of the centre s existence in Bangalore two such people were recruited who seemed to have the necessary skills and qualities of creativity and critical thinking. Sierra might have thought more about the role of ˜straddlers (Heeks et al. 2001) who would be a person or persons who could relate the interests of the respective communities to each other. Having sophisticated individuals who can bridge the cultures between groups, facilitate informal discussion and act as front-line liaison officers might have overcome some of the difficulties faced by Sierra and facilitated the practice-based learning experiences.

Sierra might have been better advised in their initial business planning to have considered alternative organizational relationships before hastily embarking on a subsidiary route. Entering into a JV arrangement with an established Indian company would have enabled them to set up operations with experienced people well versed in local and global practices and the limitations of GSW. This route, although with its own set of problems and difficulties, would have insulated Sierra from some of the knowledge transfer problems experienced .

A knowledge perspective also provides insight into the knowledge requirements for a GSA relationship to initiate, grow and evolve . Analysing the software development process in this way shows the importance of achieving congruence in the initiation stages. It demonstrates the need for an appreciation of tacit forms of knowledge, particularly in the realm of encultured practices which act as an interpretive framework for dialogue and for knowledge embedded in processes. As a result of continuing problems in this area such as lack of face-to-face dialogue and misinterpretation of designs, Sierra abandoned the idea of a workable community of practice between Indian and UK staff. Their view was that maturity in the relationship would have been achieved only by minimizing the need for interaction between UK and India by providing whole self-contained projects. However, evidence from other case studies points to flaws in Sierra s approach, especially with regard to their high expectations of Indian operations and the amount of work sent offshore. The first point can be related once again to Sierra s business planning, which did not provide a full analysis of the complex risks of working in India. UK staff had many preconceptions ( ˜ streets are paved with programmers ) and high expectations ( ˜little of Sierra in India ), which in practice were difficult to meet and had direct repercussions on management commitment to India operations.

With regard to levels of work done offshore, mature companies such as GlobTel set benchmarks for transition time of onshore staff to offshore, thereby managing knowledge acquisition and ensuring smooth transition to offshore. GlobTel also recognized the importance of encultured knowledge even as the relationship matured. They built in such mechanisms as reward and recognition systems aligned to relationship success, and tried to develop deeper understanding through frequent visits. In addition, overcoming differences in developer background knowledge may to some extent be achieved with regular visits , use of ˜straddlers or user representatives who may educate the offshore team on the context surrounding detailed specifications. These actions can possibly be reinforced by using such techniques as recording videos of the office context to be watched by the offshore team. The evidence from this case suggests that such techniques related to pre-planning, selection and training of people, effective communication and managing cultural differences are relevant to transferring knowledge. However the techniques discussed above are still not a complete substitute for situated community-based knowledge sharing through engagement in practice ,which we argue still proves to be an important dimension of, and limiting factor in, GSW.