Infrastructure strategy formation: seize the day
Dept. of computer and information science,
Norwegian Univ. of Science and Technology (NTNU) and Univ. of Oslo
Statoil research centre, Statoil
There is a growing attention towards the mutual relationship between the development of a business strategy and strategic technological initiatives. We study and discuss a six-year effort in an internationally oriented oil company to develop a flexible Lotus Notes based infrastructure facilitating the company’s further development towards globalisation of its business processes. The establishment of a Lotus Notes based infrastructure needs to be recognised as a broad, socio-technical mobilisation process characterised by a high degree of improvisation and opportunism. This deviates significantly from more planning-oriented descriptions of how technology strategies are formed and implemented.
Oil and gas operations are a key industry in Norway representing 15.5% of the GDP. Statoil is the largest producer in Norway and the second last exporter of oil worldwide. Statoil — the State of Norway’s oil company Ltd. (Norwegian: Den norske stats oljeselskap A/S) — is in the midst of a metamorphosis. After years sheltered from unbiased competition guaranteed through a broad, political coalition, Statoil is changing into an internationally oriented, competitive enterprise. Statoil is learning to operate in a competitive market at the same time as it diversifies. It is no longer only an oil producer, but supports the whole chain of businesses from exploration of oil and gas fields, development of field installations and transportation systems, operation and maintenance of a number of offshore production platforms and pipeline systems. Statoil is changing into an integrated energy supplier. Alongside diversifying its business areas, Statoil is also rapidly globalising its operations through concentrated upstream activities in the Caspia, Angola, Nigeria, Venezuela, the United Kingdom, Vietnam and the Gulf of Mexico. The globalisation of Statoil is recognised as vital in increasing the robustness of its operations.
The development of comprehensive, versatile, well-aligned and communicative information systems — in short: establishing an information infrastructure — is identified as a key, strategic vehicle in this metamorphosis. An iconic manifestation of Statoil’s ability to operate on the global scene is to develop a resilient and flexible "infrastructure that permits changes to the businesses without loss of time or quality for the customer (...) and be able to set up a new office site world-wide in five days" (SData strategy, medio 1997, Statoil home page). We describe and discuss the strategic efforts of Statoil to establish a Lotus Notes based information infrastructure during the years 1992 - 1998. This provides an instructive occasion to study how global business strategies are supported by IT in practice.
In the espoused version, Statoil is a case of the introduction and diffusion of Lotus Notes to meet the ambitions of strategic, communicative use of IT. Statoil is seemingly an example of a highly successful introduction of Lotus Notes. With its 18.000 Lotus Notes users, Statoil is among the world’s largest user organisations (Lotus Notes for the next millennium). The number of Notes users in Statoil has grown rapidly: 1017 (January 1994), 4104 (January 1995), 8210 (October 1995), 14209 (October 1996), 18300 (October 1997) (ibid.). Scratching below the surface, however, unravels a different picture. The "diffusion" is but a convenient abbreviation for an ongoing socio-technical negotiation process. It took hard work — and luck — to mobilise sufficient support behind the Lotus Notes decision. Challenges had to be addressed, either by enrolling and aligning them with the existing infrastructure or by co-existing with them through a technological compromise (a kind of generalised "gateway"). It was an ongoing effort that constantly needed to breathe to live. Establishing an information infrastructure is a long-term process; it does not simply unfold from a decision (Latour 1996).
This study is related to a body of previous research. In much of the MIS literature (Weill and Broadbent 1998), technology strategies are — like other plans — straightforwardly "aligned" with the business strategy (see chapter CRITICAL REVIEW THIS VOLUME). There is a tendency, however, to emphasise the planned and controlled aspect of such efforts vis a vis the more opportunistic and improvised aspects (Ciborra 1997; Knights, Noble and Willmott 1997). This downplays to the level of non-existence the mutual negotiation as well as the improvisation between technology development and business strategies. Our analysis of strategic IS investments in Statoil in the 90s is intended to shed some light on how strategic use of IT actually unfolds, how strategy development extends well beyond simplistic notions of "alignment". We employ an alternative notion of "alignment" based on actor-network theory (ANT) as outlined in chapter ANT THIS VOLUME. Alignment, in the sense of ANT, underscores the bottom-up, heterogeneous and performative aspects of strategy formation in action.
The emerging picture we paint comes close to a situation where decisions "drift" (Berg 1997; Ciborra 1996) or need to be "improvised" (Orlikowski 1996) to be defended. Our ambition, however, is to describe in some detail how an information infrastructure continuously needs to align new elements (user requirements, new information systems, new technological development or new patterns of use) to the existing infrastructure (Monteiro 1998). Hence, the development of an information infrastructure only appears to "drift" without direction. Although not planned, the continuous re-alignment of the infrastructure is anything but arbitrary. Not only is there agency underlying the "drifting", there is also a structure or pattern to it which we seek to unravel.
There exist a growing number of Lotus Notes studies in and around the field of computer supported co-operative work (CSCW) (Ciborra 1996; Essler 1998; Korpela 1994; Orlikowski 1992, 1996). The bulk of these, however, are focused around Lotus Notes as a fairly self-contained artefact. This misses out on one of our key concerns, namely to recognise Lotus Notes as but an element of a larger, evolving infrastructure and its relation to the business strategy. Orlikowski (1996) and Ciborra (1996) represent exceptions in the sense that they position the Lotus Notes introduction within the larger, organisational and business setting. What is lacking, and is of crucial importance in advancing our grasp on information infrastructure, is the description of exactly how Lotus Notes needed to be re-aligned to appropriate the sequence of challenges.
We employ a method of historical reconstruction of the process around the introduction of Lotus Notes in Statoil during the years 1992 – 1998 (Mason, McKenney and Copeland 1997; Klein and Myers 1999). Our access has been facilitated by our relation to Statoil. One of the authors has worked for Statoil the last seven years. The other author has been granted an office space, an access badge and a Lotus Notes account and have spent on average two days a week in Statoil over a period of five months. We have been engaged in participatory observation by taking part in project meetings, informal discussions and coffee breaks. We have conducted 20 semi- and unstructured interviews lasting one and a half to two and a half hours. Our informants fall into the following categories: Involved in the Notes introduction: 3 (coded in the text as Intro1, Intro2 etc.); Managers and decision makers: 7 (coded as Manager1, Manager2 etc.); Network managers: 1 (coded as Network1); Users: 9 (coded as User1, User2 etc.)
We have had access to a rich set of written historical material such as reports, memos and strategy documents from various parts of the organisation as well as the corporation as a whole. In addition, we have consulted two different internal newsletters in Statoil (Status and Statoil Forum) during the period 1992 - 1998.
The Lotus Notes infrastructure has also provided us with a rich source of information. There is an extensive electronic achieve (Elark) which contains all official Statoil reports in addition to selected contracts, e-mails, memos and project documentation. There are also a large number of Lotus Notes discussion data bases, newsletters, detailed project archives, budgets and various forms of corporate presentations (slides, brochures and folders). The bulk of the internal reports, email etc. we make reference to in our study are drawn from these electronic archives.
In what follows, we chronologically trace and analyse the unfolding process during the late 80s – 1998 of constructing a strategic information infrastructure. An outline of the background and history of Statoil is presented first. By way of concluding, we critically assess the notion of "strategic" information systems and the idea of "aligning" business operations and IT.
