Journal of Information Technology

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 97–100 | Cite as

Exploring enterprise social systems & organisational change: implementation in a digital age

  • Vikas Kumar
  • John Loonam
  • J P Allen
  • Steve Sawyer


Information systems (IS), since their introduction into organizations over five decades ago, have promised to streamline business processes, integrate disparate systems, increase innovation, and offer greater competitive advantage. Over the past decades, the evolution of IS has mirrored many of the challenges experienced by our work organizations. For example, throughout the 1980s a primary concern for many organizations was the attainment of competitive advantage within their respective industries (Porter, 1980). The IS field responded by developing systems that sought to provide management with timely information to assist in making better strategic decisions, for example, executive support and decision support systems. In the 1990s, organizations began to look inwards searching for key strategic resources that would yield unique core competencies (Barney, 1991). Similarly, the IS field responded by building highly integrative enterprise-wide systems (Davenport, 1998), which would unite every pillar of the organization with a single transparent view of firm competencies and business processes, viz Enterprise Systems. The first decade of the 21st century continued in this vein, with organizations extending their global reach through new and innovative business models (Johnson et al., 2008). Similarly, IS have responded with the emergence of digital technologies and their continued growth as transformative organizational systems enabling boundary-less corporate structures, 24/7 real-time customer-centric communication, collaborative supply chain environments, and virtual IS infrastructures delivered via cloud computing.

Yet, this parallel journey between organizations and IS has not always run smoothly. History has taught us that large-scale IS implementations have caused significant challenges for organizations (Iveroth, 2010). While they promise greater organizational efficiencies and strategic effectiveness, research shows that such gifts are not easily obtained (Markus and Benjamin, 1997). Large-scale IS initiatives often require transformational change by seeking realignment of business processes, which frequently requires significant cultural change across the entire organization.

A preliminary review of the Enterprise Systems (ES) literature reveals that organizational change has been central to scholarly debate since these systems emerged in the early 1990s. In preparation for this special issue, we, the Guest Editors, scanned the titles of 768 articles from across 113 Harzing ranked Journals and found that more than twice as many ES studies have focused on ‘organisational-level’ aspects rather than ‘technical-level’ issues: for example, topics such as leading large-scale change (Wei et al., 2005), education and training (Hustad and Olsen, 2014), the role of management and leadership in implementing ES initiatives (Dong et al., 2009), end user involvement and buy-in (Klaus and Blanton, 2010), managing cultural shifts and change (Ke and Wei, 2008), critical success factors (Loonam et al., 2016), ES success (Markus et al., 2000), ES failure (Grossman and Walsh, 2004), ES selection (Wu et al., 2007), ES benefits (Shang and Seddon, 2002), ES risks (Sumner, 2000), and organizational resilience required with ES implementation (Ignatiadis and Nandhakumar, 2007).

Today organizations are confronted with continual disruptions, whether market or technologically focused, and as a result look to IS tools that enable greater organizational flexibility, create more porous flows across divisions and between business processes, and support a move to innovative and creative cultures. With these lessons in mind, this special issue seeks to shed light on the topic of Enterprise Social Systems (ESS) and organizational change. ESS promise enterprise-wide transformation and their introduction into organizations will undoubtedly bring changes to how employees and management engage with and conduct their work. ESS enables a ‘social’ dimension for engaging organizational business processes. In other words, ‘ESS are aimed at assisting social collaboration across the organisation and hence enhancing its productivity and business outcomes’ (Alimam et al., 2015: 9). As McAfee (2006a, 2006b) noted, these tools exert powerful effects on the organization’s ways of communicating with external stakeholders as well as between internal collaborators. The successful introduction of ESS technologies allows organizations to create new forms of value by transforming their entire customer experience, exploiting greater value from organizational operations, and creating new business models that reconfigure value chains and offer new competitive advantages (Westerman et al., 2014).

