Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 21 Number 1 2004 pp. 167-202

The Complementarity of Information Technology Infrastructure and E-Commerce Capability: A Resource-Based Assessment of Their Business Value

Zhu, Kevin

ABSTRACT: This study seeks to assess the business value of e-commerce capability and information technology (IT) infrastructure in the context of electronic business at the firm level. Grounded in the IT business-value literature and enhanced by the resource-based theory of the firm, we developed a research framework in which both the main effects and the interaction effects of e-commerce and IT on firm performance were tested. Within this theoretical framework, we formulated several hypotheses. We then developed a multidimensional e-commerce capability construct, and after establishing its validity and reliability, tested the hypotheses with empirical data from 114 companies in the retail industry. Controlling for variations of firm size and subindustry effects, our empirical analysis found a strong positive interaction effect between IT infrastructure and e-commerce capability. This suggests that their complementarity positively contributes to firm performance in terms of sales per employee, inventory turnover, and cost reduction. The results are consistent with the resource-based theory, and provide empirical evidence to the complementary synergy between front-end e-commerce capability and back-end IT infrastructure. Combined together, they become more effective in producing business value. Yet the value of this synergy has not been recognized in the IT payoff literature. The "productivity paradox" observed in various studies has been attributed to variation in methods and measures, yet we offer an additional explanation: ignoring complementarities in business value measurement implies that the impact of IT was seriously underestimated. Our results emphasized the integration of resources as a feasible path to e-commerce value--companies need to enhance the integration between front-end e-commerce capability and back-end IT infrastructure in order to reap the benefits of e-commerce investments.

Key words and phrases: electronic commerce, firm performance, information technology business value, resource-based theory, resource complementarity