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International Journal of Operations & Production Management

Emerald Article: E-procurement in the United Nations: influences, issues and impact Helen Walker, Christine Harland

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To cite this document: Helen Walker, Christine Harland, (2008),"E-procurement in the United Nations: influences, issues and impact", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 28 Iss: 9 pp. 831 - 857 Permanent link to this document: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/01443570810895276 Downloaded on: 08-01-2013 References: This document contains references to 92 other documents Citations: This document has been cited by 6 other documents To copy this document: permissions@emeraldinsight.com This document has been downloaded 3692 times since 2008. *

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Helen Walker, Christine Harland, (2008),"E-procurement in the United Nations: influences, issues and impact", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 28 Iss: 9 pp. 831 - 857 http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/01443570810895276 Helen Walker, Christine Harland, (2008),"E-procurement in the United Nations: influences, issues and impact", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 28 Iss: 9 pp. 831 - 857 http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/01443570810895276 Helen Walker, Christine Harland, (2008),"E-procurement in the United Nations: influences, issues and impact", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 28 Iss: 9 pp. 831 - 857 http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/01443570810895276

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E-procurement in the United Nations: inuences, issues and impact


Helen Walker and Christine Harland
Centre for Research in Strategic Purchasing and Supply, University of Bath School of Management, Bath, UK
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine the factors inuencing e-procurement adoption in the United Nations (UN) system of organizations are examined. Design/methodology/approach This paper reports on an extended multi-method case study of e-procurement in the UN. A three stage methodology is adopted a questionnaire survey of UN organizations, case studies of e-procurement issues in three UN organizations, and an interactive workshop with the heads of purchasing of UN organizations. Findings The paper nds that e-procurement is being used in the UN for transactions of routine, non-strategic purchases. UN development agencies are more likely to adopt e-procurement than humanitarian aid agencies as their operations are more predictable. The intention of the majority of UN organizations to adopt e-procurement within three years has been reversed following the workshop, which revealed that adoption of e-procurement would run counter to UN policies of supporting less developed nations, regions and organizations. A more cautious, wait and see approach has been taken rather than to unilaterally promote e-procurement across the UN system. Research limitations/implications This research focuses on the UN, yet could have implications for other complex systems of organizations such as the public sector, or multinational companies considering implementing e-procurement with suppliers in developing countries. Practical implications E-procurement needs to be considered in the context of other procurement policy objectives. What may be good e-procurement practice in a prot-making rm may be viewed as competing with broader policy objectives of not-for-prot organizations. The digital divide is a salient contextual factor for the UN, and brings about unforeseen issues regarding e-procurement adoption which may have resonance for other organisations. Originality/value Much research on e-procurement has been conducted in the private sector and this paper contributes to the small but growing number of studies of e-procurement in the context of the public and not-for-prot sectors by studying e-procurement in the UN. Keywords International organizations, Electronic commerce, Procurement Paper type Research paper

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Received 7 February 2007 Revised 21 March 2008, 3 May 2008 Accepted 13 May 2008

Introduction Organizations are increasingly doing e-business using information and communication technologies and the internet. This study explores the uptake of a particular form of e-business, that of e-procurement. E-procurement has been dened as the use of information technologies to facilitate business-to-business (B2B) purchase transactions
The authors would like to thank the UN IAPWG for commissioning the research, UNDP/IAPSO for facilitating access to case organizations, Marcus Simmons for his contribution to the research, and Steve Brammer for his comments on earlier drafts of the paper.

International Journal of Operations & Production Management Vol. 28 No. 9, 2008 pp. 831-857 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0144-3577 DOI 10.1108/01443570810895276

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for materials and services (Wu et al., 2007). The study is conducted in the United Nations (UN), and investigates the issues, inuences and impacts associated with e-procurement adoption in this setting. The UN was established in 1945 by 51 countries committed to preserving peace through international cooperation and collective security. Recently, nearly every nation in the world belongs to the UN, with membership now at 189 countries. The UN system of organizations covers a wide variety of organizational units with different institutional and functional structures. The UN is not an organization but a complex confederal network of highly heterogeneous organizations. The total UN procurement spend is difcult to estimate as the UN is made up of so many organizations. However, there are indications that UN procurement spend has risen in recent years. The value of purchase orders handled by the UN Procurement Division, just one of many procurement routes in the UN, has risen from $309.46 million in 1997 to $1,991.64 million in 2006 (UN Procurement Division, 2008b). A further example is the UN Development Programme (UNDP) which operates on the ground in 166 countries. Its annual programme delivery has been growing steadily since 2000 and reached $4.3 billion in 2006, of which $2.5 billion were spent for goods and services. This study aims to investigate the inuences, issues and impacts of e-procurement adoption in the UN, and to consider how complex policy objectives and e-procurement pan out in an international agency context. An extended multi-method case study is conducted, with a three stage methodology a questionnaire survey of UN organizations, case studies of e-procurement issues in three UN organizations, and an interactive workshop with the heads of procurement of UN organizations. The study seeks answers to the following research questions regarding e-procurement in the UN: RQ1. How do UN organizations currently use and plan to use e-procurement? RQ2. Which factors affect the adoption of e-procurement in UN organizations? RQ3. How does adoption of e-procurement across the UN affect policy issues? This study makes several contributions. First, the extant literature on e-procurement has focused mainly on large economies and technology-oriented industries (Tatsis et al., 2006). Such large economies have major differences in economic, technological and social terms compared to newly industrialized and developing countries. In a structured literature review of e-procurement research, just 13 per cent of articles published on e-procurement since 1997 were conducted in the public sector (Schoenherr and Tummala, 2007). There has been little investigation of e-procurement outside of US and European private sector manufacturing settings. What are we to make of e-procurement in different contexts and for different sorts of organizations? This study considers e-procurement in a different context to the majority of e-procurement articles, by investigating e-procurement in the context of international agencies. Second, much of the work in international operations management research has been motivated by a desire to provide rms with an economic benet (Prasad and Babbar, 2000). Prasad and Babbar (2000) suggest similar research could be directed at non-prot, governmental and international agencies with social measures. The UN is concerned with achieving value for money in the way it procures goods and services, but has other policy objectives as well. What may be good practice in a prot-making rm may not be so clearly applicable for not-for-prot and public sector organizations.

