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E‐procurement in the United Nations: influences, issues and impact

Helen Walker (Centre for Research in Strategic Purchasing and Supply, University of Bath School of Management, Bath, UK)
Christine Harland (Centre for Research in Strategic Purchasing and Supply, University of Bath School of Management, Bath, UK)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 15 August 2008




The purpose of this paper is to examine the factors influencing e‐procurement adoption in the United Nations (UN) system of organizations are examined.


This paper reports on an extended multi‐method case study of e‐procurement in the UN. A three stage methodology is adopted – a questionnaire survey of UN organizations, case studies of e‐procurement issues in three UN organizations, and an interactive workshop with the heads of purchasing of UN organizations.


The paper finds that e‐procurement is being used in the UN for transactions of routine, non‐strategic purchases. UN development agencies are more likely to adopt e‐procurement than humanitarian aid agencies as their operations are more predictable. The intention of the majority of UN organizations to adopt e‐procurement within three years has been reversed following the workshop, which revealed that adoption of e‐procurement would run counter to UN policies of supporting less developed nations, regions and organizations. A more cautious, “wait and see” approach has been taken rather than to unilaterally promote e‐procurement across the UN system.

Research limitations/implications

This research focuses on the UN, yet could have implications for other complex systems of organizations such as the public sector, or multinational companies considering implementing e‐procurement with suppliers in developing countries.

Practical implications

E‐procurement needs to be considered in the context of other procurement policy objectives. What may be good e‐procurement practice in a profit‐making firm may be viewed as competing with broader policy objectives of not‐for‐profit organizations. The digital divide is a salient contextual factor for the UN, and brings about unforeseen issues regarding e‐procurement adoption which may have resonance for other organisations.


Much research on e‐procurement has been conducted in the private sector and this paper contributes to the small but growing number of studies of e‐procurement in the context of the public and not‐for‐profit sectors by studying e‐procurement in the UN.



Walker, H. and Harland, C. (2008), "E‐procurement in the United Nations: influences, issues and impact", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 28 No. 9, pp. 831-857.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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