Statoil is a young company. Founded in 1972 with only one employee, it has since grown to a 5 billion NOK operations profit enterprise with over 17.000 employees in 25 countries. Still, the major activities are located in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. After Phillips found the substantial oil field Ekofisk on the Norwegian continental shelf in 1969, there was an ongoing political debate in Norway about how to organise oil production. The decision to establish a new company, Statoil, with the Norwegian State as sole shareholder, was reached with a consensus voting in Parliament in 1972. It was anything but obvious. There was strong lobbying, also by the Prime Minister (Per Borten), to consider an overtaking of the majority of Norsk Hydro’s shares and let Norsk Hydro take charge (Status 16. September 1992, pp. 8 - 9). The argument for Norsk Hydro was that it would be better to build the future of Norway on a company that already had proved capable and competitive on energy production than construct a new institution from scratch.
Immediately after Statoil was established, the oil crisis struck. For Statoil, the crisis had two important consequences. First, it shifted power and control out of the hands of the "seven sisters", the dominating oil companies, and in the hands of the oil producers, primarily OPEC, but also Statoil and Norway who preferred to stay out of OPEC but with the status of an observer. Second, and of crucial importance, it paved the road for a significant rise in oil prices throughout the 70s and into the 80s. Without this rise, the development of the oil fields on the Norwegian shelf, deep under the turbulent Northern Sea, would simply not have been cost-effective.
Statoil was the product of negotiations in Norwegian politics. From the outset, the company relied heavily on an array of different favourable encouragements and measurements aimed at tilting the competition. This reliance on political negotiations made Statoil particularly responsive and sensitive to signals in the political environment. The Statfjord field, the largest oil field on the Norwegian shelf, was first discovered on the British continental shelf. Statoil was granted licence of the astonishing high share of 50% of the field with an option to later take over the operational licence from Mobil. This single stroke secured Statoil for more than two decades financially — and still accounts for a significant fraction of total incomes.
The broad, political obligation in Norway to systematically and aggressively favour Statoil has gradually faded away as the tide of liberalism rose. This has step by step forced Statoil through a transition. It has through a sequence of small steps been transformed into an internationally competitive oil and gas producer.
1984 marks an important year in this gradual transformation. In response to a growing fear in Parliament that Statoil would become too dominating, a new device was launched aimed at curbing Statoil’s position by tapping directly into the generated surplus (Norwegian: "Statens direkte økonomiske eierandeler, SDØE"). This was an important impetus for further developing Statoil’s competitiveness. There was one exception, however, to this new scheme, namely the economical motor of Statoil, the Statfjord field.
The net profit after taxation has been around 5 billion NOK in 1995-1996, decreasing to 4,3 billion in 1997. The operating profit before taxation has increased from 12,7 billion NOK in 1993 to an all time high of 18,3 billion in 1996 and a slight decrease of 1997 to 17 billion NOK. The largest part of Statoil is connected to exploration and production (E & P). It contributed with over 15 billion NOK of the result leaving refining and marketing with 1,3 billion NOK and petrochemical with 0,4 billion. Crude oil sales represent nearly 50% of incomes but is decreasing. Natural gas accounts for around 10% but is steadily growing and is expected to double over the next five years. Refined products represent around 30% while transport (pipelines) and various smaller activities represent the rest. Statoil’s money machine is Statfjord. Daily output from Statfjord hit a peak in January 1987, when it produced 850204 barrels of oil in one day. Now the production is down to 430 000 barrels, comparable to that of Gullfaks. The big difference lies in the shareholder percentage. While Statoil has 12% ownership in the Gullfaks licence, Statoil has 42,73% ownership in the Statfjord license.
A strategy document from the board of directors in 1997 argues that the results of the group in the years to come will rely on developments in the oil market. The build-up of global production is expected to continue but the forecasted growth in demand is unlikely to alter fundamental market conditions. The document advocates a continued focus on cost effective operation, development and commercial progress to safeguard Statoil’s competitiveness and earnings. Markets in petro-chemicals and refining is expected to be fluctuating and competition stiff. The Norwegian Continental Shelf will still be the main operating theatre due to Statoil’s operating experience and technical expertise.
Statoil's goal is to increase its daily oil and gas production to a million barrels of oil equivalent by 2005, including at least 300 000 barrels from areas outside Norway. Attaining these objectives will be demanding. The board is maintaining its goal of NOK 25 billion in operating profit for the year 2000. A number of improvement efforts are under way within the group to meet this target. C.E.O. Norvik describes Statoil as moving from a pure oil and gas company to becoming an energy group. Gas will become more and more important for Statoil, not only as a large supplier of raw materials. Statoil will build up activities further into the value chain, like gas power plants and production of electricity.
The era of cost-cutting and rationalising (late 80s - 1993)
The sequence of large reorganisation efforts to streamline business
The post gulf war period after 1990 led to a recession in the oil industry with falling oil prices and dollar rates. The average price of a barrel of oil in 1991 was $4 less than that of 1990. Large oil companies like Shell and British Petroleum were restructuring their business and resigned large number of people not only because of the recession but also because substantial changes in the business itself due to global markets and increasing environmental pressure. In Statoil, exploration and production (E&P), the key contributor to company profits, painted a dark future prognosis in the philosophy of operations document for the 1990s. The work with a new strategy for operations led to a diagnosis of the present situation much along the same lines as their competitors. Statfjord, Statoil’s money machine number one, had a shrinking reservoir and falling production rates. Oil analysts foresaw low oil prices in the future, comparable to conditions in the mid- and late 1980s. In addition, there was a political debate about further opening up the Norwegian Continental shelf to more competition which meant that Statoil could lose their favourable position in the long run.
The assessment of the situation led to two projects called Operations 95 and Project 95 from the fall of 1992. The aim of the projects was to cut operational costs with 2 billion NOK within 1995. These projects had several long-term consequences. They were the first round of what turned out to be a sequence of similar projects which stressed the importance of internal customer- contractor relations as a way of streamlining business and developing internal pricing mechanisms and markets.
This streamlining of business led to a centralisation of specialist knowledge which up to now had been integrated or embedded within large operational divisions. Both technical support and information technology personnel were reallocated to centralised units to be able to track actual costs, expenditures and profits more easily. This streamlining of business took place through a sequence of reorganisational projects like those outlined above. As described in later sections, it took several years and several similar projects to make the changes. They needed to be reiterated over and over again to have an impact, producing a gradual reorientation.
IT, yet another source of cost generation
The basic principles of these large reorganisation efforts were mapped fairly straightforwardly to the IT area as well. Investment into IT was largely viewed as but any other source of cost generation and hence a liable candidate for rationalising and cost cutting.
The choice of Lotus office tools was settled on price only. Lotus wanted the deal "so badly they made Statoil an offer they couldn’t refuse" (Intro2). Microsoft was so confident that they would win that they did not make a bid for "fleeting" software licences, a type of contract that was largely unknown at this time, namely with restrictions only on the total number of licences, not on the identity of the users.
The choice of Lotus suite of office tools as a corporate wide standard followed after a decision process in the central IT department and was fronted by its head in autumn 1992. One did not ban other vendors such as Microsoft. But it implied that anyone who wanted to buy non-Lotus tools had to make sure that they compatible with Lotus — and that they paid themselves. As cost cutting was the basic rationale, this made the barrier to non-Lotus products considerable.
New work practices — ideas in search of an ally
Somewhat on the margins of the key concern for controlling and cutting IT costs, there were persons trying to argue for a more strategic use of IT, trying to argue for the potential for IT based co-operation and distribution of documents. It took time before this effort picked up speed and became more widely accepted. Even as late as in 1994, C.E.O. Norvik makes no reference to IT in his assessment of future challenges.
