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SMEs' e-commerce adoption: Perspectives from Denmark and Australia

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Purpose The paper aims to provide an insight about factors affecting business‐to‐business e‐commerce adoption and implementation in small to medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs), highlighting similarities and differences between Danish and Australian SMEs. Design/methodology/approach The research is based on a wide literature review, focused on proposing a theoretical model of technological, environmental and organisational factors influencing e‐commerce adoption and implementation. Subsequently, a questionnaire based on the research model has been developed and face‐to‐face interviews were conducted in Danish and Australian companies. Findings The findings both corroborate previous results about significant factors affecting SMEs' business‐to‐business e‐commerce adoption and implementation and provide new, interesting insights. The study also finds many similarities and differences between Denmark and Australia. Research limitations/implications The main limitation relates to the difficulty of generalisation of the findings to a larger population of SMEs. To overcome this, a statistical survey is planned to be conducted in the future. Practical implications The results of the empirical research provide indication to SMEs interested to adopt business‐to‐business e‐commerce, large companies interested to conduct e‐commerce transactions with small and medium‐size companies and policy makers. Originality/value This paper both contributes to enhancing the understanding of the factors affecting business‐to‐business e‐commerce adoption and implementation in SMEs and provides some interesting perspectives from Denmark and Australia.
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SMEs’ e-commerce adoption:
perspectives from Denmark and
Australia
Ada Scupola
Department of Communication, Business and Information Technologies,
Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark
Abstract
Purpose The paper aims to provide an insight about factors affecting business-to-business
e-commerce adoption and implementation in small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), highlighting
similarities and differences between Danish and Australian SMEs.
Design/methodology/approach The research is based on a wide literature review, focused on
proposing a theoretical model of technological, environmental and organisational factors influencing
e-commerce adoption and implementation. Subsequently, a questionnaire based on the research model
has been developed and face-to-face interviews were conducted in Danish and Australian companies.
Findings The findings both corroborate previous results about significant factors affecting SMEs’
business-to-business e-commerce adoption and implementation and provide new, interesting insights.
The study also finds many similarities and differences between Denmark and Australia.
Research limitations/implications The main limitation relates to the difficulty of generalisation
of the findings to a larger population of SMEs. To overcome this, a statistical survey is planned to be
conducted in the future.
Practical implications The results of the empirical research provide indication to SMEs
interested to adopt business-to-business e-commerce, large companies interested to conduct
e-commerce transactions with small and medium-size companies and policy makers.
Originality/value This paper both contributes to enhancing the understanding of the factors
affecting business-to-business e-commerce adoption and implementation in SMEs and provides some
interesting perspectives from Denmark and Australia.
Keywords Electronic commerce, Internet, Small to medium-sized enterprises, Denmark, Australia
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) are crucial for the economic performance
and development of any country and are an important source of flexibility and
innovation (OECD, 2002). SMEs represent between 96 and 99 per cent of the total
number of enterprises in most OECD countries. In Australia, SMEs account for about
one-third of GDP and 70 per cent of total employment. In Denmark, SMEs account for
almost 100 per cent of the firms and account for 70 per cent of total employment
(OECD, 2000).
There are many definitions of SMEs. For Australia the Australian Bureau of
Statistics’ definition is adopted according to which a small and medium-size business is
any business employing less than 200 employees (www.abs.gov.au). As for Denmark,
the European Parliament definition is adopted according to which SMEs are
businesses with up to 250 employees (OECD, 2002).
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/1741-0398.htm
JEIM
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Journal of Enterprise Information
Management
Vol. 22 No. 1/2, 2009
pp. 152-166
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
1741-0398
DOI 10.1108/17410390910932803
SMEs can widely benefit from e-commerce (OECD, 2000, 2002). Here e-commerce
is defined as “the sharing of business information, maintaining business
relationships, and conducting business transactions by means of
telecommunications networks” (Zwass, 1997). The focus is on transactions
conducted over the internet and worldwide web and on business-to-business
e-commerce. According to OECD (2000) even though SMEs are increasingly
adopting e-commerce, their use and exploitation is still limited and small companies
have a limited understanding of its potential. Therefore the major purpose of this
study is to investigate the following research question: “what are the significant
drivers and inhibitors of business-to-business e-commerce adoption and
implementation in SMEs?” To answer the research question, empirical data were
collected in the metropolitan areas of Brisbane in Australia and Copenhagen in
Denmark. These two countries are interesting because they are representative of
other developed economies with respect to SMEs’ e-commerce adoption.
