IS Use

IS Use Research Curation Team:
Andrew Burton-Jones (The University of Queensland)
Mari-Klara Stein (Copenhagen Business School)
Abhay Mishra (Georgia State University)

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Information systems (IS) use is among the most central constructs in the IS discipline (Straub and del Guidice 2012).  It is reported to be the most widely-studied construct in our field (Cordoba et al. 2012), and it is certainly one of the most consequential, for the nature, modalities and extents of information systems use significantly impact outcomes at individual, group, organization, network, society, and country levels.

1. Focus of the Research Curation

This curation focuses on research on IS use published in MISQ. IS use refers to an actor’s employment of an information system to perform an activity, where an actor refers to the individual, group, organization, or other collective using the system (Burton-Jones and Gallivan 2007).  We found 98 articles on IS use published in MISQ from the journal’s inception through to 3/2017, inclusive. 

We faced two main challenges creating this curation.  First, authors tend to use the word “use” in many ways in an article other than as a construct (e.g., “we used theory x”). Further complicating matters is the fact that authors also use other concepts to refer to use (e.g., adopt, appropriate).  Second, almost all effects of information systems depend somewhat on use, so at the extreme, almost every MISQ article touches on use, at least indirectly.  These challenges meant that we had to be creative in searching for articles, finding all relevant ones, and summarizing them meaningfully. 

We used two strategies to address these challenges.  First, we distinguished between two time periods, an older period (1977-1999) and a contemporary one (2000-2017).   Because scientific ideas naturally accumulate and evolve, we found that rather than reviewing all studies in equal depth, it was more instructive to focus in depth on the contemporary set while reviewing the older set to understand where newer ideas originated and to keep an eye out for older ideas still relevant today. The two periods were split at the year 2000 partly as a natural mid-point between the two periods and partly because it was around that time that more in-depth studies of IS use began to appear (Majchrzak et al. 2000).  Such in-depth studies subsequently became more common and led to significant progress in how we conceptualize and study IS use and its effects (as noted below).   

Second, we used a broad set of search terms, particularly for the contemporary articles.  For the older articles, our search terms were: use, utilize, usage, and utilization.  For the contemporary articles, our search terms were: use, utilize, usage, utilization, appropriation, adapt, assimilation, infusion, routinization, implementation, adoption, diffusion, acceptance, continuance, addiction, and trying.  Even though some of these keywords do not appear to relate strongly to use, we included them because we were aware of research on IS use that used these terms and we wanted to find all relevant articles.  We manually examined the full text of all the articles we retrieved and engaged in several rounds of coding, leveraging our varied backgrounds to triangulate on the most relevant articles on IS use.

Given the large number of studies we retrieved, we necessarily had to exclude some very interesting papers.  We used two main criteria for exclusion.  First, we excluded articles that did not study actual use of IS, and instead focused purely on users’ intentions, attitudes, or beliefs, or on behaviors related to but different from use, such as ‘trying to innovate’ (e.g., Ahuja and Thatcher 2005).  This involved excluding papers motivated by the importance of IS use, but which only studied intentions to use, as in some Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) papers.  However, we still included many TAM studies because IS use is its dependent variable (Davis 1989). Second, we excluded articles that focused on forms of IS misuse, abuse, and addiction (e.g., Turel et al. 2011). While we included some of these concepts in our search string to be sure we did not miss relevant articles, when we then reviewed the articles we retrieved, we concluded that while these constructs were related to use, they are nevertheless fundamentally different from it, with different antecedents, processes and outcomes, thus, requiring a separate analysis.  For borderline papers, we used our collective judgment to include or exclude them on an individual basis.  For instance, while we excluded papers on misuse, we included one award-winning paper on resistance (Lapointe and Rivard 2005) because we felt that particular paper provided an important perspective on IS use.        

Third, we split the articles into three subsets (98 articles in total), each one summarized differently:   

1.       Older articles that contributed to our historical understanding of IS use (see Table 1).  This subset includes 20 articles that have proven important (e.g., through citations) or that we believe will prove important in the long run (e.g., because of the originality of their ideas).  For each article, we summarize its relevance.  We did not include all older articles on use in this subset because our aim is to highlight the most important ones.     

