Even though Internet-enabled Supply Chain Management (eSCM) systems create efficiencies and apparent competitive advantages, many firms resist adopting them. Why? Because they are not driven simply by economic or technical considerations. Companies are also swayed by pressures from both their institutional environment (marketplace) and internal organizational culture.
To assess the impacts and interplay of these social forces, Clarkson Professor Weiling Ke and her colleagues surveyed Chinese firms that have not yet adopted eSCM systems. Their findings, summarized in "The Role of Institutional Pressures and Organizational Culture in the Firm's Intention to Adopt Internet-enabled Supply Chain Management Systems," were published this spring by the premier Journal of Operations Management.
"This study illustrates how these subjective factors are stronger and more complex than either economists or businesspeople or managers may have realized," says Ke. "Supply chain managers should be aware that their firm's social culture may prevent them from making the best economic choice. For example, they may value corporate independence so much that they resist tying their communications closely to outsiders - even though failure to adopt eSCM systems across their supply chain might sink the company."
To gather data, the researchers surveyed 131 Chinese firms that were deciding whether to pursue integration of their supply chains via the Internet. The companies were uniquely comparable because managers in each had been trained in supply chain at the same institution.
The researchers assessed three kinds of external "institutional" pressure on these companies to adopt eSCM: "normative" (collective expectations of customers, suppliers and competitors); "mimetic" (perceived success of competitors); and "coercive" (influence of powerful competitors that alters requirements of suppliers and customers). They also evaluated the influence of its internal "organizational culture." For each firm, the culture was characterized as one oriented either to "flexibility" (valuing creativity, risk-taking and uniqueness) or to "control" (seeking legitimacy through conformity to norms).
The results revealed that an organization's culture significantly affects eSCM decisions within a complex matrix of external and internal social pressures. Some findings were surprising. "For example," Dr. Ke points out, "firms that value conformity are relatively less affected by success of competitors. On the other hand, firms that value risk taking are as affected as conformists by the pressure of others' expectations."
Previously, "institutional theory" has been used primarily to look at corporate strategy and organizational behavior. This study is among the first to apply it in analyzing supply chain management decisions. "It opens a new avenue for research," the authors observe, "exploring how the effects of organizational culture may differ in different innovation contexts and how they may interact with factors at other levels."
Weiling Ke joined Clarkson in 2004 as an instructor, and was granted tenure and promoted to associate professor of operations and information systems in May 2009. She holds a Ph.D. in Management of Information Systems from the National University of Singapore, an M.S. in Information Systems and Computer Science, and an M.S. and B.A. in Economics.
Her areas of scholarship include inter-organizational knowledge sharing and open innovations, ERP implementation, and e-government development. "Open innovation is my new research area," she observes. "I am examining how organizations can acquire, capture and apply knowledge shared in social networks - in particular virtual communities."
During the past five years, she has published a dozen articles and book chapters in distinguished academic journals and contributed to more than 20 conference proceeding publications. Dr. Ke has been guest editor for information systems journals, and associate editor of AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction and International Conference on Information Systems. She has also given numerous talks and organized several tracks/symposia at national and international conferences.
At Clarkson, Dr. Ke teaches database management, database application development, accounting information systems, and enterprise information systems. She also leads groups of students on Asian visits to teach first hand how Asian culture affects business practices. Past destinations have included Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Yiwu, Suzhou and Xian. This year, she will lead a trip to Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou.