Information systems in fast cycle development: identifying user needs in integrated automotive component development
Product development literature strongly emphasizes the need for open communication between suppliers and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). There is a widespread expectation that computer-aided communication networks will enable organizational members to work more flexibly, to share knowledge and competencies, and to span functional and company boundaries. However, few studies merge the possibilities of new information technologies and the operational needs of specific groups of users, for example product development engineers. The research reported in this paper aims to fill that gap. Through in-depth case studies of two development projects involving one auto OEM, one of its systems suppliers (working directly with the OEM) and five medium-sized expert suppliers (working either directly with the OEM or through the systems supplier), we identify three groups of user needs that are not currently satisfied by existing information system solutions: improvement of coordination and communication; enhancement of the access to new technological information; and support for the development of an organizational memory. We then explore what kind of information systems might help satisfy the above-mentioned needs. Potential barriers to efficient implementation of information systems in terms of the motivation of people using the systems, the reliability of the information, and the willingness to render information more transparent are discussed. It is concluded that when implementing information systems to support operational development work, it is essential to ground the system specification in clearly identified user needs that reflect the double nature of product engineering, namely the continuous interplay between routines and cognitive processes.
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