With the advent of the internet and the evolution of e-business, the widely held perception is that we operate in a know ledged-based economy. Many organisations have realised that changing and adapting their business processes to leverage information technology is vital for sustainability. The traditional paradigm of focusing on products has gradually eroded and organisational rhetoric has shifted towards services.
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In fact the notion has been permeated that the customer has taken centre stage in corporate strategy . Focus is now drawn to building sustainable relationships with customers and involving them in the decision making processes. Customers are now involved in core organisational processes such as development of new products and services. Customers services in the traditional approach has mainly consisted of assisting customers before or after the purchase of products. With the customer taking a central theme in organisational strategy and with the introduction of Information technology as an enabler of organisational change . IT Organisations have looked at information systems such as Customer relationship management solutions to manage all aspects of customer communications. CRM systems have been rolled out with the promise to enhance operational efficiency and productivity in organisations. CRMs are supposed to help IT Organisations understand their customers better. Most customer services in knowledge based Organisations now rely on knowledge bases and CRMs. However it seems that in spite of all these information systems and organisational efforts , many IT organisations have yet to fully harness the capabilities of e-business and gain competitive advantage by leveraging the customers as co-creators and co-producers of knowledge. Notions such as self-service are not as pervasive as one would expect. It is arguably true that some IT organisations have attempted with belated success to establish a true symbiotic relationship with their customers. Therefore this study will attempt to encourage the use of web 2.0 by exploring the user perceptions of users in web 2.0 specifically in customer services.
Qualitative research was carried out through semi-structured interviews focussing on the social , personal, cognitive and affective perception of users when participating in web 2.0 (Blogs, virtual forums, etc))within support activities.
The analysis of the data was carried out using the Users and Acceptance framework . Implications for research and practice highlight organisational culture as a very important prerequisite for the use and acceptance of web 2.0 enabled technology.
The constant innovation of software products has invariably driven the need for customers to understand and use the ever evolving products effectively(Dholakia et al , 2009).As a result of this organisations rely predominantly on the acquisition of a service support contract defined as pre-sales and post sales support contracts to enable these organisations to learn about the product, assist in using the product and ultimately solving problems during the use of the software( Gray and Durcikova 2006). An indirect advantage of a support contract provides organisations with information about their customers to personalise the pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase experiences(Kohlbacher, 2008). Some firms supplement this employee-based service support model with virtual customer communities((Mathwick, Wiertz, and de Ruyter 2008) such as Ebay(Dholakia et al , 2009).In fact Mills and Morris(1986) argue that customers can thus become partial employees by taking over some service functions that are normally carried out by employees. This implies that some firms successfully leverage their relationships with their customers to derive further value creation. This view falls in line with the argument that organisations should build better relationships with their customers with the aim to retaining customers(Lemon, White, and Winer (2002),; not only because the growth of the internet and rapid technological progress has lead to increasing market transparency thus making it difficult to achieve long lasting differentiation(Hande Kimilog?lu and HuÂ¨lya Zarali) , but also because customer loyalty can be directly linked to organisational profitability. Loyal customers have higher customer retention rates, use a larger share of their category spending to the organisation, and are more likely to recommend others to become customers of the firm (Reichheld and Earl Sasser, 1990; Zeithaml, 2000; Keiningham, 2007).
A new perspective is being heralded that organisations can leverage web2.0 to build closer relationships with customers(Forrester). Web 2.0 encompasses a range of interactive tools and social communications techniques like blogs, podcasts and social networks(Chaffey, 2008).This is because the rapid spread of high speed internet access has enabled the participation and interaction that encourages user created content,creation of communities. The power of web 2.0 technologies such as Facebook and Myspace with 300 millions users arguably exemplies how popular and successful and relevant web 2.0 can be (Chaffey, 2008). Traditionally the verb networking describes the Machiavellian stance of creating and sustaining interpersonal connections and using these for commercial gain(Iacobucci) .Therefore one can be conclude that organisations should innovate on their services and leverage the internet to improve their brands recognition and improve customer loyalty.
Interestingly within organisational studies the fostering of relationships to improve customer loyalty and serve customers better is the main reason why organisations deploy customer relationship management systems. In fact some(Chen ,Popovich; 2003 ) define CRM as an integrated approach to managing relationships by focusing on customer retention and relationship building facilitated by the advances in information technology.
Others on the otherhand see CRM as a central knowledge management system.Still yet other emphasise the insight that organisations can gain from using CRM systems especially in marketing , segmenting and targeting (Colt.). While all these views possibly suggest that CRM can provide the relationship management , knowledge and insight to leverage the relationship between customers and organisations, it appears CRM falls short in practise to live up to these claims ; in fact Gibbert et al.,( 2002) claim that CRM leaves knowledge residing in customers. Similarly Zaltman(2003) argues that current CRM implementations are restricted to collecting and managing data and information while ignoring tacit information. This shortcomings of CRM has seen some researchers segment and reconceptualise some domains in CRM such as Customer Knowledge Management that deals with tacit knowledge, explicit knowledge and relationship management in customer services (davenport et a, 2001, Gibbert et al , 2002).
While the importance of web 2.0 technologies such social networking is accepted(Forrester, Chaffeh) many researchers suggest that its impact in organisations has not been thoroughly investigated(Castilla et al. (2000). Therefore the aim of this study is to evaluate the impact of social media in customer service organisations . Data is gathered through an a questionnaire to participants to evaluate the potential and potential impact of web 2.0 technologies on customer services.
