Combining an enterprise resource planning system and informality
: a study of efficiency and flexibility complementarity

  • Yucan Wang

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy



One of the current research trends in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) involves examining the critical factors for its successful implementation. However, such research is limited to system implementation, not focusing on the flexibility of ERP to respond to changes in business. Therefore, this study explores a combination system, made up of an ERP and informality, intended to provide organisations with efficient and flexible performance simultaneously. In addition, this research analyses the benefits and challenges of using the system. The research was based on socio-technical system (STS) theory which contains two dimensions: 1) a technical dimension which evaluates the performance of the system; and 2) a social dimension which examines the impact of the system on an organisation.
A mixed method approach has been followed in this research. The qualitative part aims to understand the constraints of using a single ERP system, and to define a new system corresponding to these problems. To achieve this goal, four Chinese companies operating in different industries were studied, all of which faced challenges in using an ERP system due to complexity and uncertainty in their business environments. The quantitative part contains a discrete-event simulation study that is intended to examine the impact of operational performance when a company implements the hybrid system in a real-life situation. Moreover, this research conducts a further qualitative case study, the better to understand the influence of the system in an organisation.
The empirical aspect of the study reveals that an ERP with pre-determined business activities cannot react promptly to unanticipated changes in a business. Incorporating informality into an ERP can react to different situations by using different procedures that are based on the practical knowledge of frontline employees. Furthermore, the simulation study shows that the combination system can achieve a balance between efficiency and flexibility. Unlike existing research, which emphasises a continuous improvement in the IT functions of an enterprise system, this research contributes to providing a definition of a new system in theory, which has mixed performance and contains both the formal practices embedded in an ERP and informal activities based on human knowledge. It supports both cost-efficiency in executing business transactions and flexibility in coping with business uncertainty.This research also indicates risks of using the system, such as using an ERP with limited functions; a high cost for performing informally; and a low system acceptance, owing to a shift in organisational culture. With respect to practical contribution, this research suggests that companies can choose the most suitable enterprise system approach in accordance with their operational strategies. The combination system can be implemented in a company that needs to operate a medium amount of volume and variety. By contrast, the traditional ERP system is better suited in a company that operates a high-level volume market, while an informal system is more suitable for a firm with a requirement for a high level of variety.
Date of Award1 Jul 2014
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAndrew Greasley (Supervisor) & Pavel Albores (Supervisor)


  • enterprise resource planning
  • informal system
  • socio-technical system
  • operations management
  • discrete-event simulation

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