This research explores how e-procurement interacts with the more complex policy setting of the UN. Third, the research is relevant to procurement practice, incorporating the UN policy response to e-procurement. The UN can be viewed as a leader of policy direction internationally, and the study gives an insight into how heads of purchasing in the UN balance competing procurement policy objectives. The ndings may have salience in the public, not-for-prot and voluntary sectors, where procurement is not only expected to achieve value for money, but also is increasingly used as a lever to achieve social and economic reform. The ndings may also provide insights for private sector rms and multinational corporations keen to demonstrate corporate social responsibility in their purchasing and supply policies and practices. This paper is structured as follows. First, the research context of the UN is described, and how purchasing and supply is organized amongst the agencies. Next, a literature review is presented that considers current use and benets of e-procurement, and identies factors inuencing e-adoption in organizations. Next, the literature review turns to the digital divide, which is the differential extent to which rich and poor countries benet from various forms of information technology. The digital divide is an important contextual factor inuencing e-procurement adoption in the UN. Subsequently, the methodology is described. Findings from a questionnaire survey, in depth case studies and an interactive workshop are provided. Conclusions are drawn that are relevant to not-for-prot organizations and multinational companies with strong corporate social responsibility policies. The United Nations The UN System of Organizations covers a wide variety of organizational units (centres, agencies, organizations, commissions, programmes, etc.) with different institutional and functional structures. The principal bodies and subsidiaries of the UN Secretariat are included under the regular budget of the UN, as authorized by the General Assembly. Other agencies of the UN system, however, have their own regular budgets or are nanced solely from voluntary contributions. The organizations within the UN system also vary considerably both in size and as regards their activities. Most organizations were established about the time when the UN itself came into being, but some are considerably older. Member bodies of the UN reporting annually to the General Assembly include, amongst others, the UN Secretariat, the UN Childrens Fund, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the UNDP, the World Food Programme, and the UN High Commission for Refugees. The specialized agencies, a term rst used in the UN Charter which provides for international action to promote economic and social progress, report to the Economic and Social Council. These specialized agencies work in the economic, social, scientic and technical elds and possess their own legislative and executive bodies, their own secretariats and their own budgets. These include, amongst others, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the UN Educational, Scientic & Cultural Organization, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the International Telecommunication Union, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the UN Industrial Development Organization.

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Under the authority of the Economic and Social Council are the Regional Commissions, whose aims are to assist in the economic and social development of their respective regions and to strengthen economic relations of the countries in each region, both among themselves and with the other countries of the world. These are the Economic Commission for Africa (Addis Ababa), Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacic (Bangkok), Economic Commission for Europe (Geneva), Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Santiago) and Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (Beirut). Although not formally part of the UN system, the regional development banks work closely with UN organizations. These include the African Development Bank in Abidjan, the Asian Development Bank in Manila, the Caribbean Development Bank in Barbados and the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC. The UN Organizational Chart (www.un.org/aboutun/unchart.pdf) gives a picture of the extensive interlocking nature of the UN system of organizations. Purchasing and supply in the UN Each of the larger agencies has its own procurement entity, to procure goods and services specic to its mandate and operations. There is also a Procurement Division for the UN Secretariat, and for Peace-Keeping Missions. The Inter-Agency Procurement Services Ofce (IAPSO) of the UNDP serves as a focal point for the UN system on procurement issues. It promotes inter-agency cooperation and coordination through research and development activities related to procurement; supports the international business community with information on UN business opportunities and provides procurement services for development assistance and relief operations, upon request. IAPSO serves a clientele ranging from UNDP and other UN agencies to International Finance Institutions and their Borrowers, Non-Government Organizations and other governmental organizations qualifying as partners in development aid. Many UN agencies have delegated authority to their respective country ofces to undertake procurement up to a certain nancial limit, varying by agency, from US$5,000 up to 100,000. Local procurement by peacekeeping missions is authorized up to US$200,000 for the larger missions. As developing countries become more self-reliant in managing their own technical cooperation, National Execution of projects and programmes increases, including procurement of necessary goods and services. The Inter Agency Procurement Working Group (IAPWG) consists of heads of purchasing from across UN organizations, and meets annually to further procurement issues across the UN. The UN system operates on budgets funded by its members. Each agency has a separate budget approved by its respective supervisory board. Each UN organization has adopted common guidelines for procurement, which were developed by the IAPWG. In practice, however, procedures vary widely among agencies, depending on operational requirements. While for all UN organizations the major emphasis is the achievement of best value for money through a transparent procurement process, various agencies have differing procurement value thresholds and approval procedures, particularly for contract values under US$100,000. Literature review This review seeks to identify themes in the literature relating to e-procurement, with the aim of illuminating the possible issues inuencing e-procurement adoption in the UN.

