6 Workarounds in enterprise systems

In this chapter

Probably the majority of research papers into the use of workarounds in enterprise applications are concerned with Enterprise Resource Planning applications, which are often the backbone application of the organisation used to support processes that deliver a service or a product to a customer. Other enterprise applications, such as those supporting human resources, asset management and finance, are primarily focused on the operations of the organisation. This chapter summarises the outcomes of some of the core research papers and provides a table of papers which have a substantial list of citations which could provide the basis for further research.

Undertaking academic enterprise research

In Chapter 5 the approaches to organisations discovering workarounds are presented. In this chapter the discovery methodology changes because the focus is on the conduct and analysis of academic (and therefore external) research into workarounds.

There are many problems to overcome in undertaking research inside an organisation.

These include

  • Maintaining the confidentiality of the internal processes and success factors of the organisation.
  • Gaining a good understanding of organisational culture and also organisational language (the way in which employees refer to departments and processes) so that asking for explanations during interviews is minimised.
  • Ensuring that the responses to surveys and interviews are not biased by employees gaming these to create a false impression of success and satisfaction, or (on the other hand) using them as an excuse to get a message through to senior managers about issues with organisational processes and even managers.
  • Specifying and achieving a representative cohort of interviewees.
  • Setting a realistic schedule for the project that can be adjusted to take account of internal developments or the unavailability of key personnel.
  • The extent to which the organisation expects to be able to review any publications and have control over the way that outcomes are presented.

As mentioned in Chapter 5 there is also the issue of developing large-scale ethnographic research projects as this methodology is not widely used in academic research.

There is a widely used model for organisational research which considers

Getting in – identifying target organisations and gaining physical and digital access.

Getting on – maintaining the required degree of access and project progress.

Getting out – agreeing on an end point to the research and on what can be included in published reports of the project.

Getting back – the ability to revisit the organisation to assess progress on outcomes and to revalidate data.

Given that there may well be over thousand research papers on ERP implementation (though relatively few specifically examine workaround issues) the papers listed below provide a starting point to explore research strategies, in particular the way in which interviews are planned and undertaken. They are presented in chronological order as each lists citations to related work. Together they cover research in the period from 2000 to 2022. The papers by Soh (2000), Soh (2003) and Ignatidis (2007) were published before Alter’s seminal paper (Alter 2014) on the definitions and characteristics of workarounds.

Lead author Date Location Interviews Citations
Soh 2000 Singapore Not stated 12
Soh 2003 Singapore 30 22
Ignatiadis 2009 UK 27 130
Van Der Schaft-Bartis 2013 Hungary 119 180
Roder 2014 Germany 22 31
Hustad 2016 Norway 6 33
Drum 2016 USA 16 50
Drum 2017 USA 20 45
Pernsteiner 2018 USA 12 30
Malaureni 2019 France and China 49 120
Davison 2021 Hong Kong 31 67

The scalability issue

It is immediately obvious from this table how few interviews have been conducted in the research projects with the notable exception of the thesis of Van Der Schaft-Bartis. This in theory raises the question about how representative the projects are of not only the organisation itself but of the wider use of ERP applications. However, because even the small and effectively random number of interviews uncovers a range of workarounds it could be reasonable to assume that in fact workarounds are endemic in enterprise applications.

Summary of research outcomes


There is a wide variety in the number of interviews undertaken. Little information is provided about the extent to which the interviews are representative of a range of ‘personas’ in the organisation and how the decisions were taken on which employees should be selected for interview.

In addition there is rarely any comment on the period of time that the interviewees have been working with the organisation and their individual experience of the particular role that forms the basis of the interviews.

Several papers refer to managing the concern of interviewees that the information they are giving will be brought to the attention of their managers.

Most of the interviews are with employees using the applications; more senior managers are rarely interviewed.

Because of the small number of interviews it is not possible to scale across the entire organisation or across other organisations in the same business sector.


There is little consideration of the extent to which customisation is a permitted workaround.

In a number of instances the workarounds were making use of shadow IT (often Excel spreadsheets) to manage data consolidation and application transfer.

The way in which access permissions are granted can often be a constraint to the effective use of the systems, especially where an employee only needs very occasional access to an application to validate a process or outcome.

With the exception of the work by Drum et al there is no consideration of information workarounds, only process workarounds. (See also Chapter 8).


Each of the three key parties to this process—key users, IS department personnel, and the ERP vendor— has different and specific knowledge (organisational requirements, existing IT infrastructure, package functionality, respectively) that is difficult to transfer to one another.

Because of constraints on the schedule of the research it is not possible to report on the extent to which the organisation was able to reflect on the outcomes and make changes to operational procedures.

Several of the papers suggest management actions that could be taken to mitigate the impact of workarounds but these are usually developed post the closure of the fieldwork and so there is no validation on the potential or actual value of these.

For this reason there is no ideal solution. There are limits to the changes that can be made to an ERP application post-implementation and limits to the patience of employees faced with using ERP applications that are not fit for purpose.

Training is often limited to an initial familiarisation with no follow-up post-implementation even though workarounds may not evolve until some period after implementation.

Managers are faced with often competing factors when deciding whether to accept a workaround, in particular the balance between compliance risk and the expected gain in efficiency from the workaround.

