Electronic Commerce: The Flip Side of a Buzzword

By Klein, Stefan | JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Electronic Commerce: The Flip Side of a Buzzword


Klein, Stefan, JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application


Abstract

Electronic Commerce has suffered the typical fate of a buzzword and fashion: after the hype, the downturn has been particularly painful However, the sobering effect of the downturn has opened a unique opportunity to ask more fundamental questions. This paper addresses limitations in our understanding of Electronic Commerce as a phenomenon which is inextricably linked to the new economy and discusses implications for Electronic Commerce research within IS as well as in an interdisciplinary context.

ELECTRONIC COMMERCE AND THE BUZZWORD EFFECT

Buzzwords typically are exposed to fairly brief life cycles of attention and popularity before they become diluted or replaced by the next buzzword. Electronic commerce (EC) has already achieved the level of dilution: the appropriation of EC by consultants, journalists, politicians, managers and academics has made it a pervasive and versatile concept, however without a clear definition and scope. Subsequent buzzwords such as electronic business (doing business electronically) or mobile commerce (electronic commerce with mobile devices) drive the process of dilution even further.

For the purpose of this paper, I will use electronic commerce in the sense of "online-- enabled business transactions", which typically take place in hybrid environments of traditional business with additional EC activities, especially online sales channels or e-- procurement, and dot.com companies, whose business success depends to a large degree on traditional business functions, e.g. logistics.

If we look for the substance in or behind the buzzword from an academic point of view, a number of questions come up, which have been highlighted by the recent downturn of the new economy.

Firstly, there are questions related to the area of concern:

(1) How can we explain the high level of volatility in the new economy?

(2) What are issues for management and IS research in a networked economy?

Secondly, questions arise about the disciplinary response to the development of EC:

(3) How can IS as a discipline deal with the challenges of EC?

(4) What arc implications for interdisciplinary research?

(1) HOW CAN WE EXPLAIN THE HIGH LEVEL OF VOLATILITY IN THE NEW ECONOMY?

Over the past months we have experienced how the rush for EC enabled by a global information and communication infrastructure has increased the volatility in the economy. Many entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and private investors followed the EC gold rush, hoping for quick gains and expecting almost endless growth. In fact, they established a close link between innovations, productivity gains and the financial markets. People wanted to believe that information and communication technology (ICT) has led us close to utopia (Tomkins 2000). Since the beginning of 2000, the unrealistic hopes and expectations have been replaced by a deep, at least partly unwarranted disappointment and skepticism. And it is striking that despite unprecedented access to and immediacy of information, most experts were surprised by the fact and the severity of the downturn.

The surprisingly extreme moves of the pendulum suggest that our understanding of the ongoing and imminent changes in the economy is still fairly limited. The rise and subsequent decline and fall of EC has highlighted how little we actually know about the diffusion, impact and appropriation of information and communication technology (ICT) in business, the economy and eventually on all levels of society. In particular the interdependencies between

* technological innovation, diffusion, subsequent organizational change,

* the media and its impact on the public opinion,

* and the role of the capital markets are not adequately understood

Hence, in addition to technological and managerial research, more socio-economic research and anticipatory technology assessment are needed. …

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