Nevertheless there are still differences between them.
The article is structured as follows. This section has introduced the motivation and
purpose of the study. The second section discusses the importance of the selection of
Australia and Denmark and gives a short overview of these countries’ e-commerce
policy initiatives. The third section argues for the study theoretical importance and
develops a conceptual model for the investigation of the research question. The fourth
section presents and justifies the research method and the data collection process. The
following section presents the study results, while the last section discusses the
findings, limitations and conclusions of the study.
2. Danish and Australian background
Many studies have addressed governmental support for e-commerce adoption as
government policies and especially ICT policies can, if successfully implemented,
promote the uptake and adoption of e-commerce among SMEs (e.g. OECD, 2002;
Papazafeiropoulou, 2004; Al-Qirim, 2006; Scupola, 2005). Given the purpose of the
study, the Australian and Danish ICT policies in relation to SMEs are briefly reviewed
here. In Australia, a key policy objective has been to create the conditions for
improvement of the economic environment and growth prospects for SMEs, among
which to reach a widespread use of e-commerce (OECD, 2002). A number of specific
ICT policy initiatives and interventions have been undertaken among which The
Building on IT Strengths (BITS) Incubator program, the National Technology Online
program (ITOL), the Business Entry Point (www.business.gov.au) and the online
Business Resources Facility that collects information regarding starting and running a
business including training (OECD, 2002).
In Denmark, the government has developed a set of measures to improve SMEs
competitiveness including regulatory reforms to simplify rules and regulations for
example through the introduction of e-government. Regarding ICT policy, the Danish
government aim is to collaborate with industry and commerce association to enhance
IT and e-commerce diffusion. In April 2002 the Danish government introduced the IT
and telecommunication policy plan entitled: “IT for all: Denmark’s future” (OECD,
2002). The report highlights seven major policy areas that should strengthen the use of
IT and e-commerce in SMEs including enhanced use of IT in corporate Denmark, a
competitive telecommunications sector, strong IT competency, an IT-based public
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sector and IT security. Specific initiatives include a nation-wide network of
technological information centres to provide free information, advice and assistance to
SMEs and an online portal for SMEs’ self-assessment of export readiness (OECD,
2002). Table I provides some statistics about e-commerce in Australian and Danish
SMEs.
3. Theoretical background and a research model
The generic innovation characteristics and organisational characteristics are strong
predictors of IT adoption by both individuals and organisations (Jeyaraj et al., 2006).
According to Rogers (1995), adoption is a decision to make full use of an innovation as
the best course of action whereas rejection is a decision not to adopt an available
innovation. In this study, adoption is defined as the decision to make use of b-to-b
electronic commerce to conduct business or transaction with trading partners. There
are two levels of adoption. Initially, innovation must be purchased, adopted and
acquired by an organisation. Subsequently, it must be accepted by the ultimate users in
that organisation also called implementation (Chong and Bauer, 2000; Rogers, 1995).
Many studies have been conducted that investigate factors affecting e-commerce
adoption in SMEs (see section 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3). They group these factors in different
ways. In this study by following the technology, organisational, and environmental
(TOE) framework developed by Tornatzky and Fleischer (1990), I group these factors
into environmental, technological and organisational. Previous studies have also used
this framework in the context of IT adoption in SMEs (e.g. Ramdani and Kawalek,
2007; Scupola, 2003; Lertwongsatien and Wongpinunwatana, 2003; Premkumar, 2003;
Kuan and Chau, 2001). These studies are important and significant for the purpose of
this study because they theoretically and empirically identify a number of factors
affecting IT and e-commerce adoption in SMEs. However, as the rate of e-commerce
adoption and diffusion among SMEs increases and consequently SMEs become more
acquainted and sophisticated in incorporating e-commerce in their operations it can be
expected that the drivers and inhibitors of e-commerce adoption and implementation
change as a result. Therefore still the need of empirical studies to monitor the status
quo. It is expected that the results of this study can be of interest to researchers, small
and large companies and policy makers.