It starts by considering literature on e-procurement and its current use and benets. Next, in seeking to explain differences in e-procurement adoption between organizations, several factors are identied in the literature. Organizational, readiness, supply, strategic and policy factors relating to e-procurement adoption are identied. The literature review then turns to a consideration of the digital divide, a salient contextual factor inuencing the adoption of e-procurement in the UN. E-procurement Information and communication technologies are changing the way organizations do business, particularly the adoption of e-business and e-commerce. The scope of e-business includes information exchange, commercial transactions and knowledge sharing between organizations (Croom, 2005), whereas e-commerce focuses only on commercial transactions (Cullen and Webster, 2007). Some of the technologies associated with e-commerce include websites, e-mail, extranets, intranets and electronic data interchange (EDI) (Mclvor and Humphreys, 2004). Denitions of e-procurement vary across literature in the eld. E-procurement has been dened as the use of information technologies to facilitate B2B purchase transactions for materials and services (Wu et al., 2007). Different forms of technology are appropriate for different procurement activities; six forms of e-procurement have been classied (de Boer et al., 2002), including e-ordering/e-Maintenance Repair Operate (MRO), web-based enterprise resource planning (ERP), e-sourcing, e-tendering, e-reverse auctioning/e-auctioning and e-informing. Other writers have classied e-procurement into three broad types transaction management to manage the requisition to payment process, brokerage such as using electronic exchanges and e-auctions, and electronic integration which may involve shared information systems in the supply chain, such as EDI or sharing computer aided design systems (Chopra et al., 2001a; Kalakota, 2000). Integration of information across rms within supply chains is a requirement for efcient, responsive operations (Cooper et al., 1997; Mabert et al., 2003); integrated information has been described as the glue that holds supply chains together (Child and Faulkener, 1998). Having considered how e-procurement has been dened and described, the next section goes on to consider current use of e-procurement. Current use of e-procurement In the past, there were high expectations of the uptake of e-business using internet technologies. In an investigation of internet-based supply chain management (Kehoe and Boughton, 2001), James H. Clarke, the President of Netscape was quoted from Business Times (1996):
The internet is the biggest thing that has happened in telecommunications since the telephone. It is going to become as fundamental to the operations of businesses as the telephone. You wont be able to be in business, Ill give it ve years, without an internet connection, because there will be so much business conducted that way.

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In spite of the claimed business benets that can come from embracing e-procurement, the extent of adoption in OECD countries is below expectations and progressing slowly (Pires and Stanton, 2005). Despite signicant recent increases in internet sales in many countries, total business-to-customer plus B2B internet commerce still only represents

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2.2 per cent of turnover in Australia, 1.3 per cent in Canada and ranges from 0.01 to 17 per cent for European countries (OECD, 2007). Information integration in supply chains is not well advanced (Fawcett and Magnan, 2002, Sanders and Premus, 2002, van Hoek, 2001), despite take-up of ERP software (Mabert et al., 2003; Olhager and Selldin, 2003). Whilst promoted by software vendors as appropriate for all purchases in all types of organization, e-procurement is currently being used mainly to purchase a limited set of goods, predominantly ofce supplies and MRO supplies (Davila and Palmer, 2003b). A UK survey concluded that the purchasing community appeared to be sitting on its hands rather than committing to e-procurement (Day, 2001). Potential drivers of difference in adoption of e-procurement In seeking to explain differences in e-procurement adoption between organizations, several factors are identied in the literature. There are ve main types of factor that appear to inuence the adoption of e-procurement organizational, readiness, supply, strategic and policy factors. Organizational factors The main organizational factors that appear to impact on the likely adoption of e-procurement are size and type of operation. e-Procurement is more evident in bigger organizations than smaller. Small to medium enterprises (SMEs) often lag behind larger organizations in e-procurement adoption (ISM/Forrester Research, 2003). Reasons for this include owners attitude, resource poverty, limited IT infrastructure, limited knowledge and expertise with information systems (Harland et al., 2007). However, e-procurement can be viable for SMEs through web-based enterprise cooperations (Berlak and Weber, 2004) or if the SMEs can see the business case for e-adoption (Harland et al., 2007). Some types of organizational operations seem to lend themselves to e-procurement. The use of e-procurement applications often goes hand-in-hand with repetitive purchases from suppliers, reducing human intervention and paperwork and often resulting in improved performance for buyers and suppliers (Melville et al., 2004; Sanders, 2005; Subramani, 2004). Routinization and repetition in the procurement system will increase the efciency in this process and result in a higher level of electronic integration between buyers and suppliers (Choudhury et al., 1998). Make-to-order supply chains differ from make-for-stock supply chains, impacting on implementation of e-business (Gosain et al., 2005). High volume operations with substantial logistics, requiring regular tracking of items are more likely to use e-procurement (Lancioni et al., 2000). Operations with high usage of MRO supplies are more likely to use e-procurement (Croom, 2000). The B2B e-commerce solution is likely to vary with the number of buyers and suppliers, their connectivity and the purpose of trading (Cullen and Webster, 2007). Readiness factors Organizational readiness and external pressure impact on e-business strategy (Mehrtens et al., 2001b). Many rms are experiencing a number of major problems in implementing e-business projects, due to hasty decisions in the presence of considerable media and software vendor hype, and often no theoretical basis behind the determination of which applications are most appropriate (Cox et al., 2001).

