The main focus of this study is to examine CFOs choice of communication
media under different task situations. What media do they use for
different tasks? How, or on what basis, do they make their choice?
Why do they choose one media over another?
To address these questions a case study methodology is adopted
for this exploratory study. The details of the research design and
its limitations are outlined in the following sections.
Given the research questions the case study approach is an appropriate
method. Yin (1989) said that a case study is appropriate when "a
`how' or `why' question is being asked about a contemporary set
of events over which the investigator has little or no control."
This fits neatly with the above-mentioned nature of this exploratory
study. A case study approach is particularly useful because it permits
the collection and presentation of more details and `softer' data.
It should be noted that the case study approach adopted in this
study relies primarily on the data collected through interviews
with subjects, rather than direct observation of the subjects during
the performance of their daily communication tasks.
The organizations chosen for this study belong to the Over-The-Counter
(OTC) financial market industry sector in Australia. These organizations
include two major Australian banks and one treasury corporation.
The OTC markets include all financial market transactions not
listed on an authorised exchange. They include fixed interest, bank
bill, foreign exchange and equity derivatives. This market has witnessed
exponential growth in the last decade; and technologically, it is
regarded as a very sophisticated industry able to handle the speed,
diverse ranges of constant financial transactions. Consequently,
organizations in this market are expected to have a very high level
of information technology maturity such that the acceptance of modern
communication media is expected to pass critical mass. This avoids
one of the problems that could have contributed towards the conflicting
results in prior media choice study. Where the critical mass has
not been reached, the context would introduce a bias against modern
Moreover, by focusing on one specific market, the organizational
culture and structure are more likely to be similar. The net effect
is that the background conditions noted in the framework is partially
controlled. This minimises the possibility that the findings are
attributable to variation in the background conditions.
The unit of analysis of this study is that of senior financial
managers, people that perform accounting related tasks as part of
their job. Five subjects were involved in this study: two from each
bank and one from the treasury corporation. They are selected on
the basis of location, accessibility, personal contacts of the supervisor
and willingness to help with the research project.
By restricting the sample to the OTC market, the generalizability
of the results could be doubted. A related limitation is the small
and non-random sample size. The non-random sample is, however, consistent
with the specific focus and nature of this study. A smaller but
focused sample permits a more detailed exploration of the research
questions. The exploratory nature of this study meant that the main
aim is not to prove some general proposition, rather it is to seek
a better understanding of the media choice process.
Although a broader industry scope and a larger sample size would
be desirable, the time constraints imposed by the honours programme
prevents this. The existence of a large body of literature on media
choice also help minimises the difficulties in generalising the
results with such a small sample size.
The primary means of data collection was through a structured
interview. It was structured in that the subjects worked through
a questionnaire during the interview.
The researchers took the questionnaire
to the subject's office at a prearranged time.
The subjects were asked to complete the questionnaire in front of
the researchers. They were encouraged to verbalise the reasons for
their particular choice, or any other comments, opinions that they
may have. Some rather insightful comments have been gained in the
process. These were all recorded on tape for later analysis. After
the questionnaire had been completed the researchers follow up with
any additional questions necessary to clarify or elucidate the reasons
behind the subject's particular choice of communication media. This is particularly important where the subjects
chose more than one communication media to accomplish the task.
The whole process typically took 45 minutes.
In addition, observations of the general office environment of
the subjects were noted. This is done particularly with respect
to the technological "atmosphere" or "feel" of the organization.
This provides a check on the expected high level of IT maturity
of the organizations.
A questionnaire instrument was used to give structure to the interview
rather than a series of verbal questions for two main reasons. First,
this maintained consistency across all subjects and hence facilitated
comparison. Second, the answers to the questionnaire itself provided
an important source of data. The need to understand the subject's
media choice process, given the myriad of task characteristics and
other determinants of media choice, makes it most efficient to gather
the require information through a questionnaire instrument, where
their relationship can be examined systematically and succinctly.
It is acknowledged that a questionnaire alone is unable to of
identify the reasons behind the choice. However, this limitation
is mitigated by two additional features of this research design:
(i) the presence of a comprehensive framework,
and (ii) the interview structure that permits the subjects to state
their reasons and opinions during and after the questionnaire. The
latter adds substance to the data collected from the questionnaire
alone and makes the result more concrete.
A copy of the questionnaire is in Appendix 1. The questionnaire
was self-constructed. It was based substantially on D'Ambra (1995)'s
questionnaire instrument because time limits prevented the development
of a new instrument from scratch. This also partially ensures the
construct validity of the instrument.
The questionnaire contained a cover sheet explaining the purpose
of this study, the instructions, and a sheet with the definitions
of communication media under study.
Definitions were provided to minimise deviation in the subjects'
understanding of the terms, particularly in relation to the modern
communication media. The subjects tended to refer to the definitions
when answering the questionnaire. This enhances the comparability
between the questionnaires.
The second part of the questionnaire contained the questions.
