Information Technology & People

ISSN: 0959-3845

Article publication date: 1 March 2000



Kautz, K. (2000), "Editorial", Information Technology & People, Vol. 13 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/itp.2000.16113aaa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited


About the Guest EditorKarlheinz Kautz is an associate professor at the Institute for Informatics at the Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. Previously he was employed as a senior researcher at the Norwegian Computing Center and as a lecturer at universities in Germany, Norway and England. He is vice-chair of the IFIP TC8 WG 8.6 on Diffusion, Transfer and Implementation of Information Technology. His research interests are in the diffusion and adoption of information technology innovations, software quality and process improvement, evolutionary systems development, and organizational impact of IT. He has served as project manager for the Norwegian activities of the European Software Process Improvement Training Initiative and has been involved in several software process improvement experiments and dissemination actions as part of the European Systems and Software Initiative (ESSI) which is sponsored by the Commission of the European Communities. In addition, he recently participated in a research project which assessed the influence of university education on the adoption of information systems development methodologies in practice. Karlheinz Kautz received an MSc in computer science from the Technical University of Berlin (West) and a PhD in systems development from the University of Oslo, Norway.

The subject of this issue of Information Technology & People is "Diffusion, transfer, and adoption of information technology innovations".

Although the essence of this field of interest can be captured by the question why and how some information technology innovations are put into use and others are not, a wide variety and richness of opinions, theories and practical advice exist.

Glasson (1994), for example, identifies six perspectives on technology diffusion. He distinguishes between a social and a technical perspective and within each of these he differentiates between a broad, an intermediate and a narrow perspective which determine different focal points in diffusion research and practice. On a broad level technology diffusion is related to whole professions and to technology fields or disciplines. On the intermediate level a particular industry sector and a particular class of product are paid attention to. On the narrow level individuals or an organization and a specific product are the topics of concern. These perspectives imply a variety of views, opinions, concepts and terms.

According to Rogers (1962, 1971, 1983, 1995) diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain communication channels over time among members of a social system. He characterizes an innovation as an idea, object or practice which is perceived as new by an individual or another unit of adoption. The concept of innovation seems to be fairly clear; the process through which an innovation arises is, however, still s subject of an debate.

Baskerville and Pries-Heje (1997) discuss three innovation models and distinguish between an integrated push-pull model, a linked chain model and an emerging innovation model. These models understand the innovation process as a linear sequence of steps or stages, a concurrent set of identifiable events or activities, respectively an unstructured and emergent phenomenon that is too multivariate and convoluted to be moulded in steps or stages. Baskerville and Pries-Heje conclude that none of the models captures the complexity of an innovation process completely, but rather that the models supplement each other.

Similarly, the diffusion process is a topic of different explanations. Rogers proposes that a diffusion process goes through the stages of knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation and confirmation, where implementation represents the phase in which the innovation is put into actual use. For the field of information technology, Cooper and Zmud (1990) introduce a six-stage implementation model consisting of initiation, adoption, adaptation, acceptance, routinization, and infusion. Here adoption denotes the phase where the innovation is finally utilized and the following phases describe in more detail what Rogers calls confirmation.

McMaster et al. (1997) take a different approach. For them diffusion theory is only one particular way of thinking of technology transfer. They suggest an alternative view based on actor-network theory, called translation. By contrasting traditional diffusion theory with translation, they put forward the inseparability of the social system and technology and emphasize the network dynamics in the control, enrolment and dissemination of innovations. This does not however explain the notion of technology transfer. The concept of technology transfer is, for example, explicated by Lien (1995) as a part of a technology chain through which it moves. For him, technology development is followed by technology transfer and technology diffusion where technology transfer is a supply driven and micro-managed movement of technology, whereas diffusion is a demand driven, macro-based movement. Heidtman (1994) refers to Fowler and Levine (1992) and states that technology transfer can cover the spectrum of events from conceptualization of a new technology through industry-wide use. He prefers to use the term technology transition when he describes the process of institutionalizing new tools, techniques or approaches in an organization.

Finally, Damsgaard et al. (1994) talk about penetration to describe the process of information technology uptake through and in organizations. Veryard (1995) also uses the notion of penetration, but he criticizes that penetration only describes a one-way influence: either the organization accommodates itself to the technology or the organization assimilates and transforms the technology. Thus, he favours the concept of adaptation, which brings us back to the ideas introduced by Cooper and Zmud (1990), just expressed in other terms.

These were just some examples of the work performed in the field. But the multitude of concepts presented here shows that there is far from agreement in the area. One might understand this as a weakness and as a source of confusion. On the other hand, it might show a fruitful heterogeneity where there is no one simple truth. The diversity might also be explained by the relative youth of the field. While diffusion research in general goes back to the early 1960s, and first work in the IT/IS field can at least be found in the late 1970s (see, for example, Perry and Kraemer, 1978), new technological possibilities and the wide spread of IT in the late 1980s have led to a growing attention in various academic disciplines and commercial sectors.

