Being hailed as possessing the ability to “drive effective business reengineering and management of core and support processes”, it is not surprising that Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems have been adopted by more than 60% of Fortune 500 companies as at the turn of the century. In contrast, negative connotations have been commonly known to be attached to legacy systems and inhouse developed systems. But yet, some of these legacy systems are not replaced when companies adopt ERP solutions while in-house systems still continue to be developed. This research employs symbolic interactionism as the informing theoretical perspective in an ethnography study of a large government authority in Singapore. Our findings surprisingly indicate that the IS professionals supporting the systems tend to attach rather negative symbols to their SAP system, while viewing their legacy system and in-house software development work in a more favorable light. In this paper, we first describe the different symbolism that has been attached over the years to the ERP vis-à-vis legacy system. We then highlight how certain of the early symbols gradually got sedimented over time, while others did not exhibit similar permanence and presence. As a result of such symbolic realities, we demonstrate the consequent differences in attitudes of the staff involved in ERP support vis-à-vis legacy and in-house system support. Keywords: Symbolic interactionism, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), legacy system.
ERP solutions are commercial software packages (“integrated suites”) that enable the integration of transaction oriented data and business processes throughout an organization (Davenport 1998). By 2000, more than 60% of Fortune 500 companies have adopted ERP packages and this is a trend that is increasingly embraced by small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as they realize the cost effectiveness and competitive necessity to follow suit (Klaus, 2000). Boston-based AMR Research estimates that the ERP market will grow from $19.8 billion to $31.4 billion in 2006 at a compound annual growth rate of 10 percent (Surmacz, 2002). This widespread adoption is largely the result of ERP packages being hailed as possessing the ability to “drive effective business reengineering and management of core and support processes” (Al Mashari, 2002). In fact, Davenport (1998) describes them as being the “most important development in the corporate use of information technology in the 1990s”. In contrast, legacy systems have been described as having a “consequentially negative impact on competitiveness” (Brodie and Stonebraker, 1995) while being “non-maintainable and inflexible” (O’Callaghan, 1999). As more organizations follow the trend of implementing ERP packages, there is increasing interest to study the factors determining the places that existing legacy and in-house developed systems are left to occupy within the organization. This is made all the more relevant in view of the negative connotations often attached to these systems. However, it is a well-known fact that some legacy systems are not replaced when companies adopt the ERP solutions (Themistocleous and Irani, 2001), while in-house systems still continue to be developed. While risks and time involved have been highlighted as possible reasons for the non-replacement of legacy systems, little attention has been paid to the process issues (Markus and Tanis, 2000) as well as the symbolic meanings attached to the ERP vis-à-vis legacy systems. Many researchers have highlighted the fact that extant literature has focused on the early stages of the ERP lifecycle...