Electronic Business and Commerce in Canada: Introduction to the Special Issue

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The term electronic business and commerce (EB&C) broadly refers to the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for business purposes, and specifically refers to business transactions based on the Internet or internetworked computing and multimedia. This group of technologies has had massive economic and social impacts in the past decade. The implications of rapid changes in ICTs for our organizations and institutions are just beginning to be understood. In the business world, e-commerce hype and euphoria have given way to a certain wariness and weariness with respect to ICTs. The benefits of ICTs can be great, if the costs, risks, and disruptions can be contained. An extraordinary wave of creative destruction has taken place before our eyes. What are we to make of it?

ICTs are "general purpose technologies" that can increase users' productivity and value-add when embodied in products or services. ICTs can be modified and configured to support a wide range of business objectives, including increased transactional efficiency, product/service innovation, complementarity with other products or services, and high customization of products or services (Amit & Zott, 2001). However, many firms have not found it a simple matter to learn to use these technologies to produce business value, as evidenced by the relatively high failure rates that are reported for IT projects, enterprise applications, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. ICTs do not just increase connectivity and information processing capability. They can substantially alter communication patterns, organizational routines, and decision-making capability. The applications that generate significant business value are not plug-and-play packages but deeper and more extensive reconfigurations of organizational processes and structures. Positive firm-level return on IT investments requires "co-invention" of value by users (Bresnahan & Greenstein, 2001). These co-invention processes usually require investments in training and organizational development several times greater than the cost of the hardware and software. Adoption of interorganizational EB&C innovations such as electronic marketplaces has slowed for a different reason. Marketplaces that emphasize price-based competition are suitable for commodity products or non-essential inputs but they are considered to undermine longer-term business relationships that involve commitment, trust, and risk-sharing (Rosson & Davis, 2003). However, relational electronic exchanges, involving collaboration in value-added activities, are proving to be attractive, although "tough and complicated" to develop (Jap & Mohr, 2002).

In matters of electronic business and commerce, Canada has special significance. Canada has an enormously important economic stake as a supplier of ICT products and services. In 2000 the Canadian ICT sector included more than 30,000 firms and more than a halfmillion employees. It had revenues of about $132 billion and accounted for about 10% of Canadian exports (Industry Canada, 2001). Until 2001 the Canadian ICT sector grew about four times faster than the Canadian economy and accounted for nearly 20% of Canadian GDP growth between 1997 and 2001. Employment in the ICT sector grew about 3.5 times as fast as employment economy-wide. Furthermore, the Canadian ICT sector is the largest performer of R&D in Canada, representing nearly 46% of private sector R&D in the country (Industry Canada, 2002a).

Furthermore, Canada has made a strong political commitment to encourage the expansion of ICT use in the public and private sectors, and senior Canadian politicians have publicly set EB&C goals for Canada on a number of occasions. In many respects, Canada is a leader or early adopter in EB&C practices and technologies. The Conference Board of Canada's recent briefing note Pursuing Connectedness: Canada's Quest for Global Best (2002) puts Canada in first place among the "e- 10" group of comparable countries regarding demand for ICT products and services and use of them. …