Mr. Ibrahim Osman Adam, a student from the Department of Operations & Management Information Systems (OMIS), on 5th October 2017, successfully presented and defended his PhD thesis at the University of Ghana School of Graduate Studies. The thesis was on the topic; “Work Environment Virtualisation in a Developing Country’s Higher Education Context: Activity and Agency Theory Perspective’’. His supervisors were Dr. John Effah and Prof. Richard Boateng.
The viva was chaired by Prof Kwame Ameyaw Domfeh and had in attendance, the Dean of Graduate Studies, Professor Kwaku Tano-Debrah; Professor Longe Olumide Babatope, Dean of Caleb Business School of Lagos State, Nigeria; Dr. Samuel Nana Yaw Simpson, Head of the Department of Accounting, UGBS and other faculty members.
According to Mr. Ibrahim Osman Adam, his motivation for the study was to understand the enablers and constraints that influence work environment virtualisation in higher education institutions in developing countries. He reviewed extensive literature which acknowledged the need for research on virtualisation to move from the perspective of technology to the examination of the virtualisation of the human work experience that enables remote work in Higher Education Institutions. He also pointed out the need for theory in the examination of the role of multiple actors to unearth deeper contextual issues between the actors in a principal-agent relationship.
Below is the Abstract of Mr. Ibrahim Osman Adam’s thesis:
The purpose of this study is to understand how a Higher Education Institution (HEI) in a developing country context virtualised its work environment through an external consultant. The nature of work and work environment are rapidly changing in terms of where, how and when people work. Though globalisation and information technology have been key trends shaping this changing nature of the work environment, IS (Information Systems) research on HEIs systems over the years has focused more on e-learning and the virtual learning environment (VLE). As a result, less research attention has been paid to virtualisation of work environment within HEIs. Also, whilst IS research in HEIs has examined technology virtualisation in terms of desktop virtualisation, server virtualisation and network virtualisation, less emphasis has been on work environment virtualisation or the virtualisation of the human work experience. It is thus important that IS research on higher education information systems pays attention not only to the learning environment but also to work environment. Moreover, previous research on activity theory and IS research have mainly focused on a single actor, a dyad of two subjects or a team but not as multiple actors in a principal-agent relationship engaged in an activity. To address these gaps, the thesis employs an interpretive case study approach as the methodology and a combined lens of activity and agency theories as the theoretical foundation to understand how an HEI in a developing country context can migrate its physical work environment to a virtual work environment. The findings show that the historical nature of the physical work environment, the inefficiency and delays it causes in the work environment can influence an HEI to virtualise its work environment. The findings also identify two levels of contradictions which pose as challenges in work environment virtualisation using an offshore agent. First, contradictions at the HEI activity system level and at the principal-agent relationship level. The findings indicate that the virtualisation of work environment in HEIs using an external consultant relies on how the HEI and the external consultant work interactively as activity systems, how the contradictions within and between them are resolved and how they learn from these interactions. The findings show how contradictions caused by role conflicts, staff’s fear of elimination and external consultants’ limited understanding of rules and procedures of the HEI context can hamper work environment virtualisation. It shows further that a resolution of these contradictions can lead to a virtual work environment that provides the platform for better and efficient information management. By employing activity and agency theories as a combined lens, the study offers a novel application of activity theory in work environment virtualisation. It is argued that activity theory can be extended with agency theory to offer explanations for contradictions within and between subjects in IS development and implementation. The study is limited by its single case perspective in one developing country. However, future research can compare the experience of different HEIs as well as from a developed country perspective in order to account for contextual differences. The study provides practitioners with insights on how to address the relationship between users, designers and implementers in IS development and implementation process. In particular, it addresses the critical issues in the migration process in terms of social rules, division of labour and community. The study is a first attempt to offer rich insight into how HEIs can virtualise its work environment through a contextual understanding of the principal-agent relationship.
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