The questions are divided into four parts. The purpose of each part
- Part 1: General questions to elicit availability, usage pattern
and attitude towards technology or communication media. These
questions and the demographic questions in part 4 indicate how
the subjects stoutline sources outlined in the framework.
- Part 2: Determination of subject's media choice under different
tasks and different variations of the tasks. The communication
media and the variations on the communication task were presented
in a matrix form to simplify the presentation and to speed up
the answering process. This format also permitted the subjects
to choose more than one communication media for each task.
- Part 3: Determination of the equivocality of the task using
the instrument developed by Withey, Daft and Cooper (1983).
- Part 4: Demographics information.
The five communication tasks were selected on the following basis:
- to achieve a maximum spread of equivocality;
- to be representative of subjects' tasks; and
- to ensure that all communication media has a fair chance of
Four of the communication tasks were drawn from D'Ambra (1995). The wordings for two of the tasks were modified slightly to
align them with the accounting nature of subjects' tasks. The other
communication task (ie. Question 14) was created to introduce a
group communication task dimension that was not examined in the
D'Ambra study. Because this task is not pre-tested, nor is it derived
through any formal approach, the validity of this question can be
questioned. This said, observation during the interview indicates
that questions 14(a) and (b) seem to get the desired message across;
but part (c) presented certain problems related to understanding
the task presented. Anyhow, question 14 did trigger in many instances
some rather detailed and insightful comments.
The framework in Chapter 3 pointed out that
there are many task characteristics that could influence media choice.
To test the impact of these other task characteristics on media
choice, this study introduced six additional variations for each
of the five tasks studied. These variations are:
- (a) the other person(s) is/ are located on the same floor;
- (b) the other person(s) is/ are located on the same city (but
not the same building);
- (c) the other person(s) is / are located in a different country;
- (d)the other person(s) is/ are not in their office;
- (e) it is not during the other person(s) working hour; and
- (f) a time constraint aspect for each of the above variations
(ie. increasing the urgency of the task).
These six variations are meant to cover the task characteristics
noted in the framework, besides the task characteristic of equivocality,
that have not been examined in prior studies.
In addition to the limitation noted above, the validity of this
research design relies upon the subjects' answers only. No attempt
was made to observe directly their media choice when performing
their actual day-to-day tasks. The data collected was essentially
what communication media the subjects think they would choose when
faced with the different task situations presented. There is, however,
no guarantee that their actual choice is the same. This said, it
is reasonable to say that the deviation (if any) from actual practice
is unlikely to be significant.
A related limitation is that the tasks presented many not be representative
of the subject's range of tasks. The lack of time prevented the
use of focus groups or preliminary interviews with managers to construct
more realistic tasks. The difficulty in generating appropriate tasks
for the subject is further complicated by the lack of literature
on the role of these subjects. To the extent that the tasks are
too artificial or did not cover the subject's broad range of tasks,
the ability of this research design to support the framework presented
would be weakened.
The questionnaire response and the taped comments were analysed
in relation to the framework in Chapter 3.
First, the media chosen by the subjects for the variations of each
communication task are compared. Second, comparisons were made between
the different communication tasks. Given the small sample size no
statistical test was performed. Rather, the result was documented
in the next chapter in the format of a case study
Some may argue that the lack of a statistical test would deprive
the study of objectivity, but it is submitted that the level of
details provided by the subjects' comments more than compensate
for any deficiency in this regard. Any potential bias is further
mitigated by the systematic documentation and presentation of the
data collected. Moreover, the lack of scientific (statistical) generalisation
is really irrelevant in that under a case study approach it is analytical
generalizability that is crucial. The design of the study and the
framework provides support for this theoretical generalisation in
Consistent with the exploratory nature of this study and the `how'
and `why' research questions posed a case study research methodology
was adopted. This methodology enabled the collection and presentation
of more substantial details in relation to the subject's media choice.
As with all research studies there are limitations, but the use
of the interview questionnaire approach to collect the data and
the systematic, detailed presentation of the analysis would nonetheless
enrich our understanding of media choice.
Yin (1989), p20.
 Reference to researchers in
this section refer to my supervisor and myself.
 An exception is that for one
interview a copy of the questionnaire instrument was faxed through
to the person beforehand (as requested by the person).
 Often, the comments made along
the way were more than adequate.
 See Chapter
 Video conference was not included
in the instrument because it was felt that it is unlikely to be
used by the organizations studied. However, unexpectedly, two subjects
pointed out the absence of video conference among the media choice.
 This is the same instrument
used in D'Ambra (1995). Whilst it is acknowledged that this instrument
is imperfect, the exploratory nature of this research preclude the
design and testing of a different instrument. Anyhow, equivocality
is not the only nor the main concern of this study.
 In D'Ambra (1995) the tasks
are generated through focus groups and content analysis. This ensure
the ecological validity of the task. In that study, a large Australian
insurance company was the source of the data.