RESEARCH FOCUS This dissertation intends to explore the use of web 2.0 information systems within customer services of an information technology organisation based in the united states with support centres in the united kingdom, Australia and India.
The main themes this research seeks to explore are:
The aim for this dissertation is to explore the user perceptions of web 2.0 within a technical support department specifically in an ICT organisations.
Examine Web 2.0 and review contemporary web 2.0 literature and its consequences for centralised versus decentralised (localised, contextualised) planning and decision processes in social systems;
In order to explore the user perceptions of web 2.0 within customer services, qualitative interpretive research will be carried out.Qualitative research appears more appropriate for this study as it will provide information into what each particular user perceives the usefulness of web2.0 . Because such information is more subjective in nature , it is therefore better approached using qualitative research. The essence of this qualitative research will be interpretive in nature into uncovering information about the human perception, feelings, opinions and thoughts (Fonow and Cook ,1991). Observatory research while being useful is limited to solely identifying behaviour however not understanding reasons behind that behaviour and does not include important details such as the context of users. This is not enough insight for the purpose of this research as there is a clear need to ascertain both the behaviour as well as attitudes behind these. Additionally quantitative research acquires data through the assumption that social facts can always be measured on the assumption that they have an objective reality. Thus not identifying that user attitudes and perceptions can be influenced by emotions and as a result fail to gain a deeper insight to motivation and behaviour.
This section outlines and briefly describes the structure of the dissertation :
This chapter is an introduction of the dissertation highlighting the research area with a presentation of the aims and objectives of the research
CHAPTER 2: Literature Review This chapter is a critical review of existing literature on call centre. It also discusses contemporary theories and perspectives relating to the Technical support. It also discusses the use of information systems within the context of this dissertation
CHAPTER 3: Research Methodology will describe and articulate the research methodology. This also includes information about the design of the research and the Organisation
Chapter 4: Research findings and Analysis This chapter presents the case study, the findings from the semi-structured interviews conducted in the organization using the Users and gratification(U&G)theory as the conceptual lens for the discussion.
Chapter Five :Analysis and discusses the result of the research. Each hypothesis is investigated for any acceptance or rejection of the proposed framework designed for each hypothesis. Concluding this section will be a discussion of limitations arising from developing this research.
Chapter 5: Conclusion This will discuss the implications of the research findings in practise while also suggesting some recommendations for future research.
There are diverse views on why organisations implement customer relationship management systems. Ngai(2005) suggests that the CRM have been primarily used to automate processes. Senge et al(1999) suggests that Organisations need to continuously change and adapt to changing environment and assert that Customer relationship management systems are key to this process. Stein and Smith(2009) suggest that if properly organized and applied, information can become the knowledge that defines the mission, form and strategy of an Organisation and associate CRM with theories such as the adaptive enterprise. This view is shared by Sun et al(2006) who suggest the primary purpose of CRMs as adaptive learning. In this context adaptive learning is defined as the process of predicting information from large databases to identify valuable customers, the ability to learn about the preferences of these valuable customers , forecast future behavioural patterns and estimate customer value. The rapid growth of the internet(chaffey, 2008) and the current limitations of existing CRM implementations (Gibbert et al, 2002) has seen some It has been established that organisations must exploit existing competencies,technologies, and knowledge(March, 1991) , improvise(Orlikowski) and also pursue knowledge about unknown possibilities for competitive action(Sambamurthy, 2003).It has being In fact the notion of organisational agility is often permeated and is described as a combination of customer agility, partnering agility, and operational agility(Cronin 2000).
The underlying perspectives seem therefore to suggest that Organisations operate in continuously changing environments, it appears that Organisations are expected to be agile.
There are some divergent views which suggest how companies should attain enterprise agility. The underlying concept behind all these definitions relies on these organisations sensing changes and responding accordingly. Some advocate absorptive capacity (Zahra, 2002) which suggests the capability (dynamic) to create and utilize knowledge. While others suggest enterprise agility that builds upon other theories in management theory such as dynamic capability, strategic flexibility, market orientation and absorptive capacity (Overby 2006).
Chaffen(2008) highlights strategic agility as the an organisations ability to innovate and so gain competitive advantage within a market place by monitoring changes within an organisations’s marketplace and then to efficiently evaluate alternative strategies and then select review and implement appropriate candidate strategies.
Nambisan (2002) postulates that agility is important for organisations and argues that customers serve three valuable roles namely as a source of innovation ideas, as co-creators who help in the development and design of innovative products and services, and finally users help in testing the product or in assisting other users learn about new products or services.Others(Kohli and Jaworski 1990) underline the more strategic advantages of Customer agility and suggest it helps organisations gain market intelligence and in detecting competitive action opportunities.
However it seems CRMs are not only implemented for firms to gain agility or intelligence. This raises the question about what Organisations expect from CRM implementations. It appears the role of the customer within organisations has gained increased focus.In that light Kohli & Jaworski(1990) postulate that customers play a central strategy in organisations.(Fornell et al , 2006) have done some empirical studies and suggest that there is a direct link between customer relationship activity and firm performance. Similarly Lemon, White, and Winer (2002) highlight the marketing trend of building long lasting relationships with customers for better competitiveness. Agrawal(2003) suggests CRMs are central to the task of making an organisation customer centric and maintains that this is the most certain way of increasing value to organisations and profitability to the organisations. The Information centric view of CRM has also been delineated with Peppers and Rogers(1999) highlighing the technological aspects of customer relationship management and arguing that CRMs are technology solutions that extend separate databases and sales force automation tools to link sales marketing efforts to improving targeting efforts. From these viewpoints, one could suggest that the ultimate objective behind CRM initiatives is ultimately about managing ” relationships” with customers . The proposition is that if organisations build better relationships with customers, this would ultimately lead to better competitive abilities and can lead to long term competitiveness and sustainability. This appears simplistic and deterministic and there is research evidence to suggest that some CRM initiatives have not met these objectives, for example Rigby et al (2002) argue that CRM initiatives have alienated long-term customers and employees.
