Making smart promises: the role of accounting in artificial intelligence sales
Abstract: This thesis explores the role of accounting in business-to-business sales processes of artificial intelligence technologies. The study is conducted through a dual-case study at two Swedish artificial intelligence companies based on semi-structured interviews and organisational sales documents, focusing on the pilot part of the sales process. The empirical material is analysed through the theoretical lens of effectuation. Our study explores two parallel research questions; illuminating the role of accounting in the sales process, and identifying the characteristics and mechanics of promises made by vendors and clients. Our findings suggest that the role of accounting is to mediate between client objectives and the deployment of the innovation through an iterative learning process of need analysis and sales tactics. This indicates that the role of accounting is to enable and steer innovation. Moreover, we have showed that promises in the innovation sales context are initially abstract and informal but concretise over time as a result of an iterative learning process of need analysis and sales tactics. This indicates a tripartite link between the role of accounting, the concept of mediation, and promises; accounting mediated between promises and client objectives. Furthermore, our findings have tentatively extended the intra-organisational concepts of hardening and evaluative pressures to the inter-organisational domain, and suggest that hardening is a result of learning processes and sales tactics. Our main contribution is to illuminate the role of accounting in sales of artificial intelligence technologies by demonstrating its enabling and mediating role, while we also have empirically described the abstraction of promises and their temporal concretisation; both contributions as a result of iterative learning processes and sales tactics. Lastly, we have contributed to the theory of effectuation by showing its role in artificial intelligence sales, most pronouncedly in terms of describing the role of iterative learning processes in artefact creation.
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