Editor’s Introduction 2(2)

Vladimir Zwass
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 2, Number 2, Winter 1997, pp. 3.

Abstract: As the domain of the Internet and the arena of electronic commerce expand, in reality and even more in our perception of the change, we are re-evaluating our values. Actually, at a time of challenge we generally attempt to affirm the values we hold dear_which is not a simple matter. The so recently late Isaiah Berlin persuasively reminded us that we cannot uphold simultaneously and absolutely certain values that appear to make absolute claims. Absolute liberty will not promote equality; freedom of expression will offend the sense of decency. New technologies enable us to make new trade-offs, as we have to, with increased well-being of many substituting for equality and with the ability to protect one’s sense of decency by the use of a blocking device substituting for imposing our sense of decency on others.

One of the values many of us hold dear is maintaining as large as possible areas of individual and private-sector autonomy from the activities of the government. In the United States in particular, we tend to look to our government as a provider of services rather than an implementer of values. Yet services provided do represent the values upheld. The availability and growing use of the global telecommunications networks and other E-commerce infrastructure challenge our notions of the proper extent of government regulation (vide Microsoft), challenge the governments’ ability to control our currencies (vide currency trading and the future E-money), and to support labor markets (some of which could vanish into cyberspace), just as for some observers they challenge the very role of a nation-state government. There is much to think about here and much research to be done. The first paper in this issue opens for us what is certain to be a long and fruitful stream of work on the demarcation between the private and public sectors in the days of E-commerce.

It was postulated a decade ago that the use of information technology as a means of coordination would lead to a transfer of many of the transactions traditionally conducted within firms to the marketplace. While the debate about the extent of this “marketization” (movement to the open market versus movement to establishing relationships with a limited number of suppliers) continues, outsourcing is a broadly recognized phenomenon. What is the role of the government in the new force field enabled by the Internet and by the layers of activity surrounding it? In the first paper of the issue, Lawrence A. West, Jr., analyzes the potential influence of the use of advanced information technologies, with their capabilities for coordination, notably the Internet, on the borderline between the public and the private sectors. We are indeed familiar with the activities that benefit from privatization. What about the other activities_and what are those activities? Governments are inherently in the information business. A massive volume of knowledge work is conducted directly by various levels of government, and massive volumes of data and information are created. Suffice it to mention the U.S. Census or the administration of the Social Security system. To what degree should governments behave as entrepreneurs (for many, it’s a case of damned if they do and damned if they don’t)? This is only one example of the issues that readers of West’s paper will encounter as they study his analysis of the factors that will influence the migration of information-driven activities between the government and private business.

In a sharp contrast to the subject and method of the preceding work, the two papers that follow it offer empirical studies of electronic retailing. Peter Spiller and Gerald L. Lohse identify a large number of attributes of Internet retail stores and, after cluster analysis, arrive at a classification of five categories of E-retail establishments (to my knowledge, this is the first empirical categorization of such scope). The authors find the state of digital retailing to be, to speak charitably, in its infancy. They offer suggestions for improvement, as well as justified hope that attaches on an infant. The authors of the next contribution, J. Christopher Westland and Grace Au, present the results of an experiment comparing the effectiveness of three types of digital retailing: electronic catalog, preselected bundle (e.g., a flower arrangement), and a virtual-reality storefront. The authors, who set up an experiment using an electronic kiosk, come to interesting conclusions,! particularly with regard to the acclaimed virtual-reality storefronts. Taken together, the two works move us a step forward in our understanding of what needs to be done to improve electronic retailing.

The two subsequent contributions, very different in their perspectives and methods, address the issue of organizational adoption and use of the Internet technologies. In the first, Anand Vadapalli and K. Ramamurthy adopt the perspectives of organizational cognition and anthropology to generate a number of propositions regarding the motivations and consequences of organizational use of the Internet. Several insights arise from the observation that Internet adoption by an organization is an appropriation of a technology developed for individuals, and thus bearing increased openness and equality. Although the authors were able to exercise the model of organizational Internet use in their study of a firm at two points in time, the interesting propositions offered here will reward further empirical work. The other paper addressing the issue, by Thompson S.H. Teo, Margaret Tan, and Wong Kok Buk, investigates a more traditional model of Internet adoption as conditioned by sets of org! anizational, technological, and environmental factors, of which only two were found to be significantly operative in the decisions to adopt Internet computing by a sample of companies. It gives me great pleasure to observe how the vibrancy of E-commerce begins to earn the attention of an ever-larger group of perceptive analysts and to bring some of their work to your own attention.