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18 Jul 2017

Recruiting and Maintaining SME Involvement when Designing Voluntary Inter-Organisational IS

Wahyudi Agustiono, 2015
Deakin University


Voluntary inter-organisational information systems (IOIS) intended for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have been found to fail in part because SMEs were not involved in the design phase (e.g. Fisher & Craig 2004; Salmivalli et al. 2008). It can be difficult for organisations initiating voluntary IOIS to involve SMEs because it is optional for SMEs to adopt the IOIS (Chen et al. 2012; Følstad et al. 2004; Huang et al. 2010a), let alone take part in the design phase. Most IS research on SMEs focuses on adoption/implementation phases, not the design phase. The few studies on the design phase of voluntary IS/IOIS do not examine how organisational initiators manage (recruit and maintain) SME involvement in the design phase. The limited empirical research also means there was very little theorising about this problem domain. An important aim of the thesis is, therefore, to identify theoretical concepts for IS scholars to use for much needed future research to analyse and describe how initiators manage SME involvement in the design phase of a new voluntary IOIS.

The thesis addresses this aim by presenting an in-depth case study of an Australian State government initiator’s attempt to manage involving SME farmers in the design phase of a new voluntary IOIS, the Farm Planning Tool (FPT, pseudonym), for exchanging spatial information about environmental management (EM) between government agencies and the farmers. This unusual case, compared to typical IOIS studies on SMEs (e.g. Fisher & Craig 2005; Gengatharen & Standing 2005; Salmivalli et al. 2008), was selected because the initiator involved farmers directly in multiple requirements analysis (RA) activities to identify unknown farmer needs due to the infancy of spatial technology when the project started. This study then used multiple hermeneutic cycles to identify emergent themes from the case study, return to the literature to identify concepts useful for describing and making sense of the themes, and re-analyse the case study findings using these concepts. The case study and the hermeneutic process of analysis and interpretation showed the following.
First, it is viable for initiators to involve farmers directly in multiple RA activities, in contrast to prior studies suggesting initiators did not involve SMEs (e.g. Fisher & Craig 2004; Salmivalli et al. 2008) or used only industry associations (Følstad et al. 2004; Wilkins 2005). The findings also show it is more complex for initiators to recruit and maintain SME participation than the literature on IOIS, RA and IS development recognises. In this study, the complexity was due to such issues as handling:
 the challenge of co-opting stakeholders internal and external to the initiator to recruit and maintain SME farmer involvement on their behalf, including negotiating/compromising on the initiator’s information needs from the FPT;
 the complication of farmer heterogeneity such as different computer skills, on-farm EM and productivity priorities and industries;
 the difficulty of convincing farmers to take part in RA activities when they did not understand the technology or potential of the FPT on their property; and
 the problems caused by other parties promoting a competing voluntary desktop alternative to the FPT, so that farmers were being discouraged by these parties from taking part in the design phase of the voluntary FPT.
Second, the thesis shows that combining concepts from Boonstra’s (2009) IS/IOIS stakeholder management framework and the diffusion of innovation (DOI) theory from Rogers (2003) was useful for analysing, and as a vocabulary for describing the complex case study. The lack of studies and theorising around how organisational initiators engage SMEs in the design phase of a voluntary IS/IOIS emphasises the need for this initial conceptual foundation as the basis for future research. For example:
 DOI concepts such as interpersonal and mass media channels can be used with Boonstra’s stakeholder interest types and IS/IOIS design phase stages (specification vs development) to compare what initiators state (and how) in different types of recruitment invitations used at different stages.
 The thesis uses DOI concepts to re-conceptualise how stakeholders recruit and maintain SME involvement as interrelated voluntary IOIS “instance” decision processes and RA activity participation decision processes. With the former, the initiator’s stakeholders offered an owner-manager knowledge about the FPT instance in each RA activity to encourage participation in the first and subsequent RA activities. With the latter, stakeholders aimed to create conditions for an RA activity (e.g. location, owner-manager’s knowledge of the RA activity’s purpose) to encourage each owner-manager to take part in the first and subsequent RA activities.

Third, the thesis shows the value of IS scholars going beyond the dominant adoption/ implementation research questions (e.g. “Why do SMEs not adopt voluntary IS/IOIS?”) and including new design phase research questions of the form “How do initiators design voluntary IOIS to contribute to slow adoption rates by SMEs?”

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