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Kannan Srikanth PhD Student Strategic and International Management Dept. Coordination in Distributed Organizations. ICT at the Firm Level of Analysis. How does ICT enable disaggregation of a firm’s activities? Disaggregation of activities along two dimensions

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Kannan srikanth phd student strategic and international management dept l.jpg

Kannan Srikanth

PhD Student

Strategic and International Management Dept.

Coordination in Distributed Organizations

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ICT at the Firm Level of Analysis

  • How does ICT enable disaggregation of a firm’s activities?

  • Disaggregation of activities along two dimensions

    • Geography – Activities performed across several geographic locations

    • Ownership – Activities performed across several firms

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Null Hypotheses

  • Disaggregation across geographies

    • Digitization of information leading to easy transfer across locations

    • Increased bandwidth and ICT tools leading to cheap communication across locations

  • Unbundling across firm boundaries

    • Standardization of information and simplification of coordination are primary drivers

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Research Study

  • Business Process Outsourcing

    • Variation in activities spread both across geographies as well as across firm boundaries

    • Innovative, hard to standardize, coordination intensive processes are both offshored and outsourced

  • Qualitative study of coordination in offshore software services delivery

    • Main emphasis of study is on geographic dispersion

    • Interviews with managers for 40 projects

  • Joint Work with Phanish Puranam

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Distributed Vs. Co-located Projects

  • Size, Complexity:

    • Distributed projects >Co-located projects

  • Performance:

    • Distributed projects =Co-located projects

  • Project disasters as likely to occur in co-located projects as in distributed projects

  • How do firms leverage ICT to coordinate complex non-standardized and highly interdependent activities across geographies?

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Coordination by ICT

  • Complex patterns of interdependence likely to need frequent and rich interactions

    • Typically achieved by face-to-face communication

  • Use of Rich ICT in distributed projects

    • “Boeing has set up a 24-hour work day where they just pass their designs back and forth from Moscow to America …There are video-conferencing facilities on every floor of Boeing’s Moscow office, so engineers don’t have to rely on email when they have a problem to solve with their American counterparts.They can have a face-to-face conversation”

      (Friedman, 2005; p 195). [our emphasis]

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Communication by Rich ICT is unimportant

  • Software projects do not seem to use anything more than Email, telephone

    • Only 6 of 27 projects used rich media – NET Meeting or Live Meeting

    • No Project used video conferencing (VC)

  • New technologies are both familiar and available

    • Software professionals are likely to be expert users in these technologies

    • Technologies readily available

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What ICT is actually used?

  • Configuration Management Tools

    • Version control managers (e.g. PVCS)

  • Common Development Environment

    • Shared repositories for documents, code (e.g. shared drives)

    • Common Development tool kits (e.g. Mercury)

  • Communication Tools

    • Email, Telephone

ICT tools are more important to provide a shared view of what is happening in all locations rather than for communication between locations

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How does ICT achieve coordination of geographically dispersed activities?

  • Not by allowing frequent communication among the employees in different locations

  • But by allowing employees in each location a window to view and observe the actions taken by those in other locations

  • ICT is important to generate cross-contextual common ground

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ICT and Firm boundaries dispersed activities?

  • Between firm coordination is very different from within firm coordination:

    • Firms rely to a large extent on face-to-face communication to coordinate between firms

    • Frequently firms co-locate to coordinate low levels of interdependence across firm boundaries when they routinely coordinate much higher levels of interdependence within firm boundaries but across locations with little need for rich communication

  • Why is ICT ineffective across firm boundaries though highly effective within?

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Effect of Firm Boundaries dispersed activities?

  • Coordination in distributed software projects occurs mainly by common ground

  • Firms are able to leverage pre-existing common ground within their boundaries but not across

  • ICT generates common ground in real-time

    • But is not enough on its own

    • Needs common ground generated by authority and socialization that is available only within firms

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Implications - I dispersed activities?

  • ICT vital to disaggregate activities across distance

    • But not the kind we thought was important

    • Shared context is more important than ability to communicate

    • Supports research by Billinger and Jacobides (2005)

  • Firms should pay attention to context building ICT

    • E.g. investing in video-conferencing alone will not make offshoring work

  • Policy holders should be aware of technological and regulatory issues that prevent such cross-contextual knowledge from forming

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Implications - II dispersed activities?

  • ICT alone is not enough to unbundle across firms

    • When standardization of information is not possible coordination becomes very tedious

  • For non-standard or innovative work, co-located supplier relationships needed for Face-to-Face communication

    • Cannot rely on a “faceless” market

    • Supports research by Jacobides (2005)

  • Firms and policy makers should be aware that some types of work inescapably require face-to-face contact

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Thanks dispersed activities?

