IT ambidexterity: a competitive IT capability for high-tech SMEs

Syed, Tahir Abbas (2018) IT ambidexterity: a competitive IT capability for high-tech SMEs. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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The proliferation of information technology (IT) tools has pervaded industry environment with products that are becoming differentiated, smarter and competitive every day. Following this trend, high-tech small and medium enterprises (SMEs) face precarious pressures to enhance their technological competence continuously to survive. They are required to embed IT ambidexterity – the ability of the firm to simultaneously refine their existing technologies (IT exploitation) and search new technological solutions (IT exploration) – into their organisational strategy.

Owing to limited slack resources and immature firm routines, processes, administrative hierarchy, organisational systems and operational experiences, a key challenge for high-tech SMEs arise in enabling and managing the simultaneous pursuit to exploit existing technology in the short-term and explore new technological breakthroughs for the long-term. This dissertation posits IT ambidexterity as a competitive IT capability and sets out to investigate what are the enabling mechanisms that allow high-tech SMEs to become IT ambidextrous and whether IT ambidexterity is, in fact, a relevant strategy to enable superior performance in high-tech SMEs of the United Kingdom. A survey based dataset of 292 high-tech British SMEs are empirically analysed to test the proposed hypotheses. The study consists of an introduction, a conclusion, and in between four empirical papers, which address specific research gaps in the extant IT ambidexterity literature.

Chapter two examines the role of leadership and organisational configuration in facilitating IT ambidexterity and analyses its implications on projects’ performance. The empirical analysis suggests that both leadership and organizational configuration play a vital role to enable IT ambidexterity, which in turn improves project performance. Chapter three focuses primarily on the role of high-tech SME leaders to understand if leadership decision-making styles initiate IT ambidexterity and examines how and when a particular leadership decision-making style can be more effective by considering organisational diversity and shared vision as two important organisational contingencies. The findings suggest leadership participative as well as directive decision-making styles enable IT ambidexterity; however, the participative decision-making style is more effective with heterogeneous firm members, and the directive decision-making style is preferred when a shared vision is dominant among firm members. Moreover, results show that IT ambidexterity significantly enhances firm performance. Chapter four explicates the effect of IT ambidexterity on IT department performance. This chapter draws on a combination of the resource-based view and contingency theory to investigate the moderating effects of a firm’s internal and external contingencies on the IT ambidexterity-IT department performance relationship. The findings show that the positive effect of IT ambidexterity on IT performance is amplified for the firms with more resources and at higher levels of environmental dynamism, complexity and munificence. Interestingly, the results show that the performance implications of IT ambidexterity are not firm age-dependent. Chapter five develops on the IT-enabled organisational capabilities perspective to examine whether IT ambidexterity enhances speed to market – referred as how quickly product is made available in the market after the product definition stage. This chapter posits operational agility as an IT-enabled organisational capability and that formalisation plays a role of moderator in this equation. The developed model is further examined under the varying conditions of environmental complexity. The empirical analysis suggests that the effect of IT ambidexterity on speed to market is partially mediated by operational agility and the operational agility has a greater impact on speed to market in environments that are more complex. While formalization does not moderate the link between IT ambidexterity and operational agility, our results reveal that this moderation effect is evident and significant in complex environments. Despite of its importance, IT ambidexterity is an IT concept only proposed and investigated very recently, for which our understanding is extraordinarily limited in the field of IS. Altogether, this thesis contributes to the embryonic stage of IT ambidexterity literature by providing an in-depth understanding of the enabling mechanisms and consequences of IT ambidexterity in high-tech SMEs. The findings of this thesis contribute to the debate surrounding how to manage and organise for IT exploitation and IT exploration simultaneously within the same firm. In contrast to prior arguments that ambidexterity can only be enabled with separate exploration and exploitation organisational units, the mechanisms irrelevant to high-tech SMEs, this study highlights the idiosyncratic roles of firm leaders and configurations to develop IT ambidexterity. In addition, against the theoretical concerns that due to resource limitations ambidexterity might become a performance-constraining strategy for high-tech SMEs, this study illustrates that IT ambidexterity not only directly impacts performance outcomes of high-tech SMEs but also provide a foundation for developing a higher-order operational capabilities.

In conclusion, this study responds to the call for greater attention on developing a competitive IT framework. In contrast to several other constructs (e.g. IT spending, IT development, and IT possession) that may not necessarily create competitive advantage due to imitability and substitutability, this study theorises IT ambidexterity as a distinct and valuable IT capability that is hard to emulate. This study contributes to the Information Systems research by clearly identifying the enabling mechanism and impacts of IT ambidexterity, thus, serves as a foundation stone for future research in this important and growing area of research.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: University of Sussex Business School > Business and Management
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic history and conditions > HC0079 Special topics, A-Z > HC0079.I55 Information technology. Information economy
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2018 11:22
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2020 08:20

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