At this time, the only way to communicate corporate wide was with the use of Memo, an IBM based e-mail system. It was purely text based and offered no support for attachment of electronic documents. Memo was introduced in the 80s and had a large community of users. Its functionality was poor but "the great thing about it was that everybody used it" (Manager3). Until 1991, Memo functioned only internally within Statoil. As Memo was developed in Sweden by Volvo, there exists a public network in Sweden based on Memo which connects industry and governmental institutions. Statoil in Sweden, and accordingly the rest of Statoil, had access to this public network but it was never made systematically use of (Electronic message transfer X.400 address standard in Statoil 1995, Report, p. 8).
The maturing and growing awareness of using IT to support new work practises unfolded slowly over years. It drew on several, including external, sources, and seemingly "drifted" along. On closer scrutiny, however, important elements of this implementation may be identified. We describe how the visions gain momentum from new oil field discoveries and an international trend towards tighter co-operation within the oil industry. To really take off, however, the visions about strategic use of IT needed spokespersons or allies, a topic we return to later.
For the diffusion of Notes to succeed, it was necessary to develop skills and competence in handling all aspects of Notes: developing applications, helping users, finding ways to co-exist with existing systems and maintenance and support. In order to gain further experience with Notes, it was introduced into the whole IT department which consisted of about 200 persons at that time. Rather than employing a step-wise strategy for deployment, the idea was "breath first", all at once. The manager of the IT department engaged forcefully in the introduction of Notes within the IT department. He signalled very clearly that he expected all to start using Notes. As an illustration, he stopped replying to e-mails using the old Memo system instead of Notes mail.
It was important for the IT department, in coalition with corporate IT (KIT), to stay ahead, to mobilise the impression that they were a competent, up to date and responsive department in order to strengthen their position in the turbulence and uncertainty surrounding all of E & P.
It was furthermore perceived as important to develop six standard applications. This was to avoid the impression that Notes was only an application framework, only "an empty shell" (Intro3). These six applications were fairly general, administrative tools dealing with: meeting room reservation, individual week plans, news, sick or absent leave recording, discussion bulletin board and an answering service for users.
Centralisation, the flip side of standardisation (1993)
The streamlining of E&P following Project 95 led to the centralisation of the old decentralised IT- units forming the new IT-department dubbed Statoil Data (SData for short). Included in these challenges was a large management mistrust and frustration related to IT and the need to substantiate both the IT investments and effects of IT. The technical rationalisation and cost cutting through the standardisation of office tools to the Lotus office suite was extended to include the organisation of IT as well. In April 1993 the IT services were radically centralised, a move which was perceived to follow more or less from the efforts of strengthened control over IT investments and standardised tools as "the centralisation of IT was as a direct outcome of Project95" (Manager4).
In this sense, centralisation was perceived as the flip side of standardisation. The new, centralised IT department included the old IT department together with five of the local IT departments within E & P. This doubled the number of employees relative to the old IT department.
The key argument for the centralisation was economy of scale arguments — or, in the language of earlier days — to "harvest the benefits of mainframes". An additional, important argument was to solve the problems of fragmented and incompatible IT solutions. In other words, the task of cleaning up the office tools environment by settling for Lotus was regarded as a symptom of a the more general problem of a too decentralised decision and budgeting responsibility for IT investments. Hence, the centralised SData was expected to function as an arena for broad consensus for IT investments, a consensus unattainable before due to the decentralised organisational structure because "without the centralisation of SData, it would be impossible to reach decisions" (Manager1).
This problem had been made painfully evident through two, earlier projects called VMS (dealing with maintenance and material flow, running from 1990 - 1995) and Sigma (for finance and economy) which were expensive, rag-bag solutions which included numerous options in order to reach agreement. Hence, the lack of an effective forum for IT decision-making was acutely felt.
There was a well-developed sense that something drastic had to be done. The real challenge was to transform SData into a business and market oriented organisation, to change from a "planned economy to a market economy" (Manager2). This represented substantial changes along several dimensions: how E & P perceived SData, how SData perceived themselves, SData routines for handling customer inquires and the internal organisation of SData. The implications within SData of the reorganisation varied. The former IT department tended to view the establishment of SData as an expansion of their former organisation, whereas the newcomers from the local IT departments tended to view it as a signal of radical reorientation, a confirmation that the old IT department was answering the needs of E & P (Manager2). In the process, "middle management [from the old IT department] was massacred" (Manager1). In a sense, the new organisational structure was super imposed rather than a substitute for the existing one (User3). This reshuffling created a deep sense of uncertainty about the future for SData employees. In this situation, it was of vital importance to construct trust between SData and their key customer, E & P, to "avoid wasting all our energy on control measures" (Manager2). The central vehicle for establishing trust and security in the midst of this turbulence, was the working out and evaluation of a contract between SData and E & P. To work out such a formal contract was unusual but signalled the commitment to go through with the changes. The core of the contract consisted of a two-way commitment. SData was to guarantee at least 30% cost cutting of IT investments for E & P within two years while, on the other hand, E & P acknowledged SData as their preferred partner, a partner which represented 70% of SData’s revenues in 1993 (Manager1).
The establishment of trust was an effort, it could not simply be decided upon. It was top driven in the sense that the key ingredients were worked out by a handful of people from SData and E & P management who spent a considerable time negotiating and discussing solutions (Manager2). In evaluating the contract after two years, the results were judged positively (Evaluation of the co-operation between E & P and SData, Report, 24.02.1995). The judgements were primarily concerned with the cost containment side, the side which is the most easily operationalised although "one in hindsight may ask whether the operationalising of the goals were good enough, there is not doubt that SData satisfied them" (Manager1).
In sum, the major reorganisational efforts in Statoil got immediately translated into the simultaneous centralisation, standardisation and market orientation of the IT services, the exact mirror image of the larger restructuring in E & P.
The bundling of Notes (1993 - 1994)
A striking aspect, closely linked to the infrastructural character of Notes, is the way Notes was not introduced in isolation. It partly makes up an infrastructure and partly is an element of one. In short, Notes was not introduced as a more or less isolated artefact, it was "bundled", packaged or aligned with existing and new elements. The establishment of an information infrastructure always requires this kind of careful alignment for adoption and diffusion to be feasible.
The Lotus Notes infrastructure that SData attempted to establish was packaged together with two other components, namely the standardised suite of office tools from Lotus and a PC based, wide area network (WAN) that allowed the PC to communicate across the geographical locations of Statoil in and outside of Norway. This PC based WAN was called I-net. I-net represented a massive investment for SData. In combination with Notes, I-net was — and still is — the gem of SData in the sense that it is vital, corporate asset entirely under the control of SData. The control over I-net allows SData to act as a "gatekeeper". The continuous evolution of I-net is a resource-consuming endeavour but provides versatile and powerful network functionality. I-net included name directory services allowing logins independent of geographical location, a feature not standardly available in PC based networks at the time. I-net was introduced piece-meal in Statoil as an upgrading of PC. For instance, during one weekend 25 SData employees managed to upgrade 650 PCs to I-net at corporate headquarters in December 1994. To upgrade all PCs to the first version of I-net took the good part of 1994.