Within the scope of this study the definition of Customer relationship management systems will be aligned with Chen and Popowich (2003) that define CRMs as a combination of people ,processes and technology that seek to provide understanding of customers. According to Chen and Popovich(2003) a CRM system is a complex application that mines customer data, creates a comprehensive view of key customers, and predicts their purchasing patterns. CRMs support business strategy and assist in the building of long term relationships with the customer. Chen and Popowich(2003) also maintain that although CRM is enabled by technology, it is not a technology solution because the key processes are carried out by people and these need clear understanding of the objectives of key decisions. Although the term CRM seems to have a ubiquitous definition that focuses on relationship management with customers, Greenberg(2004) claims that Customer relationship management systems can be interpreted in three distinct ways;(1) Data-driven CRM that leans on Information technology and centres around the integration customer information using applications, interfaces, and automation tools.(2) Process-driven CRM builds around organisational practices and rules and seeks to automate organisational processes for better efficiency. (3) people-driven CRM focuses on the job of executives and employees in utilizing face-to-face communication to process relationship management.
The underlying proposition is that CRM while being technologically enabled requires company-wide, cross-functional, customer-focused business process re-engineering to be successful. CRM has arguably cemented its position as an important organisational construct with Forrester research postulating the growth of the CRM industry will reach 11 billion dollars annually by 2010(Forrester,2008). In spite of this apparent success of CRM, there are diverging views on its efficiency and suitability to dealing with issues raised with customer support services departments and as such Chen, Popovich(2003) postulate that CRM is a combination of People, process and technology that need to provide understanding of customer needs to support a business strategy. This suggests that organisational structure is an important facet of CRM. Similarly some suggest that the key to organisation success is rooted in the ability to sense environmental change and respond readily (Overby2006).
The environment in this context are the strategic and operational conditions such as regulatory changes, technological advancement and increased customer demands. Thus the point is made for the agile enterprise. Agility is defined as “the ability of an (inter-connected) organization to detect changes, opportunities and threats in its business environment and to provide speedy and focused responses to customers, as well as other stakeholders, by reconfiguring resources and processes, and through strategic partnerships and alliances.” The argument can thus be made that organisations need to derive more from the information at their disposal to ensure better decisions. In the context of the internet , it can be argued that with the low cost entry barrier offered by the internet , organisations now require unique selling points to differentiate their products and retain their existing customers. This has caused the customer support services departments to emerge as one of the most important parts of organisations. Perhaps because customers must learn continuously to keep abreast of innovations(Dholakia et al , 2009).Attracting a new customer is more expensive than retaining a customer(Chaffey , 2006).
The role of information technology on agility is often referred to as indirect (Overby, 2006). This view suggests that IT provides the infrastructure upon which other business functions and processes rely. Information technologies such as decision support systems, data warehouses, and OLAP tools can facilitate the development of knowledge through real-time data monitoring, pattern identification and scenario modelling. This enhances the organisation sensing capabilities by providing managers with high-quality information about the state of the business, which helps them, identify emerging opportunities.Others (Sambamurthy et al, 2003) suggest that information technology investments and capabilities influence firm performance through a nomological network of three significant organizational capabilities (agility, digital options, and entrepreneurial alertness) and strategic processes (capability-building, entrepreneurial action, and co evolutionary adaptation)..The essence of their argument appears to be that organizations with better information technology are better at making decisions. One can therefore infer from these arguments that organisations should use Information technology as an enabler which enables them to sense and perceive changes in their environment and respond effectively (the fastest response is not necessarily the best response).
The role of information technology and its impact on CRM initiatives has been greatly discussed. According to Tamminga and O’Halloran (2000) the increasing use of the Internet by customers has important ramifications for CRM because of what is expected in terms of customer management . Along these lines Petrissans (2000) maintains that information technology automation solutions such as FAQ(frequently asked questions ) and interactive voice response systems can increase operational efficiency. Furthermore Sandoe et al. (2001) suggest that information technology development such as business intelligence through data warehousing and data mining are very important for the effectiveness of CRM systems Fundamentally it appears the role of information technology on enterprise ability and agility is often referred to as indirect (Overby, 2006). This view maintains that IT provides the infrastructure upon which other business functions and processes rely. Information technologies such as decision support systems, data warehouses, and CRM can facilitate the development of knowledge through real-time data monitoring, pattern identification and scenario modelling. This enhances the organisation sensing capabilities by providing managers with high-quality information about the state of the business, which helps them, identify emerging opportunities. One could argue from these research perspectives that technological advances are lead deterministically to better CRM systems, however it seems this is not the case ;for example Chen and Popowich(2004) claim that for some organisations CRM is simply a technology solution that consolidates disparate databases and sales force automation tools to bridge sales and marketing functions in order to improve sales efforts. This view is shared by Reinartz et al (2004) who suggest that one of the reasons for the disappointing results of many CRM initiatives can be attributed to the overemphasis on CRM as an information technology solution. As a result Coltman(2004) correctly argues that Information technology must be applied in the right way to derive business value and claims that Information technology impacts organizational performance via intermediate business processes, requires complementary organizational resources such as workplace practices and structures and is influenced by the external environment.