ESS, also referred to as enterprise social software, enterprise social media systems (Leonardi et al., 2013), and enterprise 2.0 systems (McAfee, 2006a), are digital technologies that combine social media tools, for example, Facebook, mobile computer applications, for example, smartphones and tablets, and virtual data analytics and cloud computing, to leverage greater organizational value. ESS technologies first emerged as personal collaborative tools in the early 2000s with the launch of social networking tools, for example, Facebook in 2004, video sharing tools, for example, YouTube in 2005, and wikis, blogs and tweets, for example, Twitter in 2006. These tools became known as generation Web 2.0 technologies (O’Reilly, 2007) and were fundamentally about supporting individuals to engage socially. However, from the mid-2000s work organizations became interested in leveraging these tools to improve performance and provide greater enterprise-wide collaboration. For example, tools such as Yammer and SharePoint (both Microsoft owned) are collaboration software systems that run off an enterprise social networking platform. In 2006, McAfee coined the term ‘Enterprise 2.0’ to refer to an organization’s use of such digital technologies.

In many ways, ESS tools break with the traditional view of information systems, which primarily seek to integrate data within a controlled and bounded manner, for example, ES software. ESS, on the other hand, seek greater organizational flexibility with their collaborative orientation often fielding data from external sources and from the bottom-up. From an organizational perspective such an unbounded view of data challenges management thinking and approaches to work. Specifically, a key lesson learned from the previous generations of IS technologies is the enduring challenge presented by organizational change. Looking at the promise of ESS, the obvious question to ask now is how will their disruptive nature, unbounded approach to data management, and bottom-up usage, shape the paradigms and frameworks we currently understand for leading successful IS-enabled change.

While ESS tools would be more effective with more flexible organizational structures, more porous channels between management and employees, and greater real-time influence on product innovation and service provision, it is difficult to envisage any of this being possible without an integrated approach to back-office systems and centralized business processes. Traditional IS have viewed such a dichotomy as a paradox, that is, Organizations could typically pursue IS strategies that supported either greater centralization or decentralization. However, as Westerman et al. (2014) note, digital transformations resolve the operational paradoxes of the past (54), instead ESS technologies can provide a bridge across such polarizations. Therefore, this special issue has set out to focus on the nature of ESS technologies and their underlying effects on work organizations. Of particular interest is the role ESS technologies are playing in shaping and influencing change within organizations. The following excerpts are taken from the eight accepted articles.

Special issue articles

The first four articles of this special issue explore the crucial question of information sharing in Enterprise Social Systems. Do users of social technology in organizations face similar motivations, constraints, and incentives for information sharing as social media users in the outside world, or as traditional Enterprise Systems users within organizations? By identifying and developing key distinctions such as ‘social’ vs ‘business’ users, local vs global user communities, top-down vs bottom-up constraints, and extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation, these studies offer a portrait of ESS information sharing as occupying a novel hybrid space between purely social media, and traditional organizations. A key management implication of these articles is that while ESS involves significant bottom-up change, the organizational benefits of ESS are unlikely to occur on their own. These articles begin to clarify areas where thoughtful management choices can make a difference.

The first article, Are Business Users Social? A Design Experiment Exploring Information Sharing in Enterprise Social Systems, uses an experimental approach to study the information sharing behavior of business users when using social features in enterprise systems. Challenging the assumption that ‘business users share the same interaction patterns as private users,’ the study finds that business users are less ‘social’ in their information sharing behavior, and that their use of social features is highly context dependent.

The second article, A Field Study of Spatial Preferences in Enterprise Microblogging, investigates patterns of enterprise social networking use by store managers in a leading Australian retail company. The research identifies two distinct user communities, ‘locals’ and ‘globals,’ each with their own communication preferences. The article identifies potential areas of organizational intervention such as increased engagement of store managers with each other that might increase the benefits of ESS use. The study concludes that the technology itself ‘does not automatically lead to spatially expansive, let alone intensive, communication behavior’ without the support of appropriate technology features and organizational interventions.

The third article, Understanding Individual User Resistance and Workarounds of Enterprise Social Networks: The Case of Service Ltd, uses an interpretivist case study of a large global services organization to explore resistance and workarounds in enterprise social networks. Their study identifies two categories of barriers that lead to resistance and workarounds: ‘top-down’ barriers, such as organizational policies that are written down or encoded in systems, and ‘bottom-up’ barriers that create mismatches between ESS use and everyday work practices and understandings. ESS usage patterns were found to relate to organizational goals, and the level of users within the organization.