This is also reflected in the foundation of three different interest groups. The IEEE computer society has a special interest group, a subcommittee on "Software Engineering Technology Transfer", which goes back to an initiative of some individuals in the early 1980s. Members of the IS community founded in 1988 the "Diffusion Interest Group in Information Technology" (DIGIT). The IFIP TC 8 approved their working group 8.6 on "Diffusion, Transfer and Implementation of Information Technology" in 1994. I myself am a member of this group. The group tries to bridge the gap between the software engineering and information systems communities as well as between academics and practitioners. Information technology there is understood in a very broad sense, namely spanning from Internet/Web-based innovations to the use of software process improvement approaches and system design methodologies and methods. Most of the literature mentioned in this editorial also stems from the work of members of this working group. For further readings I recommend the proceedings of the first four working conferences of the working group (Levine, 1994; Kautz and Pries-Heje, 1996; McMaster et al., 1997; Larsen and Levine, 1998).

Hence, this issue does not primarily want to contribute to a further clarification of the existing concepts as this seems too early and not productive for the discussion; the aim is rather to give an introduction and an overview about the different streams of work.

In the call for contributions I asked for both theoretical presentations and case studies reporting practical experience. They could contain the following issues of relevance: models and frameworks of information and software technology transfer and dissemination, the role of different people and the mechanisms they apply in the process, studies of adopting organizations, technology diffusion and adoption policies in general as well as examples for the diffusion and transfer of IT among individuals, towards organizations, within industry and public sectors, and between countries and continents.

The four contributions are all based on case studies and represent work from different regions, different technologies. They all in one way or another relate to Rogers' model of diffusion and distinguish themselves from his work but, whatever opinion one holds concerning his theories in the light of recent results in the field, it underlines the fact that diffusion research probably would not have been possible without his studies.

The work presented in this issue fits nicely with two earlier issues of the journal: Vol. 10 No. 4, 1997 on IT research in Asia Pacific (Tan, 1997) and Vol. 11 No.'3, 1998 on IT in Latin America (Montealegre, 1998). Unfortunately work from Africa has not been reported here, but I would direct the reader's attention to, for example, Braa (1997) who - in addition to Mongolia - discusses Tanzania and South Africa spreading IT in the health sector and gives an introduction to further work performed in and about this continent.

The four contributions deal with software process improvement approaches, production management systems, smart-card systems, and voice recognition technology for disabled peoples and are presented by computer science and information systems professionals, organizational scientists, and economists.

Kautz and Larsen analyse the Norwegian part of a European-wide dissemination action sponsored by the Commission of the European Communities. The project aimed at spreading quality management and software process improvement approaches among organizations in the IT sector and beyond to organizations which produce software as part of their primary product. The authors investigate what that mission has accomplished and what lessons can be learned for similar actions in the future. For the analysis Rogers' model of diffusion is used and a secondary outcome of the study therefore is an appraisal of the suitability of the model to plan and perform large-scale diffusion actions.

Based on Rogers' model Swan et al. have developed a decision episode framework for the diffusion of innovations. They use this framework to analyse data on the diffusion and design of information systems for production management across four European countries. They argue that pre-existing patterns of work design and managerial practices influence the degree of "fit" between particular design philosophies and prevailing organizational contexts in the different countries. In addition, they claim that national differences in the social institutional networks, especially those of professional associations and of technology suppliers, through which information about these systems is diffused, socially shape patterns of adoption and design.

Elliot and Loebbecke study the field of electronic commerce and discuss the use of smart-cards as electronic cash substitutes for low-value transactions. They argue that exploitation by business of this approach to payments will necessitate wide-scale adoption of new processes and technologies. As these innovations will require the concurrent participation of many different organizations, as well as consumers, they postulate that current theoretical models of adoption may not be suitable to explain how organizations adopt these novelties. They compare four diverse pilot implementations of smart-card payment systems with Rogers' theoretical models and conclude that these do not reflect the levels of complexity and diversity found in practice. Therefore they propose extensions of these models.

Finally, Goette presents results from a field study of individuals with disabilities who used voice recognition technology (VRT). Twenty-three individuals who were successful in the use of VRT and 17 who were unsuccessful were interviewed by the researcher. Her interview instrument was partly developed by using Rogers' classification of innovation attributes, but was in addition informed by Cooper and Zmud's (1990) research as well as work done in the field of rehabilitation engineering. Her qualitative results indicate that task-technology fit, training, the environment, and the disability limitations were the differentiating items between adopters and non-adopters. In particular, the ability to use the VRT for a trial period may be the major factor resulting in successful adoption of the technology.

