Michelle Rowe

Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - ECU Access Only


Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Business and Law


Collaborative commerce (c-commerce) involves the coming together of individual organizations to share information, knowledge and resources via technology. This study reports findings as they relate to small and medium enterprises’ (SMEs) adoption of ccommerce in Australia. It forms part of a broader study developed from an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant investigating c-commerce and its adoption by SMEs and its place in regional knowledge networks.

This research served to identify antecedents and inhibitors to SME c-commerce adoption and was formulated to achieve the following primary research objectives: 1) to identify antecedents of SME c-commerce uptake; 2) to consider the predictive ability of various models and their explanation of adoption; and 3) to apply knowledge and insight gained to the Australian context.

The research project met these aims by exploring c-commerce uptake generally amongst Australian SMEs from the perspective of key informants, and secondly, actual exemplars. In addition, the study included two case studies of two local government areas (LGAs) situated in Perth, Western Australia. These LGAs were industry partners to the ARC study and provided directive to the research agenda, i.e., the type of industry and research foci.

A qualitative three-stage approach to the data collection was therefore undertaken involving fifty respondents. Frameworks and factors emerging from each phase were considered in subsequent phases and were compared and contrasted. This phased approach served to clarify c-commerce uptake from perspectives of experts, actual c-commerce examples as well as in terms of the reality experienced by everyday SMEs.

Several key contributions are made by this study. Firstly, three critical factors were found to underpin and impede SME c-commerce uptake. These related to trust and commitment in deep inter-organisational relationships; the degree to which resources and skills were focused on information technology (IT) in the business; and the integration of IT into the strategic vision of the organization. In addition, the intra-organisational environment was found to be key to explaining SME c-commerce adoption. Organisational readiness including proprietor’s expertise with respect to IT was fundamental, alongside awareness of the perceived benefits of c-commerce. This is contrasted to big business where the external environment and intra-organisational environment are crucial.

Secondly, the study points to the important role internal or external facilitators play in encouraging c-commerce uptake. Facilitators played a central role in all exemplars identified in this study.

Thirdly, parallel to the study was the question whether c-commerce was an extension of e- commerce. Interestingly, progression was found to be neither automatic nor linear, but rather reflected the presence of these three key factors relating to inter-organisational relationships; the organization’s skills and resources, especially relating to IT; and strategic vision and IT integration. Fundamental too was entrepreneurship, growth and strategy.

Furthermore, internal IT integration was far more important to SME proprietors than external integration. Generally SMEs involved in this study focused on business efficiency rather than strategically using IT.

Fourthly, the study explored the nexus between c-commerce and clustering. No conclusive evidence emerged from this study to reveal that there was a link between the two phenomena. Indeed, c-commerce may spawn virtual clustering negating the need for proximity.

The study also highlighted the central role of entrepreneurship and growth orientation to c-commerce development. An entrepreneurial outlook among proprietors, business associations and other formal networking bodies was found to lie at the heart of adoption.

Finally, a number of inhibitors to c-commerce were revealed by the study. Barriers to adoption included a lack of awareness or perception of c-commerce; a view that the effort and cost of adoption outweighed any benefit; a lack of awareness of how c-commerce could be used to transform processes; inertia and a desire to maintain the status quo; and a focus on the business rather than an identity with the collective within the industry or region.

C-commerce is one alternative available to business to overcome limitations of size and resources. Size however did not necessarily explain adoption or non- adoption. Important to adoption was expertise in IT and a willingness to invest in IT. To this end turnover and IT investment were important, but this did not necessarily reflect size. Entrepreneurship and an understanding of IT, collaboration and a value of partnerships and inter-firm relationships were shown to be central.

A tri-axial framework was developed to synthesise the findings, generating a theoretical construct to provide a new way to understand SME c-commerce adoption. This is an original contribution to the literature on c-commerce.

This study has enabled a never before aspect of c-commerce to be explored – traditionally c-commerce has been considered only with respect to business transactions predominantly via the supply chain. The study of this phenomenon amongst complementary businesses, and potentially amongst competitors, enables attitudes to and issues that face SMEs such as networking and collaboration and clustering to be highlighted.

LCSH Subject Headings

Small business -- Australia.

Business networks -- Australia.

Electronic commerce -- Australia.