To attain the greatest benets, purchasing processes should be evaluated and improved before adopting e-procurement tools (Presutti, 2003). Internet technologies enable integration with trading partners, yet amplify the need for fundamental organizational change (Power and Singh, 2007). B2B seller competence depends on change disposition (Rosenzweig and Roth, 2007). Lack of readiness has been attributed mainly to human readiness (Osmonbekov et al., 2002). Internal barriers to e-adoption are more signicant than customer or supplier barriers (Frohlich, 2002), suggesting supply management professionals need to ensure their own organizations are ready for e-adoption (Hartley et al., 2006). Supply factors E-procurement is more likely to be benecial in dispersed supply chains as it helps coordination (Liao et al., 2003). Different actors in supply chains have got different power, legitimacy and urgency to implement e-procurement, and e-procurement can have an effect on trust in supply chain relationships (Gattiker et al., 2007; Klein, 2007). Lack of assistance and the structural inertia of large organizations in supply chains can be a disincentive to implement e-business (Zhu et al., 2006). Different industries show different propensities to e-procurement adoption, related to existing use of information exchange infrastructures prior to the advent of the internet (Cagliano et al., 2005). The greatest benets of e-business occur when its application is fully integrated throughout the supply chain (Currie, 2000). Some literature has pointed to the possibilities of greater integration and collaboration across e-business-supported supply chains (Croom, 2005; Mclvor and Humphreys, 2004). E-procurement is more likely to be adopted if it is perceived that suppliers have capability to deal with it; there are difculties in integrating information systems across rm boundaries in supply chains if suppliers lack capability (Bagchi and Skjoett-Larsen, 2003). Strategic factors A company may adopt e-technologies as part of its overarching business strategy, contributing to improving rm performance and increasing competitive advantage. The strategic use of e-business has been considered in several studies, and how e-business strategy aligns with the overarching business strategy of a rm. The internet will only become a powerful source of competitive advantage if it is integrated in rms overall strategies (Porter, 2001). The role of IT has evolved from a productivity tool to a more strategic level (Wu et al., 2003). An e-business strategy should specify the aims, goals and context of the application (Soliman and Youssef, 2001); these choices should be aligned with other organizational and managerial choices, and integrated with the organizations processes (Graham and Hardaker, 2000). These studies suggest that if organizations are being strategic in their e-procurement adoption, they may have a specic e-procurement strategy, and that this will align with broader organizational strategy. Policy factors Public procurement can be used to support broader government policies, both through traditional and e-procurement processes. Electronic procurement in the public domain can be seen as a policy tool to support the delivery of public procurement policy, improving transparency and efciency (Carayannis and Popescu, 2005; Croom and Brandon-Jones, 2005). e-Procurement can assist a government in the way it does

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business by reducing transaction cost, making better decisions and getting more value (Panayiotou et al., 2004). e-Procurement adoption and usage in the EU and US public sector is being encourgaed (Carayannis and Popescu, 2005; Reddick, 2004). Looking beyond e-procurement policy to public procurement policy more generally, public procurement can be used to support societal reforms. There is evidence that public procurement organizations in the EU have used government spending as an instrument of industrial or social policy, placing contracts to support regional development objectives, or promoting industrial competitiveness (Arrowsmith, 1995). Public procurement has been used to promote social outcomes (McCrudden, 2004) and environmental benets (Walker et al., 2008). This aspect of public procurement can be operationalised through e-procurement applications. For example, some public sector e-catalogues list eco-labels so that buyers can choose environmentally friendly products (NHS PASA, 2004). The public sector is not alone in considering social end environmental issues along supply chains. In a survey of nearly 400 CEOs participating in the UN Global Compact (Bielak et al., 2007), upward of nine out of ten are doing more than they did ve years ago to incorporate environmental, social, and governance into their core strategies, but challenges include the difculty of managing supply chains across countries with different regulations and norms for corporate social responsibility. In sum, ve main types of factor appear to inuence the adoption of e-procurement by organizations organizational, readiness, supply, strategic and policy factors. The next section goes on to consider the digital divide, a salient contextual issue affecting e-procurement in the UN. The digital divide The global digital divide has been dened as the differential extent to which rich and poor countries benet from various forms of information technology ( James, 2007). Business use of the internet has become fairly standard in OECD countries: in 25 countries more than 89 per cent of businesses with ten or more employees have access to the internet and over half have their own web site (OECD, 2007). The growing perception that the internet is becoming an engine for global economic and social change has inspired both governments and intergovernmental agencies to accelerate the diffusion of the internet around the globe via multimillion dollar programmes and initiatives (Crenshaw and Robison, 2006). While in some poor regions the number of internet users has grown substantially, overall the gap between developed and developing countries remains wide (UNCTAD, 2005). For example, while 89 per cent of enterprises in EU nations are connected to the internet, the same is true of only 9 per cent of rms in Thailand. The UN Conference on Trade and Development produced a report in 2004 on e-Commerce Development, that showed that internet access is high among enterprises in developing countries, but that the adoption of e-business is low, especially amongst SMEs (I-Ways, 2005). Of those developing country SMEs using the internet, the main barriers to e-business are perceived to be lack of network security, development costs, lack of client supplier readiness and slow and unstable connections. A digital divide exists between those with internet access and capability and those without; this divide may be between organizations, such as small businesses and large rms, within nations, for example between urban and rural communities,