Item Denmark Australia
SMEs purchasing on the
internet and other computer
networks
30 per cent (with employees
between 10-50)
50 per cent (with employees
between 50-249)
Circa 20 per cent (with employees
between 10-19)
Circa 30 per cent (with employees
above 20)
SMEs selling on the internet or
other computer networks
Circa 25 per cent (with
employees between 10-249)
Less then 10 per cent (with
employees between 0-10
employees)
Between 10 and 20 per cent (firms
with more then 10 employees)
Note: The data do not distinguish B-to-B from B-to-C e-commerce or EDI
Source: OECD (2002)
Table I.
E-commerce use by SMEs
in Denmark and
Australia
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3.1 Technological environment context
The technological context represents the pool of technologies available to a firm for
adoption. These can be both the technologies available on the market and the firms’
current equipment. The decision to adopt a technology depends not only on what is
available on the market, but also on how such technologies fit with the technologies
that a firm already possesses (Tornatzky and Fleischer, 1990; Chau and Tam, 1997;
Jeyaraj et al., 2006). Rogers (1995) found that perceived relative advantage (perceived
electronic commerce benefits and impact), compatibility (both technical and
organisational), trialability (the degree to which electronic commerce can be pilot
tested), complexity (ease of use or learning electronic commerce) and observability (the
extent to which relative advantage or gains are clear) of the technological innovation
were important technological factors influencing the adoption decision. Previous
studies (e.g. Chong and Bauer, 2000; Jeyaraj et al., 2006) show that these technological
factors have been the key feature of several information technology adoption studies
(e.g. Iacovou et al., 1995). A thorough literature review of factors affecting e-commerce
adoption in SMEs shows that the most significant factors are relative advantage such
as perceived benefits and barriers (e.g. Iacovou et al., 1995; Scupola, 2003; Kuan and
Chau, 2001; Thong, 1999; Mirchandani and Motwani, 2001), and e-commerce related
technologies (e.g. Scupola, 2003). Therefore these factors are included in the model of
Figure 1.
3.2 Organisational environment context
The organisational context represents the factors internal to an organisation
influencing an innovation adoption and implementation (Tornatzky and Fleischer,
1990). Some of the organisational factors more cited in the literature are organisational
size (Iacovou et al., 1995) and organisational structure (Jeyaraj et al., 2006). The
successful adoption and implementation of technological innovations within
organisations has been often related to the support of top management (e.g. Jeyaraj
et al., 2006; Sabherwal et al., 2006) or the product champion (Thong, 1999; Jeyaraj et al.,
2006). Other important factors are organisational readiness (e.g. Iacovou et al., 1995).
Figure 1.
A model of e-commerce
adoption in SMEs
E-commerce
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155
Finally the communication process that an organisation uses to communicate
knowledge and persuasion of technology adoption has been extensively investigated in
the literature as an important adoption and implementation factor (Rogers, 1995;
Tornatzky and Fleischer, 1990). A thorough literature review of factors affecting SMEs
e-commerce adoption shows that the most significant factors include top management
support, CEO characteristics (Mirchandani and Motwani, 2001; Dholakia and Kshetri,
2004; Thong, 1999), employees’ IS knowledge and attitude (Sabherwal et al., 2006;
Thong, 1999; Mirchandani and Motwani, 2001), and resource constraints such as
financial and human resources of the firm (Iacovou et al., 1995; Tornatzky and
Fleischer, 1990). Therefore these factors are included in the model of Figure 1. By
following Thong (1999), CEO characteristics are identified here with CEO’s
innovativeness and CEO’s IS knowledge and attitude. In fact, “unless the CEO has
the will to innovate there is little that other members of the business can do to expedite
IS adoption or increase the extent of adoption” (Thong, 1999, p. 191). By following
Sabherwal et al. (2006, p. 1851), top management support is defined here as favourable
attitude towards e-commerce in general, while employees’ IS knowledge and attitude
includes employees’ attitude towards e-commerce, employees’ experience with
e-commerce and employees’ formal and informal e-commerce training. Table II
summarises previous studies supporting these factors as significant determinant of IT
adoption.