I believe that these contributions present an interesting mixture. However, a special issue like this could not have been produced without the help of competent reviewers. I was in the fortunate position that I could draw upon the members of the journal's editorial board and upon members and friends of the IFIP TC8 WG8.6: Richard Baskerville, Gro Bjerknes, Sue Brown, Jan Damsgaard, Priscilla Fowler, Joan Greenbaum, Jonathan Grudin, Jim Hughes, Juhani Iivari, Stephen E. Little, Lars Mathiassen, Tom McMaster, Jan Pries-Heje, Chris Sauer, Erik Stolterman, Morten Vendelo, Richard Veryard, Dave Wastell, Edgar Whitley, Heinz Zuellighoven, all of whom I thank for their co-operation.


Baskerville, R. and J. Pries-Heje (1997), "IT diffusion and innovation models: the conceptual domains", in McMaster, T. et al. (Eds), Facilitating Technology Transfer through Partnership: Learning from Practice and Research, Proceedings of the 2nd IFIP 8.6 Working Conference, Chapman & Hall, London, pp. 23-38.

Braa, J. (1997), "Use and design of information technology in third world contexts with a focus on the health sector - case studies from Mongolia and South Africa", PhD thesis, Department of Informatics, University of Oslo, Oslo.

Cooper, R.B. and Zmud, R.W. (1990), "Information technology implementation research: a technological diffusion approach", Management Science, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 123-39.

Damsgaard, J. et al. (1994), "How Information technologies penetrate organisations: an analysis of four alternative models", in Levine, L. (1994) (Ed.), Diffusion, Transfer and Implementation of Information Technology, Proceedings on the IFIP TC8 Working Conference, North Holland, Amsterdam, pp. 1-22.

Fowler, P. and Levine, L. (1992), "Toward a problem-solving approach to software technology transition", in Van Leeuven, J. (Ed.), Proceedings of the 12th IFIP World Computer Congress, Vol. 1, North Holland, Amsterdam, pp. 57-64.

Glasson, B.C. (1994), "ISTRAD: toward a National Information Systems and Technology Research and Development Association", in Levine, L. (Ed.) (1994), Diffusion, Transfer and Implementation of Information Technology, Proceedings of the IFIP TC8 Working Conference, North Holland, Amsterdam, pp. 333-46.

Heidtman, S.E. (1994), "Exploration of an incremental approach to technology transfer and the issues affecting its implementation", in Levine, L., Diffusion, Transfer and Implementation of Information Technology, Proceedings of the IFIP TC8 Working Conference, North Holland, Amsterdam, pp. 347-51.

Kautz, K. and Pries-Heje, J. (Eds) (1996), "Diffusion and adoption of information technology", Proceedings of the 1st IFIP 8.6 Working Conference, Chapman & Hall, London.

Larsen, T. and Levine, L. (Eds) (1998), "Information systems: current issues and future changes", Proceedings of the IFIP WG 8.2 & 8.6 Joint Working Conference, IFIP Laxenburg, Laxenburg.

Levine, L. (Ed.) (1994), "Diffusion, transfer and implementation of information technology", Proceedings of the IFIP TC8 Working Conference on Diffusion, Transfer and Implementation of Information Technology, North Holland, Amsterdam.

Lien, L. (1995), "Toward a management model for the transfer of technology", in Kautz, K. et al. (Eds), Diffusion and Adoption of Information Technology, Conference Notebook from the 1st IFIP 8.6 Working Conference, Norwegian Computing Center, Report No. 900, Oslo, pp.'153-66.

McMaster, T. et al. (1997), "Technology transfer - diffusion or translation?", in McMaster, T. et al. (Eds), Facilitating Technology Transfer through Partnership - Learning from Practice and Research, Proceedings of the 2nd IFIP 8.6 Working Conference, Chapman & Hall, London, UK.

Montealegre, R. (1998), "IT in Latin America", Information Technology & People, Vol.'11 No. 3.

Perry, J. and Kraemer, K. (1978), "Innovation attributes, policy intervention, and the diffusion of computer applications among local governments", Policy Sciences, April, pp. 179-205.

Rogers, E.M. (1962, 1971, 1983, 1995), Diffusion of Innovations, Free Press, New York, NY.

Tan, M. (1997), "Information technology research in Asia Pacific: riding its diversity for prosperity", Information Technology & People, Vol. 10 No. 4.

Veryard, R. (1995), "IT implementation or delivery? Thoughts on assimilation, accommodation and maturity", in Kautz, K. et al. (Eds), Diffusion and Adoption of Information Technology, Conference Notebook from the first IFIP 8.6 Working Conference, Norwegian Computing Center, Report No. 900, Oslo, pp. 181-94.

Related articles