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Abstract

The paper extends the concept of "user" to account for a new, more formalized role that some client organizations play in the diffusion of packaged enterprise systems. Package vendors are attempting to draw parts of their user base into activities related to the promotion, selling, and commodification of systems. Users, in turn, appear willing to help construct these systems as objects of consumption for others. This can appear to be rather idiosyncratic behavior. Information Systems scholars have argued that relations between packaged enterprise system vendors and users are attenuated. Why might the user help the vendor market its systems in this way? What benefits accrue from it? And what role are users performing in carrying out this work? To show how this is becoming a general facet of the work of some packaged enterprise system users, we develop the notion of "reference actor," which is an extension of the earlier Information Systems concept of "social actor." In combining insights from the social shaping of technology and the biography of artifacts, and drawing on long-term qualitative fieldwork, we analyze this new actor role in relation to expectations and commitments coming from the wider packaged enterprise system community. In return for the help provided to prospective adopters, reference actors are also able to gather various kinds of benefits for themselves and others. In particular, they build closer relations with vendors such that they can influence product development strategies.

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