3.3 External environment
The external environment is the arena in which an organisation conducts its business.
Two major environmental pressures in SMEs’ e-commerce adoption are pressure from
trading partners such as suppliers and customers and competitive pressure (e.g.
Iacovou et al., 1995; Jeyaraj et al., 2006). Other factors affecting e-commerce adoption
and diffusion are national factors. For example past studies have shown that
innovations diffuse differently depending on the country socio-cultural environment.
Other important factors are the level of national infrastructure and government
involvement in fostering e-commerce adoption (e.g. Al-Qirim, 2006; Papazafeiropoulou,
2004). A thorough literature review shows that significant external factors that might
influence SMEs’ e-commerce adoption are competitive pressures (Dholakia and
Kshetri, 2004; Zhu et al., 2003), pressure from trading partners such as buyers and
suppliers (Iacovou et al., 1995; Grandon and Pearson, 2003), the role of government
(Kuan and Chau, 2001; Scupola, 2005), and technology support infrastructure such as
access and quality of ICT consulting services (Scupola, 2003). Therefore they are
included in the model in Figure 1.
Variable Studies
CEO characteristics and top management support Thong (1999); Thong and Yap (1995);
Mirchandani and Motwani (2001); Rai and
Howard, 1994); Sabherwal et al. (2006); Jeyaraj
et al. (2006); Scupola (2003)
Employees’ IS knowledge and attitude Sabherwal et al. (2006); Thong (1999); Jeyaraj et al.
(2006); Taylor and Todd (1995); Scupola (2003)
Table II.
Overview of studies
supporting CEO
characteristics, top
management support and
employees’ IS knowledge
and attitude as
significant determinant of
IT adoption
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4. Research approach and data collection
A critical issue in answering the research question was whether to use a quantitative
research method such as a survey or a qualitative research method such as the case
study.
Here the choice to use a qualitative research method has been made because the
study’s main intention was to identify “the significant drivers and inhibitors of
business-to-business e-commerce adoption and implementation in SMEs”. This has
been done by conducting a thorough literature review of studies investigating such
factors and by conducting preliminary qualitative interviews with CEOs and key
SMEs managers dealing with e-commerce adoption. In a second phase the author
intends to use these study results to conduct a comprehensive survey in the area of
Brisbane and Copenhagen to further test these qualitative results. This research design
has been successfully employed in similar studies (Chong and Bauer, 2000). Miles and
Huberman (1994) also state that strengths of the qualitative data are their focus on
“naturally occurring, ordinary events in natural settings ... and provide “thick
descriptions” that are vivid, nested in real context and are also well suited for locating
the meanings people place on events, processes and structures” (p. 10).
4.1 Data collection
The data collection included library searches, face-to-face focused interviews,
documentary information such as companies reports and companies websites.
Following Yin (1994) focused interviews have been used because “their major purpose
is to corroborate certain facts that already have been established” (Yin, 1994, p. 90). By
following Iacovou et al. (1995), to enhance validity summaries of each interview’ major
findings were verified by the participants after the end of each interview session. To
increase reliability an interview protocol was used and a database was developed (Yin,
1994). The protocol questions were organised into two parts. The first captured
company background information such as type of business, years in business, level of
e-commerce adoption and e-commerce activities. This information were supplemented
by information provided on companies’ website, annual reports, sales brochures and
other material provided by the companies. The second part specifically aimed at
collecting information about the significant factors affecting adoption of e-commerce.
