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ERP and precautionary ethics: harnessing critical thinking to engender sustainability

Kala Saravanamuthu (Newcastle Business School, Faculty of Business and Law, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia)
Carole Brooke (Warwick Manufacturing Group, International Management Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)
Michael Gaffikin (School of Accounting and Finance, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 17 May 2013



The purpose of this paper is to review critical emancipatory literature to identify a discourse that could be used to successfully customise generic Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems to particular user‐needs. The customisation exercise is posited in the context of contemporary society, which has to try to become more sustainable amidst uncertainty about the complex interrelationships between elements of the ecosystem. It raises new challenges for the customisation exercise, that of fostering the precautionary ethos and engaging realistically with complexity and uncertainty inherent in emergent knowledge about ecological resilience.


This is a conceptual paper that draws on published research papers to tease out political constructs which are vital for facilitating sustainable decisions.


This paper argues that the critical emancipatory influence on systems design has generated attempts to formulate socio‐ethical information systems. However, these systems are limited by their inability to engage with the politics of asymmetrical distribution of power, even though these systems rely on bottom‐up participation to change the status quo. Hence, it is suggested that systems design should learn from Gandhi's experiences in mobilising social reform to instil a precautionary ethos in the context of asymmetrical power relations. The discourse used to customise ERP should facilitate social learning about ecological resilience as it affects the capacity to reform in the interest of sustainable outcomes. It is proposed that the discourse be socially constructed on the vocabulary of integrated risk because it would enable management to take advantage of lived experiences and enhance the organisation's capacity to learn about formulating sustainable business practices.

Practical implications

The recommended approach to identifying user‐needs (in customising ERP) is based on Gandhi's tried‐and‐tested approaches of mobilising bottom‐up participation in social reform.


This paper brings in Eastern philosophy (namely Advaitic thinking) into the predominately Western‐dominated systems design arena. Its value lies in its practical applicability to real‐world design challenges.



Saravanamuthu, K., Brooke, C. and Gaffikin, M. (2013), "ERP and precautionary ethics: harnessing critical thinking to engender sustainability", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 92-111.



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