This paper explores ERP as an ambivalent technology of power. On the one hand, it may tighten management control by bringing a new level of panoptic visibility to organizational activities; on the other hand, the embedded business model within the ERP may drive empowerment of employees and greater control relaxation through the configuration of new process design. How will the implementation of an ERP system affect organizational control? This research seeks to understand how the different forces play out in the context of ERP implementation, and to explore the implications for traditional power distribution in organizations. This paper adopts a mixed qualitative- quantitative methodology in an intensive case study of a restructured hospital in Singapore. A survey of 260 users was administered, supplemented by approximately 27 hours of individual interviews with 23 people. Results reveal that although ERP can facilitate both empowerment and panoptic control, management has consciously resisted empowerment by working to reinstitute the power lost through the ERP implementation. On the other hand, the new panoptic visibility, though partially unintended, appears to have evolved naturally and was readily learned and applied in the organization. This study is significant in exposing the likelihood of ERP implementation as a technology that perpetuates management power. At least in the context of the hospital studied, it is yet another means of enlarging the management authority for "total control.".
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