Research in focus: Achieving ICT4D project success by altering the context, not the technology.
To reduce the gap between the perceptions of those who create the system and those who use it, users make possible adaptations not only to the technology itself but also to the social, financial, organizational and cultural rules of interaction with the new infrastructure.
Objective: To investigate the factors of success in large IT projects (of large geographic scale for many users) in developing countries, particularly in environments without an adequate technological infrastructure.
• Research with banking correspondents in the urban areas of Greater São Paulo and rural areas in the Pajeú Valley, an inland area of the State of Pernambuco
• More than 50 interviews conducted between October 2011 and March 2012 with users, bank employees and system developers and managers in the banks
• Because system planners are used to addressing an enlightened population and are familiar with this financial services use profile, they developed a system for banking correspondents (retailers that handle small banking operations, such as account payments and receipt of government benefits) with parameters that are not aligned with the reality of areas that previously had no access to banking operations.
• As it is impossible to alter rigid technologies, banking correspondents help people use the system by breaking the rules of use. For example, the owners of retail establishments that serve as bank correspondents receive pieces of paper from the users that contain passwords, which should be kept secret, to help them complete the operations. They also “borrow” money from the business itself when there is not enough cash to process the transactions.
• These “adaptations” are unnoticed by the system controllers in the banks, who assess their performance positively and do not perceive the gap between the technology that has been developed and the profiles of the users.
• This research shows that in complex situations (large-scale developing countries, financial inclusion), users do not necessarily modify a technology as had been imagined but instead modify the context in which it is used. In the case studied, financial and social rules were modified so the system could function.
• Contrary to what had been thought, customers are not always the users of the systems. In this case, when the customers were unable to input their own passwords, intermediaries (banking correspondents) acted as “human ATMs” and completed the operations, which were adapted to fit the context rather than the end user.
• The findings of this research can contribute towards defining new parameters for large-scale financial inclusion projects by expanding the scope of the aspects that must be considered.