These questions were derived from the technology, environment and organisation
contexts of the Tornatzky and Fleischer’s (1990) model (Figure 1). For example within
the environmental context, the questions focused on role of competitors, suppliers,
buyers, government, and technology support infrastructure in the adoption and extent
of implementation of e-commerce in the company. However, even though the
interviews focused on these categories, the respondent was free to talk about other
factors as well. In addition, each interview ended by inviting the respondent to add
anything else that could have affected e-commerce adoption in his/her company. The
interviews lasted for about 1 hour. All interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed.
Notes were also taken during the interviews. The interviews were conducted with
CEOs and managers responsible for e-commerce adoption and implementation. By
following Miles and Huberman (1994, p. 58) a provisional “start list” of codes was
created prior to the field work to guide the analysis. The coding was manual. This
“start list” came from the conceptual framework and the research question. Specifically
it was based on three main categories corresponding to the three contexts of the
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research model of Figure 1 (technological, organisational and environmental contexts).
Codes and sub-codes were also generated. New codes emerged progressively during
the data collection, uncovering new factors not included in the model. For example the
factors of the technological context provided in Table III were mostly empirically
generated during the data collection phase under the different sub codes of e-commerce
barriers, benefits and e-commerce related technologies. Specific analytic techniques
included putting information into different arrays, making matrixes of categories and
placing evidence within such categories (Yin, 1994; Miles and Huberman, 1994). The
qualitative data obtained from the interviews was analyzed using the strategies
outlined in Miles and Huberman (1994). By following Chong and Bauer (2000) and
Iacovou et al. (1995) a factor is considered to be significant if it was perceived by the
respondent to have influenced e-commerce adoption and implementation.
4.2 Company selection process
To investigate the research question four SMEs in each country were selected and
interviewed. The selection criteria were:
(1) The firms had to have already adopted and implemented B-to-B e-commerce or
had intent to do so. Similarly to Zhu et al. (2003) a firm is considered to have
intent if it plans to implement e-commerce within two years.
Denmark Australia
E-commerce barriers
Low employees’ IT knowledge (C1, C4)
Lack of understanding of new technology (C1)
Lack of innovativeness of the CEO (C1, C4)
Lack of managerial time (C2)
Productivity decrease (F1, F3, F4)
Cost (F1, F2, F4)
Lack of visible return on investment (F1, F2, F3, F4)
Technology change and evolution (F2)
Customers readiness (F1)
Vendor lock in (F2), Lack of trust in banks (F3)
Lack of bandwidth outside the capital cities (F3)
Loss of sales due to unreliable service providers (F4)
CEO’s lack of IS knowledge (F4)
E-commerce benefits
Reduction of administrative burden (C1, C2)
Increased efficiency (C1, C2, C4)
Improved communication (C1, C2, C4)
Fast access to information (C1, C4)
Effective advertising (C1)
Increased number of customers (C1, C2)
Improved customer service (C1,C2)
Opening of new offices (C1)
Increased company visibility (C2, C3, C4)
Contribution to Internationalisation (C1, C2, C4)
Fast access to information (F1, F2, F3, F4)
Reduction of administrative burden (F1, F2)
First mover advantage (F2)
Contribution to internationalisation (F3)
Increased company visibility (F1, F3)
Increased market potential (F4)
Increased collaboration (F3)
Increased public media interest (F1)
Online customer support (F2)
Online training (F2)
E-commerce related technologies
Digital camera (C1, C2, C4)
Scanner (C2, C4)
Push technology (F2)
Videoconferencing (F3)
Video camera connected with PCs (F3)
Internet security (F3)
Table III.
A summary of significant
factors within the
technological context in
Australia and Denmark
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(2) The companies had to be located in geographical proximity: Copenhagen area
in Denmark and Brisbane area in Australia. This criterion should control for
potential effects of macro-level regional differences such as access to
consultants and vendors on individual firm e-commerce adoption.
(3) The companies had to be registered SMEs and could belong to different
business sectors.
Studies on SMEs’ e-commerce adoption focus either on specific sectors or several
sectors. Being the objective of the study to investigate adoption and implementation of
business-to-business e-commerce in SMEs, it has been assumed that firms belonging to
different business sectors would lead to a richer data set than companies belonging to
the same sector. The Danish companies were selected with the help of the Danish
Chamber of Commerce. To contact and select the sample companies in Australia,
assistance was provided by a research assistant at Queensland University of
Technology, who in advance had been informed about the objective of the study and
the companies’ selection criteria. Due to the companies’ wish the names are kept
undisclosed. A summary of the Danish and Australian companies’ characteristics is
provided in Tables IV and V respectively.