or between nations, such as developed and developing nations. The level of the divide is most extreme between highly technologically developed nations, such as the USA, and less-developed nations, such as many of the African nations. Developing countries in Africa and other regions face a competitive disadvantage because their businesses have difculty accessing the internet (Finance & Development, 2005). The digital divide appears to be growing both within and between nations, reecting and perpetuating inequalities. UN Secretary-General Ko Annan addressed business leaders on 18 June 2003 at a conference on the role of industry in bridging the global digital divide and stated:
The swift emergence of a global information society is changing the way people live, learn, work and relate [. . .] Yet too many of the worlds people remain untouched by this revolution. A digital divide threatens to exacerbate already-wide gaps between rich and poor, within and among countries.

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At the UNs World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS, 2005), the importance of removing barriers to bridging the digital divide was underlined, particularly those that hinder the full achievement of the economic, social and cultural development of countries and the welfare of their people, in particular, in developing countries. Certain factors seem to affect internet usage and e-business uptake amongst developing countries. Developing countries whose policies promote economic growth and private sector competition have experienced higher internet intensities (Dasgupta et al., 2005). A countrys degree of development impacts on internet usage, and degree of development can be viewed in terms of a countrys status in the world, level of democracy, foreign investment, manufacturing exports, and trade share (Crenshaw and Robison, 2006; Santora, 2006). Factors impacting on the diffusion of e-commerce in developing countries include infrastructure in areas such as IT and telecommunications, commercial, government and legal, social and cultural factors, transportation and minimum disposable income (Javalgi and Ramsey, 2001; Murillo, 2001). Trade using e-commerce is a means of improving the economic growth and performance of less-developed nations (Lund and McGuire, 2005). The digital divide is an important contextual factor for considering e-procurement adoption in the UN. It is important because in less-developed regions that the UN is trying to support, many suppliers have limited or no internet access, and hence are unable to trade using e-commerce technologies. The UN does business with vendors from all over the world and is actively working at increasing its sources of supply from developing countries and countries with economies in transition (UN Procurement Division, 2008a). In the UN Procurement Manual, there is concern that procurement processes such as vendor database registration (p. 51) and evaluation of requests for proposals (p. 120) should not unduly disqualify Vendors from developing countries and countries with economies in transition (p. 120) (UN Procurement Division, 2007). e-Procurement adoption across the UN may run counter to UN policies of supporting less-developed nations, regions and organizations. The impact of setting e-procurement in this broader digital divide context is that what may be good e-procurement practice in a prot-making rm may be viewed as competing with broader policy objectives of not-for-prot organizations. As the UN has a policy to increase sourcing from developing countries and simultaneously considers e-procurement policies, there is increasing awareness that internet usage and e-business is limited for suppliers in some countries. The way the UN is considering e-procurement

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adoption against the important contextual backcloth of the digital divide is to debate how these competing procurement policy objectives might be aligned and to decide on an agreed policy response. The current study was commissioned to gather information to aid decision-making, and the authors facilitated the debate at an annual general meeting of the heads of procurement from across the UN. The next section outlines the methodology for this study. Methodology This study investigated the attitudes to, and perceptions of, e-procurement held by heads of purchasing from across the UN. The study had three objectives; rst, to determine the current and planned use of e-procurement amongst the UN system of organizations. Second, to investigate the factors affecting e-adoption, and nally to assess the policy implications of e-procurement, particularly in relation to the digital divide. We adopted a triangulation research methodology (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002) to study the same phenomenon from different perspectives to achieve reliability and validity (Denzin, 1978). The research was conducted in the period from January to June 2003. There were three main stages to the research methodology: (1) a questionnaire survey sought to establish facts relating to the current and planned use of e-procurement, and to provide initial indications of factors that might explain usage; (2) three in-depth case studies explored these factors in more detail; and (3) a workshop of the heads of procurement of all UN organizations examined the implications of the ndings and, more broadly, of e-procurement adoption across the UN, particularly in the context of the digital divide. Details of the methods employed in each stage are provided in the following sections. Stage one questionnaire survey A survey was decided upon in the rst instance as there was no data available on the e-procurement activities of the various bodies of the UN. In addition, there was insufcient budget and time to individually meet or phone and interview the heads of procurement from across the UN in order to investigate e-procurement activity. The rst draft of the questionnaire survey was compiled using the literature as guidance. It was co-developed with staff at the UNDP/IAPSO, and questions were altered in line with their comments to be more accessible and understandable to procurement personnel in UN organizations. The questionnaire was piloted by sending it to six staff at the UN Procurement Division and IAPSO, with requests to scrutinize questionnaire length, structure, content and ease of response. The pilot respondents e-mailed back the completed questionnaire and sent the authors comments on the questionnaire, which led to further adjustments being made. The survey was designed to investigate factors inuencing e-procurement adoption. The questionnaire included questions that addressed the scale of procurement, the size of organization spend, number of registered suppliers, number of employees, number of countries operate in, the percentage spend with top ten suppliers, the spread of spend across different product/service areas, and the existence and documentation of a procurement strategy. e-Procurement questions addressed the extent of e-enablement