There is little discussion of the down-stream impacts of a workaround. The nature of the workarounds is often described, which is helpful, but there are no interviews with employees further down the process chain to gain an understanding of whether they are aware of an upstream workaround, and if they are what the impact could be on their own performance,

Workarounds are not just the response of an individual employee  but can be coordinated with other members of a team and progressively upgraded as the need arises.

A global HQ may be completely unware of the level of use of workarounds in local subsidiaries, especially those in another continent.

Longitudinal research

With very few exceptions the research projects that have been undertaken are of quite a short duration. This is reflected in the small number of interviews and a lack of any long-term perspective that looks back at the organisation and reflects on any changes that might have been implemented to take advantage of workarounds. The results of a two-year longitudinal study (Barelheimer, Wolf and Beverungen 2023) of three organisations, a media company, a professional services company and a public institution shed important light on the role of workarounds in supporting innovation in systems design. The study approach is qualitative but with careful coding and analysis of the outcomes of in-depth interviews. The 66-page paper includes a bibliography of over 200 papers and so provides a very good starting point for further research.

The bottom line

There has been a considerable amount of research into the factors that affect the implementation and adoption of ERP systems, and these factors are listed in Chapter 3. Only a small percentage of these papers specifically research the incidence and impact of workarounds. In effect the small number of interviews (relative to the total number of employees in the organisations) could be regarded as random selection. Yet in all the research papers this random selection of employees results in there being the disclosure of workarounds which suggests (though does not prove) that workarounds are endemic in enterprise application implementations. In Chapter 6 the use of shadow IT as workarounds is discussed.


Bartelheimer, C., Wolf, V and Beverungen, D (2023). Workarounds as generative mechanisms for bottom-up process innovation—Insights from a multiple case studyInformation Systems Journal1– 66https://doi.org/10.1111/isj.12435

Boudreau, M-C. & Robey, D. (2005).  Enacting integrated information technology: a human agency perspective. Organization Science, 16(1).  https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.1040.0103

Drum, D.M. Pernsteiner, A.J & Revak, A. (2016). Walking a mile in their shoes: user workarounds in a SAP environment. International Journal of Accounting and Information Management, 24, 2, 185-204.

Drum, D., Pernsteiner, A.J.& Revak, A. (2017). Workarounds in an SAP environment: impacts on accounting information quality. Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change 13(1) 44-64. https://doi.org/10.1108/JAOC-05-2015-0040

Hietala, H., & Päivärinta, T. (2021). Benefits realisation in post-implementation development of ERP systems: A case study. Procedia Computer Science, 181, 419-426. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050921002283

Hustad, E., Haddara, M., & Kelvenes, B. (2016). ERP and organizational misfits: an ERP customization journey. Procedia Computer Science, 100, 429- 439.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2016.09.179

Ignatiadis, I., & Nandhakumar, J. (2009). The effect of ERP system workarounds on organizational control: An interpretivist case study. Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, 21,(2).  https://aisel.aisnet.org/sjis/vol21/iss2/3/ https://eprints.kingston.ac.uk/id/eprint/16510/ DOI: https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327590IJHC1601_6

Malaurent, J. & Karanasios, S. (2019). Learning from workaround practices: the challenge of enterprise system implementations in multinational corporations. Information Systems Journal, 30,4, 1–25. https://doi.org/10.1111/isj.12272

Pernsteiner, A., Drum, D., & Revak, A., (2018). Control or chaos: impact of workarounds on internal control. International Journal of Accounting & Information Management, 26(2),230-244.  https://doi.org/10.1108/IJAIM-12-2016-0116

Röder, N., Wiesche, M., Schermann, M., & Krcmar H. (2014). Why managers tolerate workarounds: The role of information systems. AMCIS 2014 Proceedings, 14. https://aisel.aisnet.org/amcis2014/AdoptionofIT/GeneralPresentations/14/

Soffer, P., Outmazgin, N., Hadar, I. et al. Why work around the process? Analyzing workarounds through the lens of the theory of planned behavior. (2023) Bus Inf Syst Eng. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12599-023-00802-1

Soh, C., Kien, S.S., & Tay-Yap, J. (2000).  Enterprise resource planning: cultural fits and misfits: is ERP a universal solution? Communications of the ACM, 43(4), 47-51. https://doi.org/10.1145/332051.332070

Soh, C., Sia, S. K., Boh, W. F., & Tang, M. (2003). Misalignments in ERP implementation: A dialectic perspective. Journal of Human Computer Interaction, 16, 81-100. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/S15327590IJHC1601_6

Van der Schaft-Bartis, E.  (2013). Means of interpretive flexibility: User workarounds next to information systems. (PhD thesis). Budapest Corvinus University.

Yilmaz Borekci, Buyuksaatci Kiris, S, & Batmaca, S. (2020). Analysis of enterprise resource planning (ERP) system workarounds with a resilience perspective, Continuity & Resilience Review, 2, 131-148. https://doi.org/10.1108/CRR-06-2020-0022

See also

Buchanan, D., Boddy, D. & McCalman, J. (2013). Getting in, getting on, getting out, and getting back – doing research in organisations. Routledge eBook. ISBN9780203385449

Jones, M. (2014). Researching organizations .The practice of organizational fieldwork. SAGE Publications Ltd




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Workarounds: the benefits and the risks Copyright © 2023 by Martin White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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