Long sale: future-setting strategies for enterprise technologies
Markets for enterprise technologies are complex socio-technical arrangements where the nature of the goods or services available for exchange is frequently uncertain. Early offerings may appear obfuscated, in part ontologically due to contested boundary definitions, and in part through the intentional and unintentional work of sales actors. While it is difficult for actors to know what they are transacting with certainty before an exchange occurs, expectations are partly shaped in practice during a protracted and multipartite sales process. In the early stages, such technologies may be nothing more than ‘slideware’ or ‘vapourware’, with the promise of the offering yet to be realised. Suppliers are therefore faced with the challenge of how to bring an immature product to the serious attention of users. One such example which has dominated the ICT landscape in recent times is ‘cloud computing’, a vision for on-demand utility computing which on the one hand promised computing resources accessible like an infrastructure commodity such as electricity, but on the other declared by some as simply everything we already do in computing today. This thesis offers a longitudinal case study of the way in which a major ICT supplier, IBM, attempted to galvanise the market for its cloud-enabled products amongst user organisations. In doing so the supplier had the challenge of selling a model of outsourced services to organisations with deeply embedded ICT systems around which the sales processes had to be made to fit. The research centers on four empirical chapters which bring together contextual narratives of cloud computing, findings related to the sales work users do, the sales challenges encountered during crisis management, and the shadow activity that occurs during professional user groups and conferences. The discussion explains how actors work together to construct an imagined community of technology artefacts and practices that extends our understanding of how technology constituencies hold together without overt forms of control. The study draws together a number of years of fieldwork investigating user group events in the corporate ICT arena and a major UK customer implementation. These are explored through a mobile ethnography under the banner of a Biography of Artefacts and Practices (Pollock & Williams, 2008) making use of participant observation, and selective interviewing, with a particular focus on naturally occurring data.