I-net has since evolved in response to upgrading, in particular of the upgrading from Windows 3.1x to Windows 95 during 1996 (see below). The fact that SData, "rightly enough, is proud of their accomplishment with I-net" makes its gradual phasing out and replacement of more standardised, off the shelf solutions rather cumbersome (Manager2). A recent illustration of the non-transparency of I-net and the increased pressure to substitute in-house developed solutions with standardised ones, is the break-down of the "home-made" (Norwegian: hjemmesnekrede) fire wall against Internet.
One of the members of the Notes introduction team describes the lumping of Notes together with the office tools as "in effect two parallel project - the introduction of SmartSuite [Lotus’ office tools] and Notes" (Intro2). By the end of 1994, there were 10.390 Lotus users but only about 4000 Notes users. It is easy to forget the novelty of allowing the PCs to communicate beyond a purely local context. This had previously belonged to the world of mainframes and Unix; it was introduced as something really new in Statoil, something that the users were supposed to identify with Notes. In this sense, the fact that Statoil had previously lagged behind in offering communicative services to their PC users, gave the Notes advocates an opportunity to take advantage of this to boost Notes, because "remember - before Notes there was no wide area network [for PCs]!" (Intro2)
Given such a package and the functionality of Notes, a number of more ambitious changes would have been possible. But this was not the strategy pursued. Instead, the project group advocating Notes employed a more conservative approach, namely to focus primarily on only a restricted aspect of Notes, the e-mail. E-mail was in itself not new to Statoil as they were accustomed to the IBM based, text-only e-mail system called Memo. The fact that a significant number of users already were socialised into a use of e-mail made it easier to introduce Notes mail as e-mail with a little extra. As one of the users recollects, "the important thing about Memo was that we became accustomed to the use of e-mail" (User6).
Given the preparation accomplished through Memo, Notes was presented as Memo but with the additional feature to attach documents. In an actor-network vocabulary, this amounts to the alignment of e-mail and word-processing. Hence, the real impetus for promoting Lotus Notes was its ability to attach documents to e-mails as "the most important reason to use Lotus Notes (...) is the more effective distribution of documents" (The introduction of Lotus Notes in Statoil, Report, p. 4)
The role of e-mail
In the corporate folklore, Lotus Notes was to a large extent equated with e-mail. This impression seemed to be fairly widespread despite the efforts of introducing Lotus Notes together with the six standards applications. This illustrates the difficulties of actually diffusing these six applications. It is instructive to inquire in more detail into the construction of Lotus Notes as e-mail, a conception quite distant from the espoused theory on the use of Lotus Notes.
In the note describing the functionality of Lotus Notes alongside the introduction in 1993, the advantages of a more versatile e-mail system are presented up front. It is the very first thing about Lotus Notes that is described and clearly mirrors the belief that an improved e-mail service would facilitate a smoother introduction of Lotus Notes:
"Electronic message transfer (Notes mail) operates differently than what we are used from Memo. A new and highly demanded function is introduced which makes it possible to attach all kinds of files to the message" (The introduction of Lotus Notes in Statoil, Report, p. 10)
The introduction of the new e-mail service in Notes is made smoother by ensuring the co-existence with the older e-mail system, Memo, as a gateway between Notes and Memo is provided (The introduction of Lotus Notes in Statoil, Report, pp. 10 - 11). Memo had a long history in Statoil (see section 3). In a 24 hour logging in 1994 of e-mail traffic in Statoil, 12.821 out of a total of 14.977 e-mails was generated from Memo and the rest using Notes mail. The installed base of Memo was considerable. To the extent that Lotus Notes qua e-mail was to spread, co-existence with Memo was essential as "today Memo is Statoil’s main e-mail system and other systems need to be able to exchange messages with Memo" (Electronic message exchange X.400 address standard in Statoil 1995, p. 8). The establishment of a gateway between Memo and Notes mail implies that users need not "jump" to Notes — they can still communicate with the ones they used to when they still used Memo. And the other way around: from Memo, users can still communicate with users of Notes Mail. That users would prefer to stick with Memo was, besides the conservative nature of habits and acquired expertise, one function that was not reproduced in Notes mail namely an "undo function which enabled you to discard an already sent message», inscribed through its centralised database solution (Intro1). The need to be able to communicate by e-mail with partners outside Statoil was increasingly felt and resulted in the establishment in 1995 of a X.400 gateway accessible via Memo (and hence Notes mail via the already existing Notes/Memo gateway). This X.400 gateway was followed up by working out institutionalised routines for generating unique X.400 e-mail addresses formulated in the report (Electronic message exchange X.400 address standard in Statoil 1995, Report). From 1996 a Lotus Notes server running SMTP made Internet e-mail directly available in Statoil, making e-mail communication with the outside world even more convenient.
This strategy of alignment — first, aligning Notes with office tools (through attachment) and, second, with the simultaneous establishment of a PC based WAN — has been a key strategy for the diffusion of the infrastructure. It takes the form that as new requirements or "incidents" occur, the Notes proponents needed to improvise in order to align these with the evolving Notes infrastructure. This pattern runs through any information infrastructure establishment, it is at the core of developing infrastructure. In the present case, two additional, important illustrations of this process of alignment are address books and electronic archives. The repeatedly voiced need to have an electronically available address book for all employees of Statoil was translated and aligned with the Notes introduction in such a way that users were granted immediate access to the address book when filling in the headers of e-mails. As illustrated further below, the pressure for meeting the ISO 9001 quality standards got translated and aligned with the use of a Notes application for electronic achieving (Elark) that was perceived as a solution to the ISO 9001 requirements.
Diffusing Lotus Notes — or was it e-mail? (1994 - 1996)
Redefining the road
Up to 1995 E&P had been the major area for large organisational change efforts in Statoil. A project called K-2000 tried to apply the same principles that were behind the business orientation of E&P to the rest of the company. Here the same strategic thinking was implemented in this company wide change effort; centralising the expertise to business units, creating 15 new streamlined business areas with decentralised profit responsibility and distinct profiles focusing on core competences and defined products, reducing the numbers of layers in the organisation, delineating the difference between staff and service functions. The main aim was also to increase the teamwork and the exploitation of resources across the organisation. New flexible collaborative work patterns were first developed in the Norne project and from 1995 also at a new methanol plant under construction at Tjeldbergodden site. Both these cases were used as examples of future practice. Even though not so evident in the argumentation for K-2000, IT is increasingly seen a potential enabler in the implementation and development process of the new K-2000 organisation from mid 1995 in order to establish the new company routines This is reflected in the technology strategy of Statoil that is developed after K-2000 in 1995-96. Here information technology and co-ordination technology are embedded in the concept of holistic competence. K-2000 was the latest of a long sequence of reorganisation efforts (called Project 95, BRU, PES,...) but finally managed to break ground for more communicative use of IT.
By using an improved e-mail (vis a vis the former Memo) as a spear head for advocating Notes, together with the growing acceptance (expressed through K-2000) for a more communicative use of IT, the evolving Notes infrastructure was picking up speed. To feed the process, it was necessary to continuously translate and align new requirements (as illustrated above with attachments, PC WAN, address books and ISO 9001).
This created some space around the Notes introduction; the project team pushing Notes could loosen up a bit. For instance, there was a clear policy that the users should be able to develop their own applications. The facade of Notes was undoubtedly e-mail, but in the background a more versatile use was prepared and encouraged as "we had a clear policy about allowing the users to develop their own Notes applications. This was the opposite strategy of Norsk Hydro" (Intro2). The Notes introduction project team had developed six standard applications that were made available in Statoil. These covered applications for room reservation, meetings, discussions, bulletin boards and frequently asked questions (FAQs). The intention was to "show that Notes was more than e-mail" as one of the project team recollects (Intro3). The use, however, of these applications never became widespread.