Plato suggested that knowledge could only be derived from that which is believed and is true, typically called justified true belief.Earl (1994) advocates that data has to be interpersonal or objective and postulates 4 levels of knowledge needed to understand organizational information events are collected and processed to generate Data , data is manipulated and interpreted to generate information and information leads to knowledge.Sveiby suggests that information is meaningless, but becomes meaningful knowledge when it is interpreted.
Polanyi (1966) defines knowledge as a construct that cannot be separated from its social context, similarly Toumi,1999) posits that data should include the context within which it was captured to ensure that it can be understood and interpreted correctly.
The main underpinnings of these schools of thoughts seem to underline the importance of tacit and subjective knowledge. Tacit knowledge is defined as personal; context specific and therefore hard to formalize and communicate (includes cognitive and technical elements) This is in contrast with proponents of explicit knowledge who advocate that knowledge should be objective , that is knowledge that is transmittable in formal systematic language (Nonaka and Takenchi 1995).
The growth and success of the internet has been emphatic as 10.000 new pages are added each day(chaffey, 2008). This success has been fuelled by the increase in broadband adoption alongside the low cost of the internet(chaffey 2008).The internet has because of its low barrier to entry and . Not only has the internet seen the introduction of new concepts such as e-business and forced organisations to evaluate organisational silos or constructs but it has introduced new technologies such as blogs, social networks, RSS that are collectively now known as web 2. 0.Petrohoff(2008) suggests that social media is not just these new technologies enabled by the internet but is more about a community that interact with each other on an ongoing basis.
The growth of the CRM industry as impressive as it seems cannot compare with the explosive growth of the internet that has catapulted ecommerce to centre stage with the value of sales alone in 2008 estimated at Â£222.9bn in the united kingdom (https://www.statistics.gov.uk/pdfdir/ecom1109.pdf). This indicates that the ecommerce has become an important medium for companies to reach customers more easily.. The notion is thus permeated that rapid advancements in technology are leading to increasing transparency of marketing activities, thus making it difficult to achieve long-lasting differentiation (Hande Kimilog?lu and HuÂ¨lya Zarali. 2008).While some(CA? LIN GURA?U et al , 2003) claim that the low entry barriers, the market size and the relatively low costs of online business activities have created a situation of intense competition and suggest that organisations therefore need to build brand loyalty and manage their relationships with customers better for long term viability .Others on the otherhand see the potential offered by the internet such as high speed, cost effectiveness, constant availability, efficiency in transferring information, and integrated and individualised nature are major drivers and strengths for CRM applications (Bauer et al., 2002; Frawley, 2000).
Thus a new conceptualization of CRM has been derived to accommodate the possibilities offered by the internet,wireless media and e-mail, denoted by E-CRM (chaffey and smith , 2008) with the goal of acquiring and retaining customers online using organisational websites
The role of People in CRM implementations has been examined by some researchers and there appears to be divergent views. Rigby et al(2003) suggest that although CRM are used to automate processes; these processes cannot manage customer relationships that deviate from the norm for example CRM is not as effective for relationship building as face to face communication . Davenport et al(2004) concur with this and argue that two distinct types of knowledge is generated by Organisations through customer information processing, namely tacit and implicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is generated through the processes of the CRM information system such as recording the actions of customers during communication .Explicit is therefore defined as knowledge that can be articulated ,documented and made accessible. This is contrasted with tacit knowledge generated during interaction with customers but cannot be documented and made accessible. Davenport et al (2004) therefore claim that for organisations to embark on successful CRM initiatives, human processes can complement and overcome the deficiencies in the technology led CRM implementations. This is also highlighted by Stringfellow, Nie, and Bowen (2004) who suggest CRM systems require complex channels to elicit the emotional needs of customers that cannot be met with standard CRM systems. As a result of this, they conclude that CRM systems are technology-rich but knowledge-poor.
Therefore indeed the usefulness of CRM is limited when dealing with unstructured information and tacit knowledge. And some (Markus et al 2002) therefore correctly argue that Organisations need emergent knowledge processes .
Emergent knowledge processes are organizational activities that exhibit three characteristics in combination: (1) deliberations with no best structure or sequence, (2) knowledge requirements include both general and tacit knowledge distributed across experts and non-experts, and (3) highly unpredictable actor set in term of job role or prior knowledge (Markus, et al., 2002).
Musser and O’Reilly( 2006) defines the WEB 2.0 as “the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them” . O’reilly gives a comprehensive definition and suggests that Web 2.0 is a range of interactive emergent tools and social communication techniques such as Blogs, Podcasts and social networks that are aimed at increasing user participation and interaction on the web(Albrecht et al., 2007; Berners-Lee et al., 2006; Kerres, 2006; McAfee, 2006;Musser and O’Reilly, 2006; O’Reilly, 2005; Seufert, 2007). This implies that web 2.0 is an umbrella term that underlines a new paradigm of capabilities made possible by the pervasiveness or rather near ubiquity of internet.