5. An analysis of SMEs’ e-commerce adoption in Denmark and Australia
This section is structured around the environmental, organisational and technological
contexts of Tornatzky and Fleischer’s (1990) framework (Figure 1).
5.1 Technological context
In this study perceived e-commerce barriers and benefits and e-commerce related
technologies have been found to be significant enablers or inhibitors in the adoption
and implementation process. These results mainly corroborate previous research
(Scupola, 2003; Iacovou et al., 1995; Kuan and Chau, 2001; Mirchandani and Motwani,
2001). However, this study also finds many significant benefits and barriers not
previously discussed in the literature and many similarities and differences between
Australian and Danish companies (see Table III). For example regarding e-commerce
barriers Australian companies believed that e-commerce leads to a productivity
decrease mainly due to significant factors such as employees using e-mails for their
own purposes, too much junk e-mails and e-mail starting to be a mean of constant
interruption and distraction (F1, F3, F4).
Among the most significant short-time benefits mentioned by Australian and
Danish firms were reductions of administrative burden, improvement in
communication, easy access to information or products. A significant long-term
benefit mentioned by Australian and Danish companies was contribution to
internationalisation. For example in Denmark e-commerce had given the possibility
to C1 to open subsidiaries in other countries.
The study found that availability of e-commerce related technologies can be a
significant facilitator or inhibitor of e-commerce adoption and implementation both in
Danish and Australian firms. For example, in Australia F2 said that the coming into
the market of push technology, giving the possibility of streaming information out to
the clients could further enhance their implementation and use of e-commerce. F3
mentioned that internet-security issues such as theft of identity are still a significant
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Firm Business type
Years in
business
Number of
employees
International
business
Number
of PCs
Year of
e-commerce
adoption Level of e-commerce implementation
C1 B-to-B travel agency 15 50 Yes 11 1998 Placing and receiving orders (by web page), advertising,
e-banking, sending invoices
C2 Import of furniture 20 5 Yes 2 2002 Sending images, placing and receiving orders (by
e-mail), sending invoices, advertising, e-banking (had
intent to do these activities through the website)
C3 Institutional
bookshop
35 18 No 25 1996 Placing and receiving orders (by web page), interactions
with customers, paying and receiving payments,
advertising
C4 Marketing campaigns
for other businesses
12 5 Yes (limited) 7 1997 Downloading pictures, sending images, advertising,
placing and receiving orders (by e-mail) (had intent to do
these activities through the website)
Table IV.
Characteristics of the
companies located
in Denmark
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Firm Business type
Years in
business
Number
of
employees
International
business
Number
of PCs
Year of
e-commerce
adoption Level of e-commerce implementation
F1 Manage sites and facilities
for a produce market
40 35 No 15 2000 Searching information, online purchasing of office
supplies, market research (had intent to get to level 3)
F2 Provides Software to
companies and institutions
in Financial Services
20 140 Yes 160 1996 Level 3: online customer support, online training,
relationship management. Intranet is used for news, HR
management, and internal communication
F3 Provides consulting
services to SMEs and
government
6 3 No 3 1997 Level 3: marketing, online promotion, offering of trial
software from the website, searching information
F4 Manufacturing of
illuminating devices
32 80 Yes (limited) 19 1996 Chasing new customers, sending invoices and
purchasing orders (by e-mail), online purchasing of
office supplies (had intent to get to level 3)
Table V.
Characteristics of the
companies located in
Australia
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inhibitor in Australia in line with previous research (Amato-McCoy, 2007). In Denmark,
C2 and C4 found very convenient using a scanner and a digital camera for taking
pictures of products and sending them to the customers by e-mail or uploading them on
the web page.
5.2 Organisational context
This study finds that top management support and CEOs characteristics had been the
most significant organisational factors in adoption and implementation of e-commerce.