The Notes introduction project team lobbied hard towards E & P for a wider diffusion of Notes. E & P kept a short list of core systems that they paid well for. The Notes introduction was becoming increasingly important to SData, in both commercial terms and even more so in terms of a sign of acknowledgement. In a situation were SData still was working to acquire a sense of confidence (cf. section 4 above), this was vital because "for SData, Lotus Notes was important, very important" (Intro2). After a succession of rejects, E & P in September 1994 finally agreed to include Lotus Notes into their core portfolio of systems thus financially securing the situation of SData.
SData was then able to turn to the vast number of small, minitious details that were needed to glue Notes together, to facilitate further spreading. They needed to extend the Notes infrastructure with elements that "Lotus had not focused on: they had emphasised network administration" (Intro2). What SData needed was support for the management of users, that is, creating, deleting and moving of users, changing names and administration of the mailboxes. In addition, it was necessary to translate and align PINFO, the corporate database for personal information, with Notes.
Filling in the gaps in the infrastructure, providing the invisible but necessary parts of the infrastructure are a recurring pattern in the development of an infrastructure (Latour 1996; Monteiro 1998). We return to it further below. It may be recognised as a strategy of alignment, of making the infrastructure more robust by fleshing it out.
The institutionalising of patterns of use
As a result of these processes of alignment, the "diffusion" of Notes unfolded. The use of Notes to a large amount boiled down to the use of e-mail, despite the six standard applications. In response to the more popular and "free" use of Notes, SData started focusing on the institutionalising of patterns of use. A campaign late in 1995 illustrates this.
The campaign was dubbed "The search for the paper clip" (Norwegian: Bindersjakten). The name made reference to what was initially the key argument for Notes, namely the ability to attach various documents to e-mail. This is graphically depicted as a paper clip on the screen. The proliferation of e-mail with attachment was perceived as a growing problem. The ease of mass distribution and forwarding resulted in a growing number of e-mail with extensive attachments. Through the campaign in 1995, SData attempted to institutionalise a more disciplined use of attachments (and e-mail) by "searching" for paper clips. The campaign was highly profiled internally through electronic and paper newsletters.
Balancing local variation and adaptation against uniformity
For a long time, Notes was basically equated with e-mail in Statoil. Despite the efforts to provide the users with standard applications (see above), serious use of non-e-mail applications of Notes started to pick up only around 1996. SData had used the six standard applications internally from 1994 and Elark, an application for electronic archiving, had been used in parts of E & P from 1995 as part of the ISO certification.
One of the core Notes applications that have been developed by SData is ESOP, an application for supporting project management. It is instructive to look into how this has been introduced. ESOP represents a case of serious use of Notes beyond its use as e-mail. The key problem with ESOP, however, was to find a way to customise it to local needs rather than employ the "one size fits all" strategy that had traditionally dominated SData. The Notes project team functioned as an obligatory passage point in the sense that they were delegated by E & P the role of approving the development of local variants of standard Notes applications, including the one for project management.
A member of the Troll project wants to use Lotus Notes but not one of the six standard applications. Instead, they want to use a Notes application they know about from colleagues working in a different project because:
"We have assessed the Lotus Notes application used by the project Sleipner and found that, given a few modifications, it satisfies our requirements. We accordingly wish to be allowed to develop such a non-standard tool. We are already aware of the fact that the Statfjord project has applied for a similar tool" (email archived in Elark)
because they " were very satisfied with their system" (email archived in Elark).
In their response to this inquiry, the Notes introduction team attempts to persuade them to reconsider using the relevant, standard application. Furthermore, they keep track of related suggestions for tools and try to co-ordinate and facilitate a co-operation among the different initiatives.
"As I’ve already written (...) there is, in principle, nothing wrong with adopting the system [you refer to], but then the Troll project themselves must cover the expenses of this adoption. But as you now are 3 projects which all want to use the same application, would it not be a good idea to see if you, with a bit of joint effort, could make it available for all 3 of you. " (email archived in Elark)
The introduction team was aware of the need to modify the existing collection of standard Notes application in response to user needs. There accordingly was a clear sense of the need to organise these modification in such a way that new versions become available within reasonable time:
"Unless an outline for providing modified versions of the standard applications is worked out - quickly -, local variants, despite the veto against them, proliferate" (email archived in Elark)
Small or big changes? (March 1996)
By early 1996, the Notes infrastructure had acquired a certain robustness, a certain level of irreversibility. This, as we have illustrated above, did not unfold automatically as a result of the "diffusion" of Notes. Rather, it was the pay-off of the continuous process of appropriating or "improvising" the incidents that "drifted" along. In short, it was a continuous process of alignment.
March 1996 marks a point in this process of alignment, this process of building up robustness and strength of the Notes infrastructure. SData had decided to upgrade Notes from version 3.0 to 4.0. The diffusion strategy of SData, as it has been all along, was one of alignment. More specifically, they framed this upgrading as one aimed at strengthening the position of Notes by making as few changes as possible. This strategy did not take advantage of the new, technical potential of the new version of Notes. Especially the mechanisms to design clickable, graphical user interfaces mimicking the functionality of the Web was interesting. SData decided not to emphasise this and accordingly created space and opportunity for more pro-active and fast-moving internal competitors. Especially the group for co-ordination technology (KOT) was active in exploring the possibilities of Notes. In contrast to SData, KOT focused on developing Notes applications closer to the actual development and operation of oil fields, in particular the Norne field.
The way SData translated the upgrading as one of strengthening the position of Notes was basically one of making their own Notes administration more efficient. By March 1996, there existed about 3500 Notes databases in Statoil which generated a considerable amount of administration for SData. These applications were poorly aligned with work practises. Aligned with the upgrading to version 4.0 of Notes, SData trimmed this jungle of databases by forcing owners of databases to identify the ones they wanted to migrate to the new version of Notes. SData simultaneously tightened the requirements connected to Notes applications by ensuring that all applications had an owner and a brief description of functionality (Intro1). This cleansing paid off. The number of Notes databases declined from 3500 to about 1200. Still, the proliferation of these independently developed Notes applications represents an important learning process that neither the use of Notes as e-mail nor the six standard applications did capture.
In addition to this move towards rationalising their administration of Notes, the changes related to the upgrading were bundled or packaged together with another and seemingly bigger change — the upgrading of Windows 3.x to Windows 95. In this way, the Notes upgrading was made less visible by being only a (small?) part of what was perceived as an inevitable upgrading to Windows 95. In much the same way as the original bundling of Notes with I-net in 1993 - 1994, the upgrading to Notes v4.0 was packaged into a more invisible and "inevitable" upgrading of I-net to Windows 95. Again, the non-transparency and almost unmanageable complexity of I-net created a lot of difficulties for the existing portfolio of application: not all old applications were able to run smoothly on the upgraded I-net platform so SData spent a considerable amount of their time extinguishing fires and acute problems (Manager3).
As an indication of the core importance of the e-mail function of Notes, SData also wanted to trim the mailboxes of the users to save some disk space. SData accordingly tried to encourage users to compress or delete parts of their mailbox in a similar way as Notes databases were trimmed. This, however, proved to be quite a different matter. The mailboxes were not to be touched was the clear response from users as "it proved to be impossible to trim the mailboxes of the users — the mailboxes were important!" (Intro1). Around 1995/1996, there was still a considerable installed base of the old e-mail system, Memo. There was an estimated 10.000 Lotus Notes users while the number of Memo users was close to 12.000 (IT challenges and directions 1996 - 1999, Report, p. 34). The number of Memo users, however, is counted from the number of mailboxes at the time and does not necessary represent active Memo users. This might make the decision to "phase out Memo in 1996" seem a bit more reasonable (ibid., 34).