Some highlight the web 2.0 as the breaking down of organisational silos Oberhelman(). In fact Oberhelman() postulates that ” Web 2.0 refers generally to web tools that, rather than serve as a forum for authorities to impart information to a passive, receptive audience, actually invite site visitors to comment,collaborate, and edit information, creating a more distributed form of authority in which the boundaries between site creator and visitor are blurred”. This view is shared by Graham(2005) who posits that user democracy is an important building block for web 2.0
Still yet some hightlight the social and emotional context of Web 2.0 technologies.(Forrester) .In fact some argue that web 2.0 is driven by the human desire to build and sustain relationships in disperse social communities, to create and extend networks, and to produce effects through aggregated interaction patterns of users. The nature of human
Granovetter’s (1983) has expored human relationships and postulates social network theory on the strength of weak ties (SWT). In that light Granovetter suggests that , interpersonal relationships in networks have two predominant forms: we develop strong ties, which are based on our immediate work and life environment and are at the centre of our respective networks; and we develop weak ties, which extend beyond our direct environment into other areas and are at the periphery of our networks. While strong ties are regular, weak ties are casual and serve us as a link between different social peripheries; this way, weak ties help to propagate innovative ideas and new knowledge between people of different contexts and areas.
Other (Boyd and Ellision(2007) take a more practical approach and have delineated social networking sites as mainly allowing individuals the creation of a profile and articulating a list of other users with whom they share a connection and ultimately allowing these individuals the ability of transversing their list of connections and others connected to them.Similarly McAfee proposes the “SLATES” acronym to differentiate the key features of Web 2.0 technologies and their potential in organisations: “Search” represents the efficiency of users to locate information in the Internet; “Links” enables information to be search via search engines; “Authoring” refers to the user-driven production of content which gradually converges to taxonomies ; “Tags” define peer-driven categorisation and validation within organisations ; “Extensions” enhance immediate search results of users towards related topics of interest and present unanticipated learning possibilities; and “signal” technologies finally allow users to accumulate and bundle relevant online content.
Cook attempts to conceptualise web2.0 and proposes four primary functions of web 2.0 or social software namely;1) communication with others by text, image, voice or video, 2) Cooperation; which denotes the sharing of content between users in a structured or unstructured manner ,3) Collaboration; which represent the ability of people to collaborate with each other on particular problems either directly or indirectly in both central and distributed ways. 4) Connection ; which represents the networking technologies that enable people to connect with both people and content.
Some researchers have synthesised web 2.0 and postulate some underlying concepts and principles that are common to all web 2.0 technologies .(Levy , 2007;cook, 2008)) such as the use of the internet as a platform (Levy, 2007). With Data as the driving force (cook , 2008) and the building of services on the internet that improves as the number of active users increase(Graham, 2005; Levy 2007) where the active Participation of Users to enhance collaboration and participation occurs.(Oreilly, 2006, Levy, 2007, Chaffey, 2008)
In fact the role of Users in web 2.0 has received a lot of attention ( levy, 2007; chaffey, 2008). Internet users are segmented into passive users , minimal active users that create content for themselves such as blogs or collaborative active users that work together over the internet adding collaborative content.
Blogs :are user created content that can be subject oriented and personal , cook(2008) refers to blogs as an online equivalent of journals. In organisations blogs can be instrumental in knowledge management, business intelligence and project management. Furthermore Cooke(2008) argues that blogs are less formal and less structured than forums.
Wikis: these represent webpages that can be collaboratively edited by anyone with the required of access,Cook(2008) asserts that wikis are appropriate for always changing information such as documentation. A good example of a wiki is the Wikipedia.
Really Simple Syndication(RSS) refers to a either a full document or a summary of any online information that can be subscribed to. Chaffey(2008) describes several acronyms for an RSS document such as “feed”, “web feed” or channel.The subscription ensures that any new information is automatically received.
Graton et al (1997) define social networks as a set of individual actors who interconnect through certain relationships, such as friendship, co-working or information exchange .Chou() postulates that due to the dynamic nature of social networks participants and information contents keep evolving. Chou() attributes the following characteristics to social networks (1) a network involves an unpredictable set of participants, (2) all members share unstructured information, and (3) all members have evolving information needs .chaffey(2008) suggests that social networks can be used to solicit feedback about product experiences and brand perception either by explicit request or simply by observing what is being discussed. Some examples of Social networks are facebook and myspace. Forums have been classified as social networks and Cook(2008) describes forums as internet bulletin boards that allow employees to initiate discussions for others to contribute to or review information.Forums are generally specific to a predefined category. In the scope of technical support departments this could be technical questions or responses. Responses are posted one after the other and the collective topic is referred to as a thread.
Within organisations , there is the notion of enterprise 2.0 being permeated that suggests that represent technologies and business practises that will enable organisations to leverage information rich environments and allow easier interaction and collaboration either within companies or between companies and their partners or customers(McAfee, 2006).But do organisations embrace this dynamic generation of knowledge through collaboration?. McLuhan et al(2003) argues that there is not a deterministic relationship between employee collaboration and enhanced knowledge exchange and implementing web 2.0. Mcluhan et al (2003) therefore postulates that all technologies are by nature extension of psychological or physical human faculties.
There many diverging views on how organisations leverage web 2.0 within their customer support organisations; Nambisan(2002) suggests that organisations can use web 2.0 technologies such as virtual forums to involve customers in product design, product testing and product support activities. This is exemplified by Peugeot who involve their customers already in the early design phase of their products, but a more relevant example is Microsoft with their Virtual Customer environment program(Nambisan and ) who integrate external customers in their support deliverary. Similarly Ebay
RESEARCH APPROACH Research has established three main methodologies for researching the relationship between people, information systems and organisations namely positivist, interpretive and critical (Orlikowski, Baroudi; 1991,Avison and Pries-Heje, 2005). In the scope of this research the qualitative interpetivist research will be carried out. The interpretive approach will be adopted because it attempts to understand phenomena through accessing the meanings that participants assign to them(Orlikowski, Baroudi, 1991).Oates(2006) suggests that interpretive research is concerned with the understanding of the social context of informationsystems.So one can conclude that Interpretive research attempts to find a relativistic, albeit shared, understanding of phenomena. Interpretive research will effectively enable the exploration of how participants relate to web 2.0 and how participants percieve the usefulness of web 2.0.