In all Danish and Australian companies the decision to adopt e-commerce had been
made by top management and CEOs, expect in C2, where the idea to adopt e-commerce
had generated among the employees due to customers’ pressure.
Employees’ knowledge and attitude towards e-commerce, whether as inhibitors or
facilitators of e-commerce adoption, are also significant both in Australia and
Denmark. Previous studies (Thong, 1999; Thong and Yap, 1995) have pointed out that
the CEO is generally the single point of authority, usually does not share information
with other organisation’s employees and is the only one with access to the information
needed to identify new opportunities. This study finds that CEOs, especially in
Australia, are starting taking into considerations the employees’ e-commerce
suggestions. For example in F2 an employee had taken the initiative to analyse
competitors’ web sites and as a result top management had decided to change the
structure of their own web site. F1 had hired a girl with extensive e-commerce
experience and that had a big impact in F1’s decisions regarding e-commerce adoption
and implementation. The CEO of F3 stated that he is willing to listen to employees’
suggestions regarding e-commerce usage and further implementation. In C2, an
employee had suggested the idea to adopt e-commerce to the CEO, who decided to
adopt it.
The firm’s resource constraints, both human and financial, have been a significant
factor in e-commerce adoption and implementation in Denmark and Australia. For
example F4 explicitly say that their CEO has as first priority everything related to
manufacturing. Only if there is money in the budget for that year, they can invest it in
ICT/e-commerce, even though ICT/e-commerce is very important in support functions
such as buying of primary material or selling of finished products. C2 considers lack of
human resources significant inhibitors of further e-commerce implementation. Only
three Danish firms (C1, C2, and C4) are willing to commit more human and financial
resources on further e-commerce implementation based on the realised benefits.
These results strongly support the findings of other studies regarding the most
significant organisational factors affecting e-commerce adoption in SMEs: CEO
characteristics and top management support, employees’ IS knowledge and attitude
(Thong, 1999; Mirchandani and Motwani); and resource constraints of the firm (Jeyaraj
et al., 2006; Iacovou et al., 1995). However, this study also finds that CEOs are starting
taking into consideration employees’ suggestions in their e-commerce adoption and
implementation decisions.
5.3 Environmental context
One significant environmental factor influencing adoption and implementation of
e-commerce both in Denmark and Australia has been pressure from customers. This
study also finds that both in Denmark and Australia the pressure from competitors
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and suppliers is not very significant. Only one Australian firm (F2) and two Danish
firms (C1, C4) said that competitive pressure had been a significant factor in their
decision to adopt e-commerce. Access and quality of ICT consulting services had been
a significant enabler or inhibitor of adoption and implementation in both countries.
The Australian companies, however, had been very dissatisfied with the quality of the
service providers. All the four Australian companies had changed service provider
several times, and only recently they started being satisfied with the quality of the
services provided.
While Danish SMEs found government role non significant, Australian companies
perceived government role as a significant factor impacting e-commerce adoption and
implementation, but only indirectly. In addition, two Australian companies (F1, F3)
believed that becoming the average citizen more informed and more used to
e-commerce would also influence the extent of adoption and implementation in small
businesses. For example F1 said that they had just hired a high school graduate who
had good database and e-commerce skills, acquired mainly as autodidact, and that had
influenced the firm’s way of using such tools. Two Australian companies (F1, F2) were
aware of government initiatives supporting e-commerce pilot projects but they were
sceptical about their influence on e-commerce adoption in SMEs. F3 believed that
globalisation, the open source movement and e-commerce adoption by big corporations
were significant enablers of e-commerce adoption in small companies. These results
therefore support previous studies regarding customer pressure, access and quality of
ICT consulting services (Scupola, 2003) in e-commerce adoption. However these
findings are different from previous ones regarding the significance of competitive
pressure (Thong, 1999; Zhu et al., 2003) and supplier pressure (Kuan and Chau, 2001).
Finally these results also support previous findings regarding the indirect role of
government as an enabler of e-commerce adoption through, for example, electronic
tendering and e-government (Kuan and Chau, 2001).