  • Look forward to your feedback

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MGJ INTRO SLIDES dispersed activities?

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How does ICT enable disaggregation of a firm’s activities? dispersed activities?

  • Disaggregation is along two dimensions

    • Across geographic locations and across firm boundaries

  • How do firms leverage ICT along these two dimensions?

    • Are the drivers along both dimensions the same (or at least similar?)

  • BPO - Wonderful natural experiment

    • Offers variation across both for a wide range of processes

    • Allows a micro level of analysis by looking at discrete activities

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ICT and Geographic Dispersion dispersed activities?

  • Qualitative research study on offshore software services delivery

    • Involves complex, non-standardized and coordination intensive work that s done across both geographies and firm boundaries

  • ICT vital to geographic dispersion of activities

    • Coordination enabled by IT tools that create cross-contextual common ground

    • Communication tools much less important than previously thought

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ICT and Firm Boundaries dispersed activities?

  • IT much less effective in coordinating activities across firm boundaries as it is across locations

  • Firms frequently co-locate because of the need for face-to-face communication

    • Even when much higher levels of interdependence are coordinated within the firm, but across geographic distance

  • Coordination occurs by common ground

    • ICT generates one type of common ground

    • That is insufficient to coordinate across firms without other types of common ground that are generated primarily within firms

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Back-UP Slides dispersed activities?

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Offshoring - 2000 dispersed activities?

  • Working on a software project in 2000

    • Distributed between Hawaii and California

    • Coordination was a disaster

    • We had to hire developers in Hawaii

  • My firm tried to use developers from India in another project in Wisconsin

    • The consensus among us was this will never work

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Coordination dispersed activities?

Coordination is the alignment of expectations (reciprocal predictability of actions) among interdependent actors

Cooperationis the alignment of interests

(Heath and Satudenmayer, 2000; Camerer, 2003; GLP, 2005)

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Coordination Vs. Cooperation Failure dispersed activities?

Interdependencies are

well managed

(software developed with minimum rework)

Cooperation failure

Software has errors because employees are not working hard enough

Coordination failure

Software has bugs because employees do not account for others actions

Example: Coordination did not occur if defects in software are because a developer coded one module without realizing its impact on other modules

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Two firms studied dispersed activities?

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Sampling Strategy dispersed activities?

All Personnel Co-located?



All key personnel are

Co-located and are

employed by the vendor

All key personnel are

employed by the vendor

but they work from

both onshore and

offshore locations


Personnel belong to same firm?



Both client and vendor

employees play key

project roles, but they

are all co-located

Both client and vendor

employees play key

project roles, and work

from onshore and

offshore locations




22 more projects to be used as replication sample

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Pre-Planned Modular code architectures are unimportant dispersed activities?

24 of 27 distributed projects have high interdependence between locations

Managers are unable design low interdependence between locations because of:

Legacy considerations

System landscape considerations

Client dictates architecture

New York City

Bangalore, India

Architecture – Modularity Strategy

Coders in both New York and India work on the same code modules

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Expected Use of Rich ICT dispersed activities?


Face–to-Face communication

Instant Messenger

Telephone Conversation

Video Conference

NET Meeting

Live Meeting

(Web-Cam + IM)


Voice Mail







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Communication is meagre dispersed activities?

  • Even communication using poor media between locations seems to be quite low

    • People do not pick up the phone and talk to their counterparts as often as one expects

  • Communication in many instances is scripted

    • The approximate time of communications, the participants, the agenda, etc. is mainly scripted

      • “The developers [across locations] just did not communicate whenever they have doubts or problems – at certain pre-specified milestones, they have to share certain documents and communicate. The communication at this meeting is not ad-hoc, they have to talk about certain things.”

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Coordinated Action dispersed activities?

across locations












Common Ground












Real time


Study 1 – How Coordination by Common Ground Occurs

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ICT Tools help generate cross-contextual common ground dispersed activities?

Study 1 – We Find Coordination by Common Ground

Distributed Software Projects


Modularity used:

Locations are

Not interdependent

Locations are







ICT tools


ICT tools

Anticipation Effect

Interpretation Effect

Coordinated Action

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Conclusions dispersed activities?

  • Coordination in distributed software services may depend less on modularity or communication based strategies….

  • But more on common ground across locations

    • These include common approaches (rather than solutions) to problems, knowledge about the context faced by personnel in other locations and each others idiosyncrasies

  • The relevant ICT in such situations are tools that allow for building cross-contextual common ground across locations

    • Not those that allow for communication across locations

    • An emphasis on providing rich media might be misplaced