Date: June 15, 1999
Dr. Eleanor Wynn — Applied Information Management, University of Oregon; Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Technology

The last 25 years of information systems and applications development can be seen as a “learning by doing” process in which breakdowns (failed systems) cause reflection (about the organization and the user) leading to greater understanding and better fit. Part of the dynamic of this process has been the encounter between formal models of what software can ideally do for an idealized organization, and the messy reality of how the development process, the organizations and users actually work.

The result of this encounter and the adjustments that follow it has been called “emergence”: systems that work in ways that couldn’t be anticipated, for better and for worse. The negotiation between formalism and reality is a key, though often unspoken, part of the emergent system.

Having produced software artifacts through this process, we now are looking at “globalization”: sending those artifacts to organizations in less developed countries whose circumstances are very different from those of the industrialized world. A new level of “messy reality” arises in those situations. We will talk about the infrastructure assumptions that may be embedded in business software for export, and outline a model of “things to look for” in achieving localization of technology.

Eleanor Wynn
Eleanor Wynn has over 20 years’ experience in research and consulting on organizational and work practice issues in software product and system development. She holds a Ph.D. in Linguistic Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. She was the first anthropologist to work on user and organizational issues in technology development. Her dissertation was sponsored by Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, where as an intern and then a Senior Member of Scientific Staff she was involved in early work on the desktop metaphor and administrative use of desktop computers.

She subsequently worked in Strategic Marketing at Bell-Northern Research doing research on new product opportunities, including expert systems, Internet, optical scanning and storage and desktop computing. In recent years her consulting clients include Apple Computer, Intel Corporation, Citicorp, NYNEX Corporation and Bellcore. She is editor-in-chief of Information Technology & People, an international refereed journal. She has taught Information Systems, Software Development and Information and Society courses at Oregon Graduate Institute, Portland State University, Binghamton University, Syracuse University and Applied Information Management at University of Oregon. Her current focus is to apply what we know about organizational context to software development practice, and further extending that to appropriate software models for emerging economies.