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(e-mail and internet use), which procurement activities are performed electronically, technological capability to implement e-procurement, and driving forces for e-procurement from suppliers, customers, procurement strategy or IT strategy, and barriers to e-procurement. The questionnaire asked for perceptions of UN capability to integrate suppliers and UN organizations lacking e-enablement, and perceptions of how critical e-procurement strategy is to deliver broader UN policies and strategies. Each of the 93 heads of purchasing involved in the UN IAPWG were sent the questionnaire with a supporting letter from the Chair of the IAPWG. Each person received the questionnaire in three ways, via e-mail, fax and post. A total of 26 questionnaires were returned, a response rate of 28 per cent of the IAPWG membership. As regards the split over the return of questionnaires,16 questionnaires were emailed, seven were faxed and three were posted back. Although the number of questionnaires returned was small, it did represent just under a third of the IAPWG membership, and we decided that further statistical analysis was warranted. The survey data were subject to statistical analysis, using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. A series of tests suitable for a small sample (N 26) were conducted to examine relationships between independent and dependent variables. The focus in the statistical analyses was on identifying whether there were any signicant differences between those organizations adopting e-procurement and those that were not, for a range of dependent variables. As the survey collected different sorts of data, tests suitable for small samples (Greene and DOlivera, 1992) included the x 2 test for nominal data (e.g. yes/no responses), the Mann Whitney U-test for rankable ordinal data (e.g. strongly agree to strongly disagree on a ve-point Likert scale), and independent samples t-tests for continuous data (e.g. budget). As different tests were used, ndings are reported at the 5 per cent ( ), 1 per cent ( ) and 0.1 per cent ( ) levels of signicance, or as not signicant (X). The p-value was evaluated at a two-tailed signicance level, as the direction of the differences was not predicted. Directionality established in the tests is indicated in the ndings section in Table II by or 2 . The survey did not focus on the digital divide directly, but investigated current use of e-procurement across the UN, with a view to informing e-procurement policy discussions amongst the heads of procurement. The analysis aimed to reveal whether there were any differences in the characteristics of UN organizations adopting or not adopting e-procurement, across a range of factors, such as size, approach to strategy, number of suppliers, etc. For example,( f) shows that those organizations currently using e-procurement were signicantly more likely to have a documented procurement strategy at the 0.1 per cent signicance level. Findings could also be negative, with ( j) indicating that UN organizations not planning to implement e-procurement were less likely to have an e-procurement strategy at the 1 per cent signicance level. Bracketed letters in italics (a) assist identication of the ndings in the discussion. Stage two case studies Case studies are suitable to study a contemporary phenomenon within a real-life context (Yin, 1994) such as the UN e-procurement context. The case studies permitted greater understanding (Eisenhardt, 1989) of e-procurement issues within UN organizations. The case study methodology has been employed extensively in

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operations management research (Voss et al., 2002). Three case studies were conducted, to explore further why some UN organizations were using or planning to use e-procurement and others were not. Cases were chosen for their differences, informed in part by the ndings of the survey and through discussions with staff at IAPSO. Cases that were signicantly different across a range of variables were selected to provide a diverse view of the UN. This range reected the diversity of the UN in terms of technological capability, procurement capability, tangible goods vs intangible services dominated spend, and geographical/cultural diversity. IAPSO also helped in facilitating access to case organizations. The case organizations were the WHO, the ILO, and the United Nations Ofce of Nairobi (UNON). WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the UN system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. The ILO is devoted to advancing opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Its main aims are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue in handling work-related issues. UNON is the administrative centre for the UN Environment Programme, UN-Habitat, and other UN organizations in Kenya, providing support services including procurement. The case studies were conducted using semi-structured interviews of key people in each organization involved with procurement and information systems. Twelve people were interviewed during the course of the three case studies (two at WHO, four at UNON and six at ILO). The interviews were conducted with senior staff in each organization, involved with procurement and with information systems the number varied according to organization structure. It was initially envisaged that two days would be spent with each organization, and follow up questions would be conducted by phone and e-mail. However, due to the timing of the research project coinciding with the start of the Iraq War, some staff in UN Agencies were unable to spare that much time. The interviews varied from one hour to one and a half hours in duration, and were taped and transcribed. The content of the interviews claried and explored the specic questionnaire responses for each organization in more detail, investigating the reasons behind, and context for, e-procurement decisions. A semi-structured interview format of 18 questions was followed (shown in the rst column of Table I entitled case interview questions). Documentary sources were also collected such as business cases for e-procurement, and reports on the e-procurement system. In order to analyse the case data, a cross case comparison matrix (Miles and Huberman, 1994) was used to assist in identifying similarities and differences between cases. Stage three UN heads of purchasing workshop In order to investigate e-procurement further, the authors ran focus groups at the UN heads of purchasing workshop. A focus group has been dened as:
A group of individuals selected and assembled by researchers to discuss and comment on, from personal experiences, the topic that is the subject of the research (Powell et al., 1996, p. 499).

UN Agency/case interview questions World Health Organization

United Nations Ofce in Nairobi

International Labour Organization

Annual purchasing spend? No. of employees? No. employees in procurement? No. countries purchase in? No. registered suppliers? No. active suppliers? E-solution?

Cost? Implementation dates? This system was developed for UN secretariat ofces WAN I-procurement available on web. Professional procurement interface available over WAN. Will be password protected

$188,012,862 339 24 38 2,400 532 IMIS UN Secretariat Finance System with procurement element Unknown Unknown

Why this solution chosen?

