Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 38 Number 1 2021 pp. 1-3

Editorial Introduction

Zwass, Vladimir

The two papers that open the 38th volume of Journal of Management Information Systems (JMIS) help us greatly to understand how information systems (IS) should be managed. The first of them, by Narayan Ramasubbu and Chris F. Kemerer, investigates the remediation of technical debt incurred with outsourced enterprise systems. Indeed, systems maintenance has not disappeared into the cloud. The notoriously long-lived enterprise systems attract very high costs over the decades of their operation. Moreover, owing to the technological and environmental developments these costs are difficult to forecast. As this maintenance is burdensome for the owner firms in many respects beyond the financial one, it is generally outsourced to specialized vendors. The long life of the legacy software and of the outsourcing contracts is a natural breeding ground for costly problems. Dealing with these issues calls for control balancing, that is, an ongoing client-vendor engagement process aimed at reducing the information asymmetry between the two parties. In this work, the researchers ask, by deploying both modeling and empirical investigations with a large number of projects, how effective is control balancing in remediating technical debt. They offer a multifaceted answer grounded in several contingencies and leading to actionable advice. By integrating several research streams from both IS management and systems development, Ramasubbu and Kemerer also show how the multifaceted knowledge inherent in our field can be brought to bear on nodal issues.

IS investments are among the most weighty the contemporary firms make, both in terms of the costs and the outcomes such as the firm’s performance. These dependencies have been studied extensively. The authors of the next paper, John Qi Dong, Prasanna P. Karhade, Arun Rai, and Sean Xin Xu, back up from these studies and investigate how the investment decisions are actually made. They offer a novel behavioral agency theory of the IS investment decisions, by integrating the behavioral theory of the firm with agency theory, and with the econometric analysis of a large panel dataset that tests and corroborates the proposed theory. Local innovation in response to the identified corporate performance gaps and the corporate governance are found to be important factors in the decision making that determines the scale of IS investment by a firm. The theory proposed here brings us closer to a realistic understanding of the IS investment processes and their outcomes.

Two subsequent papers address the incentive mechanisms operative in the consumer-centric online environments. Jaehwuen Jung, Ravi Bapna, Alok Gupta, and Soumya Sen empirically study the effectiveness of different types of incentives in online referral programs, whose objective is to maximize the electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) by offering rewards for bringing in a new customer. The mechanisms compared here include the selfish one (the inviter gets the reward), the equal one (the inviter and the invitee share equally), and the generous one (the invitee gets it). The theoretical premises of the research are in the sociological and economic studies of incentives and contagion. The empirical validation is a natural experiment conducted in the gigantic lab of the Internet with the participation of companies developing gaming apps. The two pro-social mechanisms where the invitee participates in the reward are found decisively more effective. The importance of the findings is certainly beyond the present setting, and the work is generative.

We do know that extrinsic rewards (say, money) can have negative effects on the motivation of altruistically inclined actors. And yet, we see the public TV networks offering DVDs to the putative contributors. There are numerous online sites that rely on voluntary contributions and need to decide whether and at what level to provide monetary incentives to induce or increase such contributions. Dandan Qiao, Shun-Yang Lee, Andrew B. Whinston, and Qiang Wei conduct randomized experiments to determine how these enticements can actually have a positive effect on the amounts raised. Based on several behavioral theories, the authors test two intervention techniques in combination with various levels of monetary incentives. They are able to offer actionable advice — and to contribute to our understanding of motivations in voluntary behaviors.

We are witnessing profound societal changes brought by the deployment of information technologies. The next two papers of the issue investigate two vital aspects of this change. As we know full well, innovation drives a flourishing society. We are also aware that innovation is to a large extent culturally conditioned. How does a nation’s information technology (IT) impact the influence of culture on the nation’s innovation? This is the research question addressed by Terence J.V. Saldanha, Babu John Mariadoss, Michelle Xiao Wu, and Sunil Mithas. The authors use the well-known, if often debated, cultural dimensions and three best global databases to reflect national cultures. They also deploy several databases reflecting national competitiveness and technological development. Based on these data sources and their analysis, the authors give us a granular and interesting picture of how the IT deployment moderates the influence of the specific cultural dimensions on national innovation. The work is highly generative, opening multiple avenues for future research, and of potential to influence national IT policies.

The infusion of IT into our life and work is profoundly changing the use of human labor, the nature and rewards of work and jobs, and the placement of working and private lives. One of the more prominent factors is the emergence of the sharing economy, where the sharing of resources, be they lodgings, workplaces, or cars, is enabled by IT platforms. What influence do these platforms have on the structure of labor markets? Ziru Li, Yili Hong, and Zhongju Zhang empirically study the influence of the preeminent Uber platform on the supply (participating drivers) and the demand (workers who could participate) sides on the ride-sharing labor market. The authors termed these, respectively, the empowering and competing effects of the sharing platform and found, in particular, a significant and salutary worker-empowerment effect. The finding (not without qualifications) is important, in the light of the well-known controversies concerning the “sharing” business models.

IS have a great, and continually explored in our field, potential to serve public good. The scourge of drug addiction is a public ill we can help ameliorate. In the next paper, Jiaheng Xie, Zhu Zhang, Xiao Liu, and Daniel Zeng attack opioid use disorder with a novel deep-learning system that deploys the articulations on social media platforms to discover the barriers to treatment from the (potential or actual) patients’ perspectives. With the use of the system, the authors identify thirteen obstacles to the treatment of opioids and their morphs, which are subsequently confirmed by the domain experts. The approach significantly outperforms the extant natural language processing methods and can be generalized as well as particularized to other targets.

As most IT, social media are used for the good and for the opposite of it. Fighting fake news, launched, propagated, and amplified on social networks, is the uphill battle we are, and will be, fighting. “Fake news” is easy to deploy, erodes our notions of truth and fact, debases our societal bonds, and erodes the quality of our social and political life. It is a present danger. Many and various weapons are needed to fight it. Here, Henner Gimpel, Sebastian Heger, Christian Olenberger, and Lena Utz investigate empirically the use of social norms in the design of the network’s user interface. The authors’ emipircs use the combination of injunctive and descriptive messages reflecting the social norms to encourage reporting fake news. The theory-based approach is found effective in practice and, we hope, will be further studied and deployed.

Owing to the power of the Internet, a security breach in any company can affect not only the owner firm but can escalate to become an issue of national security. Paradoxically or plainly, more digitized firms face greater exposures. IT outsourcing is a source of exposures. In fact, any acquired software can lead to breaches, as even heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) subcontractors have been known to install malware-ridden programs on their clients’ systems. Greater IT investments are not a panacea, as the study by He Li, Sungjin Yoo, and William J. Kettinger shows. Their longitudinal empirical investigation studies the impacts of the firms’ IT security investments on the breaches, depending on the degree of the firm’s digitalization and on its embeddedness in outsourcing arrangements. The findings are granular, as the authors discriminate among the types of attacks and the attackers’ posture to arrive at their results and recommendations.

The concluding paper of the issue brings into our orbit the value creation by IS in the services offered by autonomous vehicles. More specifically, big data analytics are deployed to analyze the tradeoff between personalization and energy efficiency in this subdomain of service robotics. With their access to a unique dataset, Schahin Tofangchi, André Hanelt, David Marz, and Lutz M. Kolbe operationalize the trade-off and use machine learning to devise and evaluate a paradigmatic IS to actuate the trade-off preferences in real time. The work is highly generative, as the trade-off approach can be generalized and applied to other service-robotics settings and beyond. Our discipline will certainly have more to offer in this regard in the future.