Academic journal article Journal of Supply Chain Management

Structure-Infrastructure Alignment: The Relationship between TQM Orientation and the Adoption of Supplier-Facing Electronic Commerce among Manufacturers

Academic journal article Journal of Supply Chain Management

Structure-Infrastructure Alignment: The Relationship between TQM Orientation and the Adoption of Supplier-Facing Electronic Commerce among Manufacturers

Article excerpt


Total Quality Management (TQM) is a critical component of manufacturing strategy for many companies. TQM strives for continuously improving products and processes by involving management, workforce, suppliers and customers, in order to meet and exceed customers' needs. It can be conceptualized as a collection of principles that reflect the values of TQM (Dean and Bowen 1994; Sitkin, Sutcliffe and Schroeder 1994; Hackman and Wageman 1995). Among them is the principle that guides supplier management: "co-makership" (Bessant 1990), which emphasizes the importance of developing close relationships with suppliers. This principle leads to numerous supply management practices and tools, such as supply base reduction and collaboration.

The supply management landscape has recently been influenced by the emergence of Internet-enabled e-commerce, which has made available a number of new tools and practices for selecting and managing suppliers. Such new technologies may alter organizations' realized strategies (Mintzberg 1978, Boyer 1998), including supply management strategy. Thus, when significant new technologies arise, the research community must investigate how they affect strategy (Snow and Hambrick 1980). Although TQM has been widely studied, most studies occurred before the widespread development of electronic commerce. Hence, the research community lacks an understanding of how the Internet has affected this particular element of the realized strategies of manufacturers who have embraced TQM. In particular, whether or not various e-commerce applications have become a part of TQM organizations' supplier management tool kit is an unanswered question. The importance of e-commerce adoption should not be taken too lightly: After all some Internet applications have been hailed as a means to forge closer ties between buyers and sellers, allowing them to act as a so-called virtual enterprise (e.g., Kim 2006). However, other applications have been criticized for putting buyers and sellers in adversarial positions (e.g., Beall, Carter, Carter, Germer, Hendrick, Jap, Kaufmann, Maciejewski, Monczka and Petersen 2003). This suggests that e-commerce adoption decisions have the potential to strengthen or to undermine the TQM-based supplier management principle. Our study is a first step toward understanding the adoption of supplier-facing Internet applications by organizations that have embraced TQM. (We define supplier-facing Internet applications as technologies that use the Internet to select and manage suppliers.) Specifically, our research question is which (if any) supplier-facing e-commerce applications are (and are not) associated with the practice of TQM? Put differently, does the degree to which an organization practices TQM affect the likelihood of its adopting particular e-commerce applications?

To answer these research questions, we develop hypotheses drawing upon strategic contingency theory, which stresses the importance of consistency between structural (i.e., technology adoption) and infrastructural (i.e., TQM practices) decisions. We investigate the relationships between TQM orientation and eight different e-commerce applications using data collected from 189 plants representing three industries and six countries. In the next section, we review the relevant literature on TQM and on e-commerce, and we propose our hypotheses. We then present our empirical analysis followed by discussion, contributions, limitations and conclusion.


Strategic contingency theory has been used widely to predict the adoption of technological innovations. A central idea underlying this theory is the concept of consistency, which researchers have argued should be the major determinant of adoption decisions. This consistency argument has its early roots in the general strategy literature (Skinner 1969). Mintzberg (1978, p. 945) argues that an organization's strategy can be best analyzed as a "pattern in a stream of important decisions," especially when emergent opportunities occur. …

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