$ 46,743,539 1,900 20 60 2,000 500 Oracle Project IRIS will also include nance and HR modules US$25million total project costs Launch June 2004 mini big bang approach Oracle solution has nance, HR, travel and procurement modules

Web-based/private-WAN?

Content?

$87,410,000 7,000 28 147 15,000 4,000 UN Web Buy, e-catalogue adapted for WHO US$1.8 million total project costs Launch 2004, incrementally. HO and one regional ofce Off the shelf prohibitively expensive. Don not need bells and whistles. New ERP system in two years, wanted to be compatible Seems best approach for geographically dispersed organization. Password protected access to web site, with different degrees of authorization Will build up content of catalogue slowly

Organizational change associated with e-procurement?

Procurement module can be used to I-procurement content and procurement interface functions create and authorize p.o.s, order developing, including approval of stock items, vendor roster documents electronically and processing, etc. common vendor database No BPR planned currently I-procurement will allow BPR exercise 3 years ago. decentralization of much WHOWebBuy will allow procurement activity, HO focus on decentralization of much strategic activities. Procurement procurement activity, allowing Head module more about business process Ofce to focus on strategic activities change than technology change (continued)

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Table I. Cross-case comparison matrix of WHO, UNON and ILO

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UN Agency/case interview questions World Health Organization Minimal for WHOWebBuy Training for IMIS users

Training needs?

Cultural issues?

Geographical issues?

Supplier issues?

Key challenges?

Table I. United Nations Ofce in Nairobi International Labour Organization Minimal for i-procurement, more for professional procurement interface Cultural diversity of 147 country Only UN Secretariat ofce in Electronic approval of documents ofces developing country may be against ILO culture As purchase in 147 countries, As in developing country, problems Purchasing in 60 countries web-based solution seems best with external factors such as system failures, power cuts, etc. Vendor catalogues will contribute How does e-initiative t with WHO is one of largest buyers of pharmaceuticals, and faces supplier sourcing from developing countries content of i-procurement suppliers may be less e-enabled dominance issues WHO has essential drugs initiative, Having introduced IMIS, may want As e-procurement part of which would like to put into practice to consider whether require further organization-wide e-solution, may need to manage organizational e-procurement solutions? in e-catalogues in future change

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Focus groups rely on interaction within the group based on topics supplied by the researcher (Morgan, 1997). An advantage of focus groups is that they can become a forum for change, both during the meeting itself and afterwards (Race et al., 1994). The two authors facilitated focus groups at the UN/IAPWG annual meeting, attended by 37 heads of purchasing from across the UN. The workshop ran from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The morning started with the authors presenting for two hours on international practice in e-procurement and on the ndings of the case and survey research, which had been circulated prior to the workshop in a draft report. The authors received feedback from the attendees. Before lunch, the heads of purchasing were randomly allocated to ve focus groups and given issues to discuss for one hour and 15 minutes. The ve focus groups tackled the following issues: (1) digital divide between nations capability; (2) digital divide within nations; (3) what type of UN organization might benet from e-procurement, and what type might not; (4) what benets might UN organizations gain from e-procurement? and (5) supplier readiness and commitment to e-procurement. The focus group discussions were taped and transcribed, and ip charts used to capture the discussion were collected. The authors moved between the focus groups to facilitate discussion, and four members of IAPSO and one from UNICEF that had assisted in the research since its inception were spread amongst the groups to further aid discussion. The groups were asked to nominate a speaker to present their discussions back at the one and a half hour plenary session in the afternoon. In the plenary session, the authors facilitated a discussion to help inform UN procurement policy relating to e-procurement. Findings and discussion The ndings are presented in sections below relating to the research questions, which were: RQ1. How do UN organizations currently use and plan to use e-procurement? RQ2. Which factors affect the adoption of e-procurement in UN organizations? RQ3. How does adoption of e-procurement across the UN affect policy issues? First, ndings related to the current and the planned use of e-procurement are discussed. Findings concerning the factors affecting e-procurement adoption are presented next. Findings on the digital divide are then presented. In each section, explanations of survey ndings are provided from the case studies and the workshop. How do UN organizations currently use and plan to use e-procurement? The survey of heads of procurement from across the UN found that 8 out of 26 respondents claimed to use an e-procurement system. Out of 26, 18 said that their organization planned to be using e-procurement within the next three years. Analysis of the current usage of technology across different elements of the procurement process

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revealed invoicing stood out as most often rated not at all electronic, as paper copies with signatures are needed. Existing e-procurement solutions being used by organizations within the survey included UNWebBuy, TC-PRIME and AFIMS, TSA Gateway, SAP, EPIC, Mercury, Puridom Gateway Edition, Peoplesoft, Oracle, and various supplier portals via the internet. Only three of the organizations reported signicant monthly transactions through an e-procurement system. The three case studies provided greater supporting detail relating to the survey ndings, as shown in Table I. Previous efforts have been made to take a portfolio approach to e-procurement, adapting Kraljics model (van Weele, 2002) shown in Figure 1. The three case study organizations were mapped onto this portfolio model in Figure 2 to position their current use of e-procurement. WHO had done a similar portfolio analysis of product groups, mapping volume and criticality of goods, and identifying those high volume low-value items that could be placed on the e-catalogue. ILO had also identied those routine items that could be ordered through the i-procurement system, and has a different e-strategy for strategic goods and services, via the professional procurement interface. UNON had stock items available on their IMIS system, yet did not have a different e-procurement strategy for different parts of the product/service portfolio. Which factors affect the adoption of e-procurement in UN organizations? This section considers the ndings relating to the second research question, and provides more detail of the factors that explain differences in e-procurement adoption between organizations. Table II summarizes the ndings from the survey concerning the factors inuencing e-procurement adoption. Organizational factors. The survey analysis showed that UN organization size, in terms of numbers of employees or annual budget, was not signicantly related to
High Virtual auctions Performance based partnership Bottleneck items Supplier specific e-solutions Balance Low System contracting Supply risk Secure supply + search for alternatives High Leverage products Strategic products