6. Discussion of findings and conclusions
This study has investigated significant factors affecting SMEs’ adoption and
implementation of B-to-B e-commerce in Australia and Denmark. The results both
corroborate previous findings and provide new, interesting insights. The study also
shows many similarities and differences between these two countries. The analysis
shows that two environmental factors are significant in e-commerce adoption both in
Australia and Denmark: customer pressure and access and quality of ICT consulting
services similarly to the results of Scupola (2003) in Southern Italy. Access and quality
of ICT consulting services was very satisfactory in both countries, however Australian
SMEs had been very dissatisfied with the quality of the service providers, which had
been an e-commerce adoption inhibitor in the past. Australian policy programs such as
the Building on IT Strengths (BITS) incubator program, designed to assist small
companies in the IT sector, are policy measures that might improve the quality and
reliability of the service providers, thus being a policy response to this adoption
inhibitor. This study has found that Australian SMEs perceive government as an
indirect source of influence through initiatives such e-government, electronic tendering
and pilot projects. These results are in line with other findings as for example Kuan
and Chau’s (2001) study of EDI adoption in Hong Kong. However, Australian firms are
still interested in policy leading to immediate tangible benefits such as tax breaks.
E-commerce
adoption
163
Finally globalisation, the open source movement and adoption by big corporations
have emerged as drivers of e-commerce adoption in Australian SMEs. However it is
difficult from this study to say whether these factors are peculiar to the ICT consulting
industry. Further research is necessary to test this.
Regarding the organisational context, the CEOs characteristics and top
management support have been found as the most significant factors influencing
e-commerce adoption both in Australia and Denmark. Employees’ IS knowledge and
attitudes and resource constraints have been found important as well, thus mostly
supporting previous studies (e.g. Thong, 1999; Mirchandani and Motwani, 2001). In
addition this study finds that CEOs and top management are starting taking into
consideration employees’ suggestions in e-commerce adoption and implementation
decisions. Finally, regarding the technological context, the study has found that
barriers and benefits are still significant factors in adoption decisions in all Danish and
Australian companies. Many policy measures have been undertaken by the Australian
and Danish government to decrease barriers and increase awareness of e-commerce
benefits (see section 2). These policy initiatives might serve as examples for other
countries wanting to improve the level of e-commerce adoption and implementation in
SMEs.
Finally this study is not free of limitations. First of all it is difficult to generalise
these findings to a larger population of SMEs. Therefore, it is the objective of the
author to conduct a statistical survey of SMEs in Brisbane and Copenhagen area. The
companies interviewed belong to different business sectors making it difficult to
control the variance in size and industry across the two countries. However, being the
focus of the study not on a single industrial sector, but broadly on e-commerce
adoption factors, the choice of samples in the same industry can be considered as
subject for future research. Another limitation of the study is addressing two highly
developed countries. It might have been more interesting for example to conduct the
study in a developed and an underdeveloped economy. Nevertheless, this study both
corroborates previous findings and presents new insights into SMEs
business-to-business e-commerce adoption drivers and inhibitors. Therefore it might
be of interest to researchers, SMEs owners, practicing managers, and policy makers.
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About the author
Ada Scupola is an associate professor at the Department of Communication, Business and
Information Technologies, Roskilde University, Denmark. She holds a PhD in social sciences
from Roskilde University, an MBA from the University of Maryland at College Park, USA and a
MSc. from the University of Bari, Italy. She is the editor-in-chief of The International Journal of
E-Services and Mobile Applications. Her main research interests are e-services, adoption and
diffusion of e-commerce and e-services in SMEs, ICTs in clusters of companies, the impact of
e-commerce on industrial and organisational structures. She has been involved with several
national and international research projects on the above subjects. Her research has been
published in several international journals including the Journal of Electronic Commerce in
Organizations, The Journal of Information Science, The Journal of Global Information Technology
Management, Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, The Journal of Electronic Commerce
in Developing Countries and in numerous book chapters and international conferences. Ada
Scupola can be contacted at: Ada Scupola ada@ruc.dk
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