Enrolling the outside world (April 1996 - 1997)
Establishing the Notes infrastructure in Statoil was never automatic. In the previous sections, we have illustrated how the momentum or irreversibility of an infrastructure — disguised by the potentially misleading term "diffusion" — is the product of the hard work of continuous alignment.
We now turn to more serious threats to an evolving infrastructure, threats that not obviously are possible to translate and align into the existing infrastructure. If you cannot employ a strategy of alignment, what do you do then? Before returning to this question, let us first have a quick look at the sources of these threats.
In a number of ways, the pressure for opening up, orienting Statoil more towards the outside world is building up. Some of this thrust is of a fairly general nature. Especially the rapid folklorisation of Internet and Web in media was influential in Statoil. Additionally, the oil industry underwent important restructuring during this period. There was a growing awareness about the need to communicate with external partners and subcontractors. The development and introduction of NORSOK, in response to a British initiative (called CRINE), was a decisive move in focusing on external communication within the whole oil industry. Up till now, Statoil had been (and probable still is) characterised by a kind of self-centredness that is related to its remarkable achievements during its 26 years of existence. This is sustained by the fact that "we are proud of what we have achieved. But we have probably been a bit self-centred, a bit reluctant to orient towards the external world" (Network1). Similarly, there was a growing focus on supporting industry communication, for instance, by establishing Oilnet (www.oilnet.com). The NORSOK work was supplemented with POSC, a standardisation effort for facilitating a more efficient communication about technical components (pipes, platforms, ships, rigs and so forth).
In terms of technological infrastructure, the situation in Statoil is still characterised by multiple communication standards and platforms (Statoil’s integrated network in year 2000, Report, pp. 35 - 37). There exists a FDDI fiber optical network at the corporate headquarter. Between major sites, a number of different WAN communication solutions are used including leased lines, ISDN, Frame relay and ATM. Communication with Statoil sites outside the Norwegian main land is by Frame relay or satellite. LAN communication is dominated by 10 or 100 Mbps Ethernet running Novell IPX, TCP/IP and some Apple talk. There still exists Token ring segments in some locations.
Notes - a closed world?
With regards to the evolving Notes infrastructure, the over-arching trends got translated into a simple question: is Notes an appropriate infrastructure to meet these challenges? There was at this time no obvious way to align these new requirements with the existing Notes infrastructure.
The initial strategy used by SData till about 1997 was one of marginalisation. The proponents and arguments behind, for instance, Internet and Web were attempted sidelined by presenting them as misguided. Hence, the proponents of Notes tended to downplay the significance and substance of the objections towards Notes because "the advocates of Internet are those who do not know how good Notes is with regards to Internet" (Intro1). The heart of the problem, the accusation that Notes is a closed system and hence inappropriate when Statoil is to open up to the world, is defined as a misunderstanding "as Notes has tools for SQL queries together with the new Domino servers" (Intro1). And as a consequence, "the controversy has died out" (Intro2). Further below, we study more closely how the introduction of a new version of Notes (version 4.5, called Domino) has been framed as a compromise between the existing Notes infrastructure and the pressure from the outside world signalled through access to the Web. This is not an instance of alignment but rather of a kind of socio-technical compromise, a generalised "gateway", preserving the two competing infrastructures.
Statoil has traditionally been fairly closed towards the outside world. Unix users have had access to e-mail communication with external partners from the early 90s. Memo, the corporate wide e-mail system introduced in Statoil in the 80s, was only for internal communication. With the establishment of an X.400 gateway, Memo and Notes mail could be used for external communication from 1995. In 1996, a Notes based SMTP server made Internet mail directly available from Notes. Non e-mail communication with the outside world, however, arrived rather late in Statoil, that is, for PC users. Unix users had access to a broad range of services such as Archie, ftp, telnet and Web. Web was for this reason mere shrugged off as a Unix "thing". PC based Web browsers were allowed only from late 1995, and only in response to a formal application. Only in January this year was it allowed to browse from a PC without special permission.
The current situation (from 1998)
The installed base of the Notes infrastructure
As a result of successfully aligning a rich set of elements, the Notes infrastructure has acquired a certain robustness, a certain level of irreversibility. Is it, then, finally "introduced", is it a stable, working infrastructure?
It is certainly the case that it is considered obligatory, that other decisions presuppose the existence of Notes because "we have to relate to fact that Notes is pervasive, to the already existing installed base of Notes" (Network1). This observation, that the installed base of Notes is heavy, gets reiterated also in strategy documents of various kinds. Still, how sure are Statoil that they are not flogging a dying horse, that the future lies in Web? The fact that Norsk Hydro is also a large Notes user organisation, is used in Statoil to legitimise their own commitment as "[Norsk] Hydro is also using Notes, so we cannot be completely off target" (Manager1).
There is a considerable installed base of Lotus Notes in terms of applications, routines and delegation of roles. In addition to this, and a lot less visible, over the years a set of institutionalised structures and arenas have developed that contribute strongly to keeping Lotus Notes in place. Statoil and Hydro, the two largest user organisation of Lotus Notes in Norway, have established about ten different forums where representatives from the two companies meet on a regularly basis to discuss and evaluate each others’ experience. From a slow start, this has over the years turned into working institutions, not empty shells. Similarly, Notes user forums both in Scandinavia and internationally meet regularly in formalised co-operation and experience exchange. In conjunction with the technical side of Lotus Notes, this adds significantly to the purely physical aspect of the installed base of Notes in Statoil.
The current level of confidence about Notes is a direct result of a successful definition of the Notes version 4.5, the Domino servers, as an acceptable compromise. Let us see in more detail how this took place.
Internet and Web - fiend or friend?
The threat to the Notes infrastructure from Web was quite real. What the outcome would have been had not Statoil been saved by the bell through the introduction of the Domino servers, the outcome would be uncertain:
"Had not Lotus introduced their Domino servers, I think it would have been difficult to defend Notes [against Web proponents]" (Manager1)
Internet had been of marginal importance to the company up to now. UNIX-based specialists and a few people at KOT or SData had used it regularly since 1993. But the general potential of this new phenomenon was first realised via the media from late 1995 increasing steadily in 1996 with the folklorisation of Internet. With this a general change of spirit occurred focusing on IT as an enabler.
The mobilisation of Web as an alternative to Notes was not merely in the form of "pure" technology. Also organisational actors started to move in order to enrol the Web as an ally. Especially the media and information unit (INF) was active here. They were delegated the new role as Web editors. As is the case in many places, the most enthusiastic proponents of Web are initially found outside the traditional IT department. In a recent memo outlining a new project, a project manager of INF describes the situation as follows:
"Information sharing in Statoil will gradually shift from the basically Notes based reality of today to a Web based system" ("Information sharing in Statoil" Report, p. 5)
There are distinct and conflicting views - still - about whether Domino represents a sufficient strategy to address the requirements on openness as "many are still very sceptical to whether Domino is sufficient" (Manager1). Currently, the meshing of the Notes and Web through Domino has to a large extent erased this distinction. Few users have knowledge or interest in keeping them apart.
