Action

One way to illustrate a contextual inquiry of ICT in social life is to discuss some studies of the ways consulting Žrms have adopted and used computerized documentary systems. One major consulting Žrm, identiŽ ed by the alias Alpha Consulting, bought 10,000 copies of Lotus Notes, documentary support system for their staff in 1989. 20 Lotus Notes is superŽ cially similar to an Internet-like system with bulletin boards and posting mechanisms and discussion groups and electronic mail for organizations.

Depending upon how Notes is used, it can act as an e-mail system, a discussion system, an electronic publishing system, and/or a set of digital libraries. Alpha Consulting is an international consulting Žrm with thousands of employees worldwide. About 10,000 of them are located in the United States. Their vice-president of information systems believed that Lotus Notes was such a powerful technology that it would sell itself.

The main thing to do was to rapidly roll it out to the consulting staff, and let them use it to Ž nd creative ways to share information. He was concerned that his Žrm employed thousands of consultants in different ofŽ ces all over North America. Even when they work on similar problems, they rarely share their newest solutions with consultants in other cities. They had no easy way of sharing their growing understanding of the problems they were solving with their clients. Could the Žrm’s line consultants use some kind of communication and computerized information system to store what they knew, and share it?

The Žrst test was with the ICT staff. They tended to use Notes; they found it interesting; and they actively used it for sharing information about their own projects. Alpha Consulting’s tax consultants in Washington, DC was another group that used Lotus Notes. These tax consultants studied the behavior of the Internal Revenue Service and the US Congress, and disseminated tax advisories to Alpha Consulting ofŽ ces around the country about shifting changes in tax legislation that might affect their clients. These tax consultants made substantial use of Lotus Notes to broadcast their tax advisories.

The line consultants were supposed to become Lotus Notes’ primary users. The vice-president of Information Technology felt that Notes was so revolutionary that people didn’t even have to be shown how to use it; examples could even stunt their imaginations. He believed once the consultants had an opportunity to use it that they would simply become more efŽ cient and creative with Notes. Researchers found that the senior line consultants, who were partners in the Žrm, tended to be moderate users.

The more numerous junior line consultants, called associates, used it least. They often seemed uninterested in learning how to use Notes, and readily gave up if they faced early frustrations with Notes. Here we have a pattern of different groups in an organization with varied degrees of use in Notes. How can we explain such differences? One explanation focuses upon the incentive systems in the Žrm. A good place to start our analysis is with the associate consultants and the partners.

Alpha Consulting and many other large consulting Ž rms in North America reviews its consultants through a demanding promotion system. The associates are reviewed every two years, for ‘up or out’ promotions. In the Žrst few career reviews at major consulting Žrms, about half of the associates are Žred. However, many associate consultants want to be promoted to the status of partner. Consultants who are promoted to the status of partners can expect annual incomes over $300,000 at these major Žrms. Partnerships are the golden ring that these Žrms use to motivate their associate consultants.