The fourth article, To Share or Not to Share: The Effects of Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivations on Knowledge-Sharing in Enterprise Social Media Platforms, uses a survey in a multinational German high-technology firm to compare the relative importance of extrinsic vs intrinsic motivations for sharing knowledge through enterprise social media. Their study concludes that extrinsic motivations, such as reputation gains and building relationships through reciprocity, ‘play a decisive role in employees’ decisions to share knowledge,’ consistent with results in existing knowledge management research. Unlike in previous research, an important intrinsic motivator, enjoyment in helping others, was not found to play a role. Their study offers a set of managerial implications for ESS, such as assigning status to contributors in order to improve the visibility of knowledge contributors.

The second four articles of this special issue investigate how ESS offer new ways of working together in organizations. These studies of novel ESS technologies, including internal crowdsourcing, wikis, and enterprise social media, explore how ESS use relates to existing organizational structures and relationships. While ESS offers the possibility of structural change, the articles provide insights into how existing organizational structures and ESS co-exist, and influence each other. An important theme in these studies is the identification of specific organizational roles relative to ESS use, particularly new leadership roles.

The fifth article, Internal Crowdsourcing: Conceptual Framework, Structured Review and Research Agenda, uses a review of 74 published studies to create a framework and research agenda for internal crowdsourcing. Their literature review defines internal crowdsourcing as a distinct option that exists between traditional, or external, crowdsourcing, and hierarchy-based work. The article finds that, ‘in contrast with external crowdsourcing, internal crowdsourcing is more long-term oriented with “the crowd” consisting of permanent employees, not independent externals.’ This key difference has implications for governance and rewards, making change management and culture issues critically important. However, the article points to more research that is needed in many areas, including into which participants, and which roles, are best suited for internal crowdsourcing.

The sixth article, e-Leadership Through Strategic Alignment: An Empirical Study of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises in the Digital Age, interviews 42 leaders of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to validate a model of e-leadership, which their study argues is critical to obtaining the benefits of traditional Enterprise Systems and ESS. In their model, the authors identify e-leadership roles, such as strategy formulator, business visionary, catalyst, and prioritiser, which derive from a number of e-leadership qualities, which in turn are associated with a number of specific constructs identified by the article. This article expands and clarifies the many facets of leadership in enterprise systems, both old and new.

The seventh article, Team Boundary Spanning: Strategic Implications for the Implementation and Use of Enterprise Social Media, combines qualitative and quantitative studies to investigate boundary spanning behavior in enterprise social media. The paper studies three different types of boundary spanning activities, representational activities, information search, and coordination, but finds that social media use best supports representational activities that increase organizational visibility. The study also found that ‘hierarchical position plays a pivotal role’ in the ability of stakeholders outside the team to recognize and support team boundary spanning activities, suggesting that an understanding of the relationship between new relationships and existing structure is important.

The eighth article, Knowledge Entrepreneurship: Institutionalizing Wiki-Based Knowledge Management Processes in Competitive and Hierarchical Organisations, is a longitudinal case study of wiki use in a division of NBC Universal. In order to explain successful knowledge sharing in this example of ESS, the study offers ‘a new archetype of project leadership called Knowledge Entrepreneurship that integrates managerial skills, technology affordances, and critical factors in knowledge management processes.’ Identifying new roles and responsibilities, such as knowledge entrepreneurship, is a potentially fruitful path for developing our understanding of ESS implementation and use in ways that are both theoretically robust and actionable for practitioners.

Reflections on ESS & organizational change

Reflecting on the articles above, it is evident that the topic of ESS and its relationship to work organizations is an emerging and exciting field for empirical study. Articles in this special issue cover three broad perspectives on organizational change, namely a focus on ESS from the individual level, the group level, and from the institutional or organizational level. While for the purposes of this editorial we will briefly review potential areas for future research from the perspective of each level, in practice such perspectives are likely to overlap and complement one another.