2.       Contemporary articles that contributed to our understandings of IS use (see Table 2).   This subset highlights 28 articles that contributed to a deeper understanding of IS use itself.  That is, rather than take the IS use construct as given (Straub and del Guidice 2012), these articles scrutinized it in depth.  We offer detailed summaries of these articles.      

3.       Additional contemporary articles that studied IS use (see Table 3).   This subset highlights 50 articles that have contributed towards our understanding of use through studying its relationship with other antecedents or consequences but with less focus on use itself (relative to those in the second set of articles).  We summarize these articles briefly.  

2. Progression of Research in MISQ

MISQ publications on IS use show conceptual stability as well as both revolutionary change and evolutionary change.  The publications show stability in that ideas stressed in the earliest articles remain accepted today.  For instance, the two earliest studies on IS use in MISQ (Hamilton and Chervany 1981; Srinivasan 1985) both stressed the importance and complexity of IS use, given that it is the lynchpin through which systems have their effects.  These themes of importance and complexity remain emphasized today (Bayerl et al. 2016; Schmitz et al. 2016).  Another stable theme has been that IS use is ultimately a behavior or an activity (Compeau et al. 1999; Srinivasan 1985).  While later papers added to this view (as noted below), the behavioral actions or the ‘doings’ of use are still considered of central importance (Ortiz de Guinea and Webster 2014, Gaskin et al. 2014).

The main revolutionary change involved the development of a robust theory of IT acceptance, bookended by Davis (1989) and Venkatesh et al. (2003), two of the most cited articles in the IS discipline.  It is hard to overstate the importance and influence of that work across many fields (e.g., Davis 1989 currently has over 36,000 citations on Google Scholar).  As would be expected, the level of conceptual and empirical rigor required to advance this stream became extremely high (see, e.g., Kim 2009), but advances still continue (Venkatesh et al. 2012).  The maturation of research on IT acceptance also motivated a switch in focus to what happens after acceptance, often called post adoptive use (Jasperson et al. 2005).  Whereas IT acceptance research often conceptualized IS use as a dependent variable only, research on post-adoptive use often examines IS use as part of an ongoing process with the aim of understanding how it is shaped by and in turn shapes a variety of other phenomena at multiple levels of analysis (Jasperson et al. 2005, Burton-Jones and Gallivan 2007, Nan 2011, Gaskin et al. 2014).     

The main evolutionary change has involved the gradual increase in sophistication with which researchers define, theorize, and empirically account for the nature of IS use.  For many years, researchers treated IS use quite simply (Straub and del Guidice 2012), defining it as a behavior alone (Compeau et al. 1999; Srinivasan 1985).  This view gradually gave way to a richer view encompassing users’ cognition, emotion, and behavior in use (Burton-Jones and Gallivan 2007) and researchers began to consider each of its elements more closely (e.g., users, features, tasks, and time).  As Subramani (2004) noted, the behavioral view alone was simply too descriptive and incomplete. 

This trend of growing sophistication is evident in the progression of research at the individual level (Bhattacherjee and Premkumar 2004; Goodhue and Thompson 1995; Ortiz de Guinea and Webster 2014), group level (Bartelt and Dennis 2014; Dennis 1996; Sarker and Valacich 2010), organizational level (Iyengar et al. 2015; Massetti and Zmud 1996; Rai et al. 2012), and across levels (Burton-Jones and Gallivan 2007; Lapointe and Rivard 2005; Maruping and Magni 2015).  This trend has also been supported by innovative conceptual studies (Barrett et al. 2013; Jasperson et al. 2005; Kappos and Rivard 2008; Ortiz de Guinea and Markus 2009), in-depth case studies (Beaudry and Pinsonneault 2005; da Cunha 2013; Leonardi 2013; Majchrzak et al. 2000; Stein et al. 2015), and new methods (Gaskin et al. 2014; Nan 2011)

Summing up the progression of research on IS use in MISQ, it could be said that while interest in the complexity of use has continued through the decades, researchers have gradually devised ways to account for that complexity in both their theoretical and empirical work.  They can account for it with theories and methods that are sensitive to longitudinal, multilevel, and multifactorial contexts rather than reducing the reality of IS use into cross-sectional, single-level, and single-theory thinking.