RESEARCH METHOD This dissertation was conducted in an information technology organisation based in the United states with subsidiaries around the world .The Support department is comprised of about 80 employees across distributed between support centers based in the United states, united kingdom and India.From this base all customers across all geographical regions can access the technical support services. across the three geographic regions. 15 support engineers , two support managers and twenty designated customers were interviewed during a two week period. The interviews were semi structured in nature with the researcher focusing on open ended questions lasting 45 minutes.
The research study was conducted at RSA Security, the security division of EMC. An organisation that specialises in privacy ,Identity and Access solutions.A letter of introduction was sent to the director of support at RSA Security LTD.stating the research proposal and goal.A meeting was arranged during which the director of the company was informed about the scope of the research, ethical considerations and confidentiality of Information.
software. The director of support at RSA (a pseudonym) agreed to sponsor this study by providing us with a sampling of their customer list and endorsing our research to customer support managers on that list. Of the 4 managers contacted and 25 engineers were contacted(UK based engineers), a total of 3 manager agreed to participate (75 percent) and 16 engineers agreed(64 percent).
A list of 34 partner companies/resellers residing in the was also provided with after a non disclosure agreement was signed. An email was sent requesting participation from all these partner companies.A total of 14 partner companies/resellers responded(41percent).
Through semistructured interviews, the following qualitative data about the support center operations, including (1) learning and using products using web 2.0 technologies (2) user perceptions of web 2.0 (Blogs, virtual forums, etc))within support activities.(social, personal, cognitive, affective) (5) analysts’ work environment and the nature of the work analysts performed;(6)
A central premise of this study is that customers’ interaction experiences within the context of web 2.0 can be a source of value (Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2003, p. 14), and serve as a motivation for their continued participation in product support within Organisations. The U&G approach is thus adopted (Katz et al., 1974) to identify the types of benefits that customers may develop from their interactions in the web 2.0 and then relate them to future participation. Katz, Gurevitch and Haas(1973) postulate that individuals connect or disconnect themselves with others by mass media. They highlight around 35 needs from the social and psychological functions of the mass media and put them into five categories:
Therefore the an attempt to explore the broad types of advantages that individuals can derive from participating in web 2.0 can be grouped under (a) cognitive benefits that relate to information acquisition and strengthening of the understanding of how organisations use web 2.0; (b) social integrative benefits that relate to strengthening the consumer’s ties with others using web 2.0 technology; (c) personal integrative benefits that relate to strengthening the standing, status, and confidence of the individual when participating in web 2.0 initiatives; and (d) affective benefits such as those that strengthen pleasurable experiences
Cognitive or learning benefits: In the web 2.0 context,cognitive benefits reflect product-related educationâ€”Because web 2.0 technologies like social networks and forums enable the sharing and generating of information through interaction, better understanding of products, technologies ensue. (Rothaermel & Sugiyama, 2001; Wasko & Faraj, 2000, Nambisan)
Social integrative benefits: In a web 2.0 context , the social context is comprised of the participating customers and members of the host firm. Nambisan(2002)postulates that social integrative benefits are the benefits derived from the social relationship that develop over time among the participating entities in the a forum (Nambisan, 2002). Examples of such benefits are of a sense of belonging or social identity (Kollock, 1999). McAlexander et al., 2002; Muniz & O’Guinn, 2001 have documented the considerable value customers place on such social identity and relationships within communities.
Personal integrative benefits: Katz et al(1974) postulate that Personal integrative benefits relate to gains in reputation or status and the achievement of a sense of self-efficacy (Katz et al., 1974).In the context of web 2.0 , individual customers through interaction can thereby demonstrate their product-related knowledge and problem-solving skills.Thus By contributing to product support, customers have the ability to enhance their status and reputation among peer customers as well as with the product vendor (Wasko & Faraj, 2000; Harhoff et al., 2003). Kollock(1999) argues that through contributing customers influence peer customers’ product usage behavior as well as the vendor’s product improvement plans, and thereby realize a sense of self-efficacy (Kollock, 1999).
Affective benefits: Nambisan argues that Customers’ interactions in the web 2.0 could also be a source of mentally stimulating experiences. Similarly Muniz & O’Guinn postulate that customers derive considerable pleasure from sharing experiences with other customers about products and features. In the context of web 2.0 this appears to be applicable as technical support services in web 2.0 can be a mental source of stimulation.
One of the aims of this study is to encourage Organisations to extend their CRM initiatives and leverage web 2.0 and to ascertain how the value it will bring to both organisations and customers , the U&G model will be used to evaluate these :
Online social network involves unpredictable sets of participants who shares unstructured information and have evolving information needs
The demand for solutions combating online fraud and identity theft has seen new regulations such as the Sarbannes Oxley , PCI compliance , HIPPA introduced. A case in point is the assertion by the federal trade commission that online fraud cost businesses 48 million dollars in 2008. Similarly the Aberdeen group reports that security breaches such as the public disclosure of 45.7million debit and credit card numbers in 2007 have seen the introduction of regulations such as the PCI compliance(payment card industry).
RSA the security division of RSA is an industry leader that offers solutions in identity assurance & access control, encryption & key management, compliance & security information management and fraud protection. RSA is headquartered in Bedford, Massachusetts, United States, and maintains offices in Australia, Ireland, Israel, the United Kingdom, Singapore, India, China, Hong Kong and Japan.