At an individual level, articles explore business users’ understanding of ESS social paradigms, that is, how employees respond to the open nature of sharing information within and outside the organization, why they resist the introduction of an ESS implementation, what motivates them to share knowledge using ESS across the organization, and finally how employees engage with the organization through internal crowdsourcing. These research studies investigate the important topics of employees’ (individual) perceptions of ESS-enabled change and the respective behaviors likely to be required of them from the implementation of such an initiative. At a macro level, such inquiries advance our understanding of how the introduction of these new systems affects people in organizations. However, perhaps more poignantly such inquiries start to prompt questions on how ESS-enabled change may influence organizational culture. As mentioned earlier, ES implementations have played a significant part in influencing organizational culture. For example, ES software packages, with their relentless pursuit of process standardization and generic forms of systems integration, often push employees towards new processes and ways of working. Accordingly, is it any surprise that a significant proportion of scholarly effort, and management consulting, has focused on organizational perspectives with regard to ES implementation? However, ESS-enabled change comes from the bottom-up. It is emergent, social, unbounded, and disruptive. Therefore, its influence on organizational culture, while perhaps not initially as coercive as traditional IS approaches for employees, has the potential to be even more dramatic. Future research, therefore, might explore ESS-driven organizational cultural change. How effective are traditional IS-enabled change management tools and stratagems in coping with digital transformations? What factors are critical for successful digital transformation and what are the key organizational risks/benefits associated with such change? Is it possible for dual operational cores, one traditional and one digital, to coalesce with a single organizational culture? And how do process disruptions and innovations affect organizational culture?

At the group level articles in this special issue explore how SME managers are engaging digitally, how ESS is influencing group boundary spanning, and the role ESS software plays in supporting communication amongst geographically dispersed managers. Undoubtedly, the bottom-up and external orientation of ESS will significantly shape the work of groups within our organizations. A central question, therefore, in enabling groups to connect and work in a digital age relates to how management can facilitate this. Management teams engaged with traditional IS change initiatives typically adopt a top-down approach to implementation. In other words, management provides individual and group level users with a defined vision for the new system and provides support accordingly. However, ESS initiatives are often launched from the bottom-up, that is, because of their disruptive nature employees, customers, and/or other stakeholders typically initiate the respective change. Therefore, future research might consider reviewing the role played by different key stakeholders, that is, top management teams, middle management teams and project management teams in supporting ESS-enabled change within the organization. Can external stakeholders also shape the type of leadership support required for ESS transformation? How can traditional organizations successfully build capabilities that are digitally inclusive? What role does the chief executive officer and chief information officer play in digital transformations? How can organizations effectively foster talent that is digitally aware? How can employees and end users (customers, suppliers, external stakeholders) be effectively involved in leading organization-wide digital change? How can organizations ensure that business and IS leaders create an effective shared understanding for the digital vision?

Finally, at an institutional level our article focuses on ESS driven knowledge management structures and processes. As previous research reveals, for successful projects the organizational structure and processes must be reviewed prior to large-scale implementation. Classic IS implementations are controlled and ordered, the key processes are identified and aligned to the system, and implementation occurs internally within the organization. ESS initiatives break down organizational structures and look for both internal and external opportunities across functional levels and the value chain. From an organizational perspective, our classic view of IS-enabled change tends to see the ‘organisation’ and the ‘technology’ as two separate domains. Technology is deployed to make the business more effective and efficient. This view has permeated our understanding of technology within work organizations and has managed to polarize both domains. However, ‘digital’ and ‘business’ belong to the same domain, that is, digital business strategy, where, ‘organizational strategy [is] formulated and executed by leveraging digital resources to create differential value’ (Bharadwaj et al., 2013). In other words, ESS implementations will go beyond viewing technology from a functional perspective but rather recognize the pervasiveness of digital resources across all functional layers of the organization. In turn, technology is no longer viewed as merely a tool used to drive efficiency and productivity metrics but rather as a strategic weapon driving competitive advantage and strategic differentiation (Bharadwaj et al., 2013: 472). In order to explore these perspectives further future research might consider the role strategy plays in ESS initiatives. For example, how can organizations strategically align processes and structures with the bottom-up nature of ESS disruptions? How can organizations ensure greater value and return on investment from ESS initiatives? And are life-cycle models for traditional ES initiatives relevant to ESS implementation?

This special issue has sought to shed light on the emergent field of enterprise social systems and their effects on work organisations, most notably the changes required to ensure successful individual participation, management support for teams and groups, and sustained development and growth for the organization. The emergence of ESS is exciting for both researchers and practitioners and promises to play an important part in digitally transforming our work organisations.


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Copyright information

© Association for Information Technology Trust 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vikas Kumar
    • 1
  • John Loonam
    • 2
  • J P Allen
    • 3
  • Steve Sawyer
    • 4
  1. 1.University of the West of EnglandBristolUK
  2. 2.Dublin City UniversityDublinRepublic of Ireland
  3. 3.University of San FranscisoSan FransiscoUSA
  4. 4.Syracuse UniversitySyracuse, NYUSA

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