3. Thematic Advances in Knowledge

The first major thematic advance involved the application, refinement, and integration of various social psychological explanations of IT acceptance (Bandura 1977; Fishbein and Ajzen 1975; Triandis 1971).  This was a particularly strong theme in the 1990s and early 2000s, spurred on from Davis (1989), and many of the most-cited papers in IS fall into this category.  Venkatesh et al. (2003) provides the seminal treatment of this line of work. 

The second major thematic advance has involved the development of theories to account for the dynamics of use, whether at a single level of analysis (e.g., at the individual, group, or organizational level) or across multiple levels.  By dynamics, we mean that IS use is ill-suited to being studied in binary terms (i.e., as just present or absent).  Rather, it is an activity that occupies multiple dimensions in space/time and the key is figuring out how best to capture that activity in a given study.  Because of the complexity of these dynamics, researchers have not sought one unifying theory, but instead have used different theories to account for distinctive characteristics of these dynamics in a given context. 

For instance, some researchers have focused on characteristics of systems in use, such as emergence (the fact that benefits from use take time to emerge) and interdependence (the fact that use of a given system may be impacted by or relate to other internal or external systems).  Such ideas have been tackled using theories of adaptation and affordances at the individual and group levels (Leonardi 2013; Majchrzak et al. 2000; Nevo et al. 2016; Schmitz et al. 2016), theories of sociomateriality at the community and practice levels (Gaskin et al. 2014; Venters et al. 2014), and theories of capabilities at the organizational and plant levels (Banker et al. 2006; Gattiker and Goodhue 2005; Rai et al. 2012; Ray et al. 2005; Subramani 2004).

Meanwhile, other researchers have focused more on the human aspects of use, developing new theory to understand human coping (Beaudry and Pinsonneault 2005), emotion  (Stein et al. 2015), unconscious cognition (Bartelt and Dennis 2014; Limayem et al. 2007; Polites and Karahanna 2013), habit (Ortiz de Guinea and Markus 2009; Polites and Karahanna 2013), culture (Kappos and Rivard 2008), and manifestations of power (Oreglia and Srinivasan 2016), in IS use. 

The third major thematic advance has been the development of richer measurement and methodological approaches that allow researchers to capture the complexity of the usage process more accurately and provide a clearer explanation of how IS use relates to a host of other phenomena.  This is evident in the use of multiple methods (Gaskin et al. 2014; Ortiz de Guinea and Webster 2014), mediation analyses (Subramani 2004), configurational analyses (Rai et al. 2012), detailed ethnographies (da Cunha 2013), and simulations (Nan 2011)

The fourth major thematic advance has been the continuing expansion of the broader network of constructs of interest in the study of IS use (see, e.g., the studies cited in Table 3).  For instance, MISQ articles have shown how IS use can affect a wide array of outcomes, from traditional ones such as performance (Kim et al. 2016), to many others such as individual and organizational innovativeness (Gray et al. 2011, Trantopoulos et al. 2017), learning (Leonardi, 2015), community equality (Goh et al. 2016), and national well-being (Ganju et al. 2016). MISQ articles have also revealed the expanding universe of antecedents that influence IS use, such as social influence and support (Sykes et al. 2009; Wang et al. 2013), institutional pressures (Chatterjee et al. 2002; Liang et al. 2007), and personality (McElroy et al. 2007), among others.  Other articles have improved our understanding of how IS use is embedded in processes in practice (Davidson and Chismar 2007; Levina and Vaast 2005; Serrano and Karahanna 2016; Venters et al. 2014).    

Conclusion

IS use has long been a central construct in the field.  MISQ has published many of the seminal papers on the topic.  We expect MISQ will continue to take a leadership role in publishing research on IS use.  Through the pages of MISQ, we have learned the importance and complexity of IS use, how to address these challenges in our research, and seen clues for how to develop these ideas further in the future. 

Acknowledgments

For helpful comments on earlier drafts, we thank Ashley Bush, Arun Rai, Xiao Xiao, and Rebekah Eden.  The first author benefited from support from the Australian Research Council (FT130100942).

Please cite this curation as follows: Burton-Jones, A., Stein, M., Mishra, A. “IS Use,” in MIS Quarterly Research Curations, Ashley Bush and Arun Rai, Eds., http://misq.org/research-curations, December 1, 2017

 

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Figure 1. IS Use Infographic

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