The RSA technical support department offers technical support via its three call centers located in the US, UK and India staffed by technical support analyst who provide some presales and post sales assistance by answering customers’ queries, assisting them in integrating the product into their environment, and offering remote troubleshooting of problems . The technical support analyst mostly offer service by answering telephone calls (and e-mails) from customers who have questions about, or are experiencing problems with RSA products or services.
In order to maximize knowledge reuse and efficiency, RSA Security attempts to get Analyst to resolve technical issues at the first point of contact, that means technical support analysts first consult a knowledge repository(knowledge base) when facing a customer problem for which they have no immediate answer and consult directly with colleagues only after no suitable solution can be found in the repository.
The repositories include knowledge repositories, knowledge sourcing, CRM systems and forums. RSA Technical analyst describe customer knowledge as
Insight from experts, and opinions about the causes, symptoms, and nature of problems that customers may experience while also offering prescriptive advice for solving those problems The goal is that analysts can benefit from accessing each other’s knowledge through some form of electronic repository of customer support knowledge , which may be a simple bespoke database or a more sophisticated purpose-built package. These repositories of codified knowledge provide a common resource to help analysts solve customers’ product- or service-related problems
The Oracle CRM is used to store all customer details with whom RSA has contracts, RSA technical support analyst use Oracle CRM to verify the maintenance agreements or contract status of customers to verify if they are entitled to support before providing technical assistance. This information system is shared by all departments in the company as it can be used to track contracts and estimate revenue as well by running reports and analysis on existing contracts.
The technical support department uses tickets to track requests which come in via email, web, telephone .Each request is assigned a unique case number for tracking purposes. This is communicated to the customer who is thereafter expected to use this ticket number for tracking. The ticketing system is linked to the oracle CRM to ensure that before a ticket can be opened, a valid maintenance contract for the existing customer can be found within the Oracle CRM.Additionally the Clarify ticketing system also has a web front end that enables end customers to log tickets via the online knowledge base.
Secure Care online is an online knowledge base that is supposed to function like a knowledge repository. The goal of securecare online is self service. That is , it enables customers quick access to most of the functionality at the disposal of the technical support engineers. So, for example customers can download hotfixes for their existing products, download documentation, search the existing knowledge repositories for technical documents and finally create and verify the status of existing tickets
The primus knowledge base enables the capturing of codified knowledge from employees, that is knowledge (tacit and explicit) gathered whilst working with customers and resolving issues by technical support engineers. This information is captured about specific issues pertaining to the products like workarounds or shortcuts . Primus enables engineers to create articles containing this information that are then forwarded to senior product architects for approval by Primus automatically. After the senior architects review and approve these articles, they are automatically published online on the knowledge base thereby enabling customers, partners and engineers to search, and access knowledge across RSA products, in various formats, to improve first call resolution rate and improve self service .
powerlink provides online support tools and support information in one place on an easy to use platform, it is a web based forum that is built following the web 2.0 paradigms. It enables customers to submit service requests and engage with other rsa users in a community support forum.It also uses web 2.0 technologies like RSS and provides tools that can help customers to quickly and proactively solves issues, answer questions and stay informed and current about RSA technologies
The main aim of the study as elaborated is the perceived usefulness of the web 2.0 in technical support organisations.
The research found although the majority of users were able to enhance their knowledge about RSA products and related products and technology by participating in the social networks powered by Powerlink.The perceived usefulness varied based on job description
Some end customers were unaccustomed to using the self service possibilities offered by RSA and web 2.0 enabled platforms to learn more about products and services whilst other end users were not aware of the social networks provided by RSA on Powerlink .However the research highlighted that customers who had extensive experience of RSA products were aware of both the self service ,online knowledge base and social network available and used these resources to enhance their knowledge about the products and engage in discussions on the forums and read blogs because they were interested in the security market and wanted to expand their skills .
Amongst partner companies, it appears web 2.0 enabled technologies for learning was even less felt,
In fact one partner company said “we are more bothered about getting our tickets resolved on time and in reality we lose interest immediately after that”. This could be the case because partner companies resell technologies from a host of firms and mostly act like middlemen between RSA and end customers. In addition to this partner companies have close contacts within RSA that enable them easy access to information.
Surprisingly the group of users who found participating in web 2.0 least useful towards learning and broadening their skillset was RSA engineers who mostly see web 2.0 enabled technologies such as forums and blogs as just another part of information they are exposed to. Most engineers seem to associate learning with official training courses. One remarked that “I don’t really have the time to be going through blogs as that is more reserved for upper management and marketing”.Thus suggesting that engineers still rely on traditional call centre technologies for their work and implies although RSA has invested in web 2.0 technology, the focus was not to encourage its use by engineers. To that one manager remarked that .”You need to be able substantiate the use of web 2.0 using metrics which is not feasible unfortunately”. This implies that RSA expect to exercise the same level of control on web 2.0 technologies.
Thus considering the definition of web 2.0 technologies as fostering the sharing and generating of information through interaction, better understanding of products, technologies ensue. (Rothaermel & Sugiyama, 2001; Wasko & Faraj, 2000, Nambisan), it can be argued from the research carried out that the cognitive benefits are very much context related. Organisational culture seems to play a role in how cognitive benefits of web 2.0 are perceived. Therefore the argument is that although web 2.0 can positively lead to users associating with the organisation and learning more about the products, there is a need for organisations to become more flexible and educate their employees about the importance of web 2.0 technologies.
