chapter  6
19 Pages

The Virtual Customer

Our ethnographic studies were initiated in 1990 and are continuing. They thus represent a historical record of routine work by bank staff in a period of time which has seen dramatic changes in the retail financial sector as new technology, redesigned processes, changing customer behaviour and new forms of regulation have radically transformed the work (see O’Reilly 1994; Knights 1997; Burton 1994). We have argued that the ethnographic studies of the type we advocate are unlike other studies conducted by social science at large in that for the most part we are uninterested in the ‘critical’ perspective generally deployed by such writers. Rather, our studies are oriented to the ‘real time, real world’ of how things are actually done. As argued in Chapter 4, ethnography in organisational contexts can be used to ‘sanity check’ the strategic considerations on innovation and the design of new technology by careful analysis of, amongst other things, technology in use. Put another way, ethnography can be viewed as a means to inform requirements for new systems and/or processes, by producing alternative accounts of the ‘problem’ to be solved, emphasising the meaningful and practical human activity involved in the orientation of participants to each other and to technology (Hughes et al. 1993; Randall et al. 1993). Such descriptions, then, provide a base-line understanding into which new processes or systems may have to fit.