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Shifting Boundaries And New Technologies:A Case Study In The Uk Banking Sector

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SHIFTING BOUNDARIES AND NEW TECHNOLOGIES:

A CASE STUDY IN THE UK BANKING SECTOR

Susan V. Scott

Information Systems Department

The London School of Economics

United Kingdom

Geoff Walsham

The Judge Institute of Management Studies

University of Cambridge

United Kingdom

Abstract

This paper describes case study based research on the use of innovative computer-based decision support

systems introduced into corporate lending processes in a major UK bank. It describes how the new technology

was implicated in shifting boundaries: within the sector as a whole and in specific organizational de-layering;

between local/global dimensions of the loans process; and in the status of expertise and personal/professional

risk. The case study is connected to broader debates in IS and social transformation through an analysis that

relates aspects of the empirical material to themes from social theories of reflexive modernization. Some

implications and conclusions are drawn for both the banking sector and IS research.

Keywords: Interpretivist perspective, banking industry, organizational change, strategic IS, computers and

society.

1. INTRODUCTION

Information and communication technologies highlight and accentuate some of the most important characteristics of the era in

which we live. Indeed, the radical impact of these technologies on modern western society may be compared to that of the

printed text. Together with the printed text, they can be regarded as modernity's "own media," bound up in the development

and expansion of modern institutions and increasingly mediating our experience of the world, especially certain important social

and economic exchanges (Giddens 1991). One such exchange, the risk assessment in UK retail banking on corporate loan

applications and the introduction of computer-mediation into this process, will be the subject of this paper.

Drawing upon critical, empirically-based analysis of practice and the innovative application of recent social theory, we will

highlight the way in which information and communications technologies enable seemingly stable organizational boundaries

within and between division, sectors and so on, to become malleable. Our intention is to explore the way in which new

technologies are involved in the displacement and redefinition of traditional boundaries in the UK retail banking sector and, in

doing so, to locate this process and its implications within a broader context of social transformation and social discourses.

Scott and Walsham

178

The major clearing bank in the case study, known for reasons of confidentiality as UK Bank, was the first to attempt to introduce

a computer-based decision support system into middle market corporate lending processes in the UK retail banking sector. The

system chosen by UK Bank, called Lending Advisor, represented a leading edge technology within UK retail banking and as

such evoked considerable interest in the sector. Other major retail banks have since developed similar computer-based DSS for

their UK credit risk management divisions.

The rest of the paper is organized as follows. The next section will detail the methodological approach adopted in this research

and, in particular, the method used to gather case study data. Section three provides a description of the case study, and our

analysis of shifting boundaries is given in section four. Finally, we draw some implications and conclusions that link the research

with concerns in information systems theory and the UK banking sector.

2. METHODOLOGY

The findings in this paper are based upon a research project that was undertaken using an interpretive approach. At the heart

of the research project was a longitudinal case study conducted between 1993 and 1996 in UK Bank. The case study began in

1993 when Lending Adviser (LA) was in its pilot stage, and followed the implementation of the system through to "business-asusual"

status.

The primary method for gathering data was extensive in-depth interviews with project stakeholders. The fieldwork involved

a total of 140 formal interviews (see appendix). The interviews were semi-structured in nature and conducted on-site at the

interviewee's premises. A set of basic interview questions was developed which covered a variety of issues. These were tailored

for different stakeholders, but an emphasis on expectations and perceived benefits relating to LA remained the same for each

interview. Some mainly technical or factual interviews were tape-recorded; otherwise, out of sensitivity to the high-level of job

insecurity and in-house politics, notes were discretely taken.

The bedrock of the empirical work was a study within two regions of UK Bank: London (central) and Cambridge (district).

Twenty Lending Advisor users were interviewed in the two regions at the regional offices, UK Bank business centers and in local

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