Social intregrative benefits relate to the extent to which users see themselves as part of the customer community and how it affects their sense of belonging.The research findings highlighted that most partner firms saw the social integrative benefits mainly as the ability to build relationships with competent engineers which they could leverage to easily get issues fixed.Similarly RSA engineers see the building of social integrative skills across web 2.0 as more useful as far as fostering relationships with more experienced engineers. This seems to indicate that social relationships built in organisations are not altogether of an altruistic nature, one could indeed argue that this falls in line with the Machiavellian stance of creating and sustaining interpersonal connections and using these for commercial gain(Iacobucci).
However this was not fully the case with customers, who felt a close association with the brand by participating in the community. One user remarked .”The security market is a niche market and maintaining contacts can be very useful”.
Algesheimer, Dholakia, and Herrmann(2005) have researched brand communities and highlight the importance of social identification as a central driver for participation of users in communities. Social identification occurs during joint interaction and sense making.
Katz et al(1974) postulate that Personal integrative benefits relate to gains in reputation or status and the achievement of a sense of self-efficacy (Katz et al., 1974).In the context of web 2.0 , the research found that the perceptions were divided about how the usage of web 2.0 enabled technologies would affect personal circumstances .
Self service :Relating to the use of technologies such as SCOL that enables self service most users and partner reported this as being extremely efficient towards work as it enabled them to access help when they could not access the support department or during the weekends thus giving them a sense of self efficacy and self satisfaction. Similarly engineers were very favourable towards the self service facilities . This could be the case because ultimately it leads to less work for the engineers.
Engineers perception of web 2.0 was very positive as most associate this with more efficiency and less work. As one engineer noted “it is very difficult to be working on one issue and having the phone ringing.If more customers use our online web self service platforms the less calls and mails we get”. While managers felt they did not have enough control over web 2.0 , with one remarking that “we needs metrics to operate efficiently, all our information systems enable us to generate metrics which is really difficult with the web platforms”
For discussion boards and forums it appears on the research found the perceptions were divided. While the majority of end customers reported asking more questions than providing answers and similarly most technical support engineers reported that they did not get enough time to spend providing answers to questions in the forums . Others such as some senior technical support engineers advocated the use of the forums to share knowledge but complained that they could not achieve this without management support , one senior engineer reported that “most support engineers have daily targets and these tasks take precedence even though i want to believe that if they had more time at their disposal things would be different”. Similarly customers who were very involved with the product with a highlevel of experience also felt that their use of blogs and the use of discussions on Powerlink had given them recognition amongst within the support departments.Among the partner companies, the user perspective of how interacting on discussion forums on Powerlink and blogs affected status seemed in line with the views of the engineers.That is most partner firms did not see any personal immediate benefits of participating in product discussions in the forums or write blogs and thus did not engage on it. Therefore relating to existing research postulated by Nambisan() which suggests that web 2.0 technologies such as virtual customer environments enables personal perceptions such as status to be positively influenced as users participate, the research findings indeed falls in line with technologies that enable self service but it appears this cannot be generalised across web 2.0 technologies.
The attitudes of customers and partners towards RSA as they participate in web 2.0 and product development was largely positive from the research finding,indeed most customers reported reading or being aware of RSA blogs and regularly reading and participating in discussions about product development and as a result felt they was a symbiotic relationship between them and RSA.
This is similar to other research on web 2.0 in IT Firms such as Microsoft and Ebay where it was found that the participation of customers in web 2.0 initiatives resulted in value creation.The research findings largely collaborate this.
However it is pertinent to note that there could be indirect reason for the positive attitude of customers and partners towards RSA. This is because RSA host the RSA conference that is the biggest IT security conference in the world so customers rely on RSA blogs for new trends in the industry. This implies that the RSA brand has been positively affected by their use of web 2.0. This falls in line with what some researchers have argued , such as Nambisan() who postulates that Customers’ interactions in the web 2.0 is likely to generate positive and negative affective states , and that has a direct influence on their attitudes towards the Organisation. Similarly King and Diener(2005) argue that cognitive behaviour can be affected by attitudes towards the organisation. This suggests that the participation of rsa customers towards web 2.0 could ultimately result in better brand recognition and affiliation with RSA.
The notion of customer centricity and the shift in the technological paradigm that has seen the introduction of web 2.0 technologies is challenging the way organisations conduct business .Web 2.0 is an umbrella term that covers a plethora of new technologies powered by the internet that have become ubiquitous and have challenged existing organisational silos .The research carried out by this study has enabled an exploration into the user perceptions of web 2.0 to ascertain and understand how user relate to it and how organisations can use this to innovate and use leverage both partners and customers and creators of value for the organisations
The findings have shown that organisational structure is very important to the success of web 2.0 initiatives, just like with customer relationship management where technological determinism has beleaguered many implementations, it appears most organisations still see web 2.0 like just another set of applications while ignoring the disruptive shift that this could have on the industry. The research has highlighted that organisations feel they lack control of web 2.0 infrastructure and management and contemporary organisational constructs seem ill equipped to deal with the unstructured nature of web 2.0 technology. This combined with challenges in accurately measuring innovation on web 2.0 seems to be the main impediment to web 2.0 adoption
The implications from the research highlights the importance of several factors. It was seen that most employees are not motivated to involve themselves in web 2.0 initiatives, while for customers on the other hand it appears customers personal , social and cognitive skills are affected by the use of web 2.0.
So Organisations evaluating web 2.0 technologies are advised to undergo the transformation of their business processes and enable flexible processes .In fact it appears organisation need to embrace a democratizing of their operations to enable web 2.0. or take a situated approach to achieve success.
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