The compromise in the form of Domino has since been substantiated by using it in several projects. KOT started using Notes Release 4 that they had experience with from the Norne case, to develop the concepts from Norne further. After Norne, KOT had plans for reorienting their focus from operations to exploration within Statoil. A new pilot VISOK was launched from the fall of 1996 together with Statoil Data, who had several people in the project already from the start.
SAP - a new challenger
Lotus Notes repeatedly needed to fend off challengers. During the years, there have been at least three challengers. The strategies have varied. Microsoft was fought down head on by arguing for standardisation and cost cutting as described earlier. The wave of interest for Internet in general and Web in particular is attempted solved by way of a gateway solution, a migration strategy to Domino based servers. The challenge of SAP, currently in-the-making through the so-called BRA project, is yet different. The thrust behind SAP, backed by management right to the top, has been tremendous. Hence, co-existence with Notes was the only viable option. This implies that for Notes to keep its position, it was absolutely crucial to find solutions, technical as well as organisationally, to integrate Notes with SAP. To do so was, and still is, anything but. Also, the SAP introduction in Statoil is expected to replace about 50 out of a total of about 130 administrative, non-integrated systems (Manager7).
The new BRA-initiative from February 1996 to implement SAP also created a change in the role of the Human Resources unit (P&O). Key people in Statoil Data were interested in implementing SAP as the common administrative platform of the company and took an active part in the BRA-project from the start. P&O in the start critical to SAP saw that they had to engage themselves in the project because the key idea was to improve all administrative work including human resources. P&O employed own personnel with IT skills and developed a closer relationship with Statoil Data. BRA marks the moment of truth when P&O and Statoil Data both accepted that they could not stick to their old separate functional responsibilities. They had to be integrated. This new policy is shown in the new strategy of IT or Sdata from 1997 where it is more clearly stated that they should have an integrated approach of applying both information technology and organisational development.
There are basically two ways to integrate two or more information systems. The traditional one was one of the systems is in control and the other(s) become(s) subordinate and has to comply. The alternative way is where none of the systems are in control; they are on the same level. This is the strategy of open systems. The relevance of this distinction is that up till now, SAP has clearly been adopting the former strategy towards integration, namely to allow other components to be included into the otherwise all-encompassing SAP system. This makes, in the opinion of one in the development team, "SAP self-centred (...) and old fashioned" (Intro3). SAP is highly restrictive in allowing other components to be integrated. They certify those products that are allowed to contribute, and this tends to be uniform products with a large installed base which means that "it is difficult to certify our Notes applications, we did not succeed" (Intro3).
Uniformity within administrative systems — signalled by the achievement to have only one mailbox, the Notes mail box — is the result of many years of debates. The prospect of reintroducing fragmentation with SAP was not acceptable. As SAP comes equipped with its own mail system, there was a very real danger that the users would have to relate to two mail systems. The workflow functionality in SAP is message driven by electronic mail. It was important, both symbolically and in terms of ease of use, that Statoil managed to integrate SAP’s workflow module with Notes mail. Given the existing installed base of Notes, it was vital that "none should be forced to use SAP, it should be possible to receive workflow actions through the existing Notes mail system" (Intro3). This requirement was possible to fulfil because SAP allows other modules, in this case, Notes mail, to become subordinate to SAP. "Had we not managed this, we would have lost the support and trust of top management" (Intro3).
The use of the existing Notes mail from SAP has been achieved because this is a "product" like component of Notes. For Notes applications, the situation is very different. A key Notes application in Statoil is the electronic document archive. To have an integrated, electronic document archive accessible by both Notes and SAP is not possible — for the existing documents. There are, however, SAP certified products on the market that are also accessible from Notes (for instance, Archivelink, an IBM product). New documents will accordingly be accessible across both Notes and SAP.
Conclusion: "alignment" revisited
According to one strand of MIS literature, the relationship between business strategies and technology development is straightforwardly conceived of as strategic "alignment" of the one to the other (Weill and Broadbent 1998; see Ciborra 1997 and Knights, Noble and Willmott 1997 for a critique; see also chapter CRITICAL REVIEW THIS VOLUME). The picture emerging from our study in Statoil, however, diverges substantially from this. There is not so much a question of alignment as a process of mutually constructing each other. Strategic intentions behind Lotus Notes developed fairly independently of business strategies, but met or coincided in punctuated situations. We analyse how the business strategies of Statoil and the diffusion of Lotus Notes co-evolved over the years 1992 - 1998.
The prevailing and general attitude towards IT use and investments in Statoil throughout the early 90s was that of IT as an expense. Within relatively few years, say by the mid 90s, there had been a substantial change in attitude towards IT in general and Notes in particular. To understand how the further diffusion of Notes took place in Statoil, it is necessary to inquire into the role of these new visions and images of IT, the work they do, how they are constructed and how they become productive through circulation and distribution. In short, Lotus Notes was not simply "introduced" and later spread in Statoil. It was, in essential ways, redefined and improvised in order to gain benefits from the more general redefinition in Statoil’s attitude towards IT. This redefinition was partly a result of trends in the outside world. Still, it needed spokespersons and allies within Statoil to gain momentum.
The general pressure for cost containment during the early 90s was straightforwardly translated into the need to standardise office tools (ending up with the Lotus office suite) and the centralisation of IS resources (leading to the establishment of the central IT department, SData). The strategic role of Lotus Notes at this time was modest if any. Notes was subordinate to the business goal of cost reduction and was basically an unplanned surprise.
The fact that attention exclusively was directed towards traditional rationalising does not imply that none tried to interpret Lotus Notes differently. It simply implies that these alternative interpretations did not mobilise sufficient support. They remained at the margins. To illustrate, in a meeting in 1993 the Notes introduction team in the IT department emphasised the need to do "at least a minimum of BPR analysis". Consultants from McKinsey were involved in providing this analysis. Still, these attempts to align Notes with a broader BPR effort in E & P very quickly faded out with no apparent impact.
As late as the summer of 1994, there was still a profound sense of urgency in Statoil, of a need to rationalise, economise and improve in order to stay competitive. Even though the price of oil was rising, the sense of hardship was kept vivid in Statoil. A telling example is C.E.O. Norvik’s address to corporate management about the challenges facing Statoil (Statoil’s challenges and demands for changes, Introduction by C.E.O. Harald Norvik, Report, 1994). He explicitly stated that he found the employees worries over possible down sizing "natural", and that if the necessary efforts to reorganise Statoil’s operations did not succeed, then "lay offs may be inevitable" (ibid.). In the context of Norwegian working life, with a rich set of rules regulating employees’ rights, and in conjunction with the fact that Statoil had been a steadily growing, state owned enterprise for two decades, this message represents tough talk. In Mr. Norvik’s address, there is no role for IT as anything but a vehicle for rationalisation. IT in general, Notes being no exception, was accordingly not perceived to have a strategic role.
This relatively well-developed sense of crises changed markedly throughout 1994 and 1995. The resulting, more relaxed working atmosphere paved the road for other — or "strategic" —patterns of use of IT. The single most influential factor contributing to this change was that the revenue surplus in 1994 reached an all time high, it almost doubled from 1993. The principal reason for this was the increase in production volume and reduced costs for the running operations (Status newsletter, 16. February 1995, p. 3). It is likely that had not the profit margins in Statoil improved as dramatically as they did during this period, then it would have been very difficulty to lobby for the strategic use of IT in general and for continued and extended emphasis on Lotus Notes. In the current situation, with a newly gained space for action, the actors lobbying for the communicative abilities of IT as illustrated by Notes was listened more carefully to, they were more visible and made the headlines more often. In this sense, the strategic contents of Notes was perceived as a "luxury" concern that Statoil could not afford during the years of (relative) economic hard-ship in the early 90s. Only with the more comfortable profit margins of the mid 90s did "luxury goods" become legitimate and acceptable.
Slowly, originating from the IT department, Lotus Notes was explored. Advocates of a more strategic, communicative use of Notes existed in isolated pockets of Statoil but were unable to mobilise a concerted impact. In the absence of widely accepted scenarios for the use of Lotus Notes, a collection of six fairly generic Notes applications were packaged alongside the introduction of Notes in E & P during 1994 - 1995. These six applications were not geared towards core business processes but rather more administrative routines (meeting room reservation, weekly plans, sick or absence notification, discussion bulletin boards, newsletters and answering service). Beyond their immediate usefulness (or lack thereof), they were intended as sawing seeds to spawn further curiosity from the users to explore the possibilities of Notes. The six applications were intended to give users a handle on the potential of Notes (Intro3).
From the mid 90s and onwards, there is a growing awareness and accumulating pressure to use IT in a more communicative and strategic manner. As outlined earlier, this pressure had both internal (the exploration of the Norne oil field; the internal manoeuvring of KOT) and external (focus on industry co-operation as formulated in NORSOK; folklorisation of Web technology) sources. To an increasing degree, business strategy documents emphasise how "IS/IT should support information exchange and sharing (...) by focusing on co-operation with customers, partners, vendors and governmental agencies" (K/RD-21, IT challenges and directions 1996 - 1999, April 1996, Report, p. 2). Despite this attention to business orientation, it takes an effort and quite some time for everybody to internalise the new concepts, to appropriate them in a meaningful way. As one employee of the IT department complained, "we struggle to learn new words and concepts such as process management, customer orientation, market thinking (...) none of which are difficult to pronounce (...) except that they now, shrewdly enough, are endowed with a completely different meaning!" (TeamIT Newsletter).
In terms of Lotus Notes applications, there are three efforts during these years to support the business strategy which we describe: ESOP (project documentation and work flow management), Elark (electronic archiving) and SAREPTA/ Delphi (experience transfer).
ESOP is a Lotus Notes application developed within Statoil primarily aimed at facilitating administration of project documentation such as: meeting summaries, memos, budgets and plans. In addition, there are some functions aimed at work flow management, including delegation of work tasks and overview of the status of work tasks, that so far have not been much used outside the IT-department’s own use of ESOP. The ESOP product itself covers functions that are demanded in a project-oriented, high-risk environment like the one Statoil operates in. This has lead to a contract with IBM for the further product development and international marketing of ESOP by IBM (under the name of SAREPTA). ESOP is a "one size fits all" application in the sense that it is not sensitive to the type, duration or size of the projects. This lack of support for local adaptation has lately been criticised by the management in the IT department. ESOP has only recently, three years after the first versions, been introduced systematically (User3).
The Elark application was closely aligned with the ISO 9001 quality improvement effort. Even if it is "never used" by the users themselves, it serves the (management’s) needs in relation to documentation requirements for ISO 9001 certification (User4). Elark seems to have played only a modest role in influencing the work processes themselves involved in the finding and production of oil.
The first and most goal-directed use of Lotus Notes aimed at solving what was perceived as a strategically important problem in Statoil, was that of experience transfer (Status Newsletter, June 1991). Lessons learned in the design of past installations were not being reused and implemented in the design of new installations. In 1992, KOT had started to use Lotus Notes in the development of a Notes database that supported the experience transfer of materials (steel quality, corrosion etc). Experiences from the Gullfaks field and Kårstø process plant were collected by KOT and delivered as input to the detail engineering of the new Troll installation (Borstad et al. 1993). The same year KOT also developed a prototype to support the experience transfer process by using Lotus Notes as a tool in the elicitation and discussion of experiences. At this point in time, it was impossible to implement these elicitation processes into group-ware functionality since there was no Lotus Notes infrastructure that made it possible to use the databases in daily operations. This was, however, the first attempt to develop Notes applications that supported core business processes and this work was vital input in the development of DELPHI that started in 1994.
KOT had plans for developing experience transfer to be much more than transfer of experiences with company documents but was forced by E&P-management to narrow their scope in 1994. DELPHI then became one of the first core business Notes applications to be used in Statoil in 1995 (Hepsø et al. 1997). The functional difference between DELPHI and the competing alternative could be described in terms of push and pull interfaces. DELPHI had a simple pull user interface. It was possible to find various kinds of business documents sorted by different categories, all documents being instantly accessible from the same database. It also had functions for re-routing of documents, a module to support work in organisational networks, that is, a discussion database that made it possible to give comments to these company documents and support an elicitation or experience transfer process. It had a strong collaborative group-ware functionality. The competing alternative was based on push technology. Documents were situated in the electronic archive (Elark) and this document was sent to the user. It lacked functionality for experience transfer and had less group-ware functionality. Functionality from both applications melted together in the DELTA-application from 1996, a core business application. The group-ware functionality of DELPHI and DELTA has never been a success, but the information sharing of best practice document has been successful.
The outcries for using IT to promote the reorganisation of work have become more pronounced from around the mid 90s onwards. As outlined, the installed base of Lotus Notes was able to forge a compromise with the Web challenge through the use of Domino servers. Still, this compromise has simultaneously delegated a less strategic role to Lotus Notes vis a vis the Web. Notes is, according to the IT director in Statoil, "best suited to internal" (and hence non-strategic) communication while Web is "the only sensible option" for external communication (Dagens Næringliv newspaper, 24. September 1996). Similarly, the SAP introduction also carves out a niche for itself leaving the existing Notes applications with less responsibility. After an initial and ritualistic focus on BPR, the SAP introduction has been transformed into a much more mundane implementation project. As one of the members of the SAP introduction team explains, "SAP is not aimed at strategic or core business processes. We simply aim at rationalising administration — an administration layer which is very thick in Statoil" (Manager7). Through the assaults of Web and SAP, Lotus Notes together with its proponents have been delegated a more restricted, internal (hence non-strategic) and less visible role in Statoil’s strategy.
On the other hand, the I-net which the IT department developed in tandem with and bundled together with the Lotus Notes introduction, has become the witness of the successful globalisation of Statoil. For instance, the establishment of a Notes client in Statoil’s new Nigeria office signals this as does the hooking up of the Azerbaijan office with an ESOP accesses in 1996. Hence, by the late 90s, the strategic role of Lotus Notes in Statoil is not so much related to supporting core business processes as functioning as an icon of Statoil’s globalising ability, its ability to "set up a new office site world-wide in five days" (SData strategy 1997).
Today, the overall ambition for the use of IT is, in C.E.O. Norvik phrasing, to "change working processes in a company and thereby strengthen competitiveness and value creation even further" (Norvik, Statoil home page). Lotus Notes plays but a modest role in this. The latest effort, which has caught quite a bit of media attention in Norway, has been dubbed the IT step. It involves offering all Statoil employees an ISDN networked, multi-media PC for free at home — given a commitment to spend some time learning how to use it. The current strategy towards "flatter organisational structures, new and simplified ways of working and opportunities for decentralised entities" is sought not so much by the use of Lotus Notes (or Web) as a result of the broadening and deepening of the experience with IT, that is, the internalisation of the use of PCs (Why the IT step, Statoil home page).
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