Balance Electronic data interchange

Impact on financial result

Competitive bidding Routine items

Corporate purchasing super site

E-procurement solutions

Figure 1. The e-procurement portfolio model

Low

Leverage products High Virtual auctions

Strategic products

Balance Electronic data interchange Performance based partnership Bottleneck items Supplier specific e-solutions Secure supply + search for alternatives High

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Impact on financial result

Competitive bidding Routine items WHO UNON

Corporate Purchasing Super ILO Site

E-procurement solutions

Low Low

System contracting Supply risk

Figure 2. Case organizations mapped onto the portfolio model

propensity to adopt e-procurement, which contrasts with previous studies (ISM/Forrester Research, 2003, Harland et al., 2007). In hindsight, it may have been benecial to nd a way to measure organizational size that relates more closely to e-procurement, such as in terms of number of purchases. The type of operation was related to e-procurement adoption, with those agencies planning to implement e-procurement being signicantly more likely to be development agencies that work in developing countries over time (e.g. UNDP) or having a high-logistical component to their operations (e.g. WHO have pharmaceuticals shipped to developing nations). In the case studies and the workshop, it was revealed that the urgency and lack of forward visibility of humanitarian aid provision, such as disaster relief (e.g. UN High Commission for Refugees), requires short-term procurement local to the site, as far as possible. The survey analysis revealed these types of organizations were found to be less likely to adopt e-procurement (a). The requirements for e-procurement, therefore, differ between types of agencies supporting ndings that e-procurement depends on type of operations (Gosain et al., 2005; Lancioni et al., 2000). Readiness factors. All survey organizations used e-mail and had access to the internet. However, 3 of the 26 strongly disagreed with the statement that they had sufcient IT capability to implement an e-procurement system. Organizational readiness impacts on e-business strategy (Mehrtens et al., 2001a). Organizations currently using and planning to implement e-procurement were signicantly more likely to agree that the UN is ready for an e-procurement initiative ( b,c), and less likely to agree that the UN should defer this decision ( e,f). The following quote was captured in a case study, which supports the view that lack of readiness has been attributed mainly to human readiness (Osmonbekov et al., 2002):
There are not professional staff specialized in this eld. Furthermore, in order to implement an e-procurement strategy in the future, more information and expertise would be necessary.

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Independent variables Organization factors Number of organization employees Organization budget Type of organization (emergency/humanitarian aid vs development) Readiness factors UN ready for e-procurement initiative Defer e-procurement initiative Lack of IT capability at local ofces Available software is too complex Insufcient funding Organizational culture Lack of senior management commitment Trust relationships with suppliers not strong enough Suppliers ability and willingness to use e-procurement lacking Other priorities take precedence over e-procurement Lack of condence over e-transactions Security problems Political considerations Supply factors Number employed in procurement Number of employees authorized to procure Procurement spend Number of registered suppliers Geographic dispersal of procurement Spend concentration on top ten suppliers Strategic factors Existence of a procurement strategy Documented procurement strategy Existence of a e-procurement strategy Documented e-procurement strategy Different strategies for different parts of product/service portfolio Purchasing strategy driving the selection of an e-procurement system IT strategy driving e-procurement e-procurement strategy being driven by suppliers e-procurement strategy being driven by customers e-procurement strategy being driven by own organization Constraints external rather than internal Policy factors e-procurement strategy essential to deliver future UN procurement strategy and policy UN has the capability to integrate non e-enabled UN organizations and suppliers

Current use of e-procurement X X X ( b) 2 (d) X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X ( f) ( h) X 2 ( k) X X (n) X X X (p) X X

Planned use of e-procurement X X (a) (c) 2 (e) X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X (g) (i) ( j) ( l) (m) X X X X (o) X X X

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Table II. Independent t-tests for independent variables and current and planned e-procurement adoption

Notes: X results not signicant at 5 per cent level; (italics) in discussion

Supply factors. Some organizations have formalized purchasing procedures (e.g. ILO), whereas other organizations have more exible purchasing procedures as their UN staff need to buy goods in the eld in emergency situations (e.g. UN High Commission for Refugees). Organizations vary in their degree of collaboration in contracting with suppliers.

Out of 26, 25 respondent organizations were responsible for their own contracting. Out of 26, 17 used shared contracts with other UN organizations and 11 led contracts on behalf of other UN organizations. The case studies suggest that of all the goods and services bought by the UN, mainly ofces supplies and catalogue items are supplied via e-procurement. This corresponds with ndings that e-procurement is mainly used to purchase a limited set of goods, predominantly ofce supplies and MRO supplies (Croom, 2000). Likeliness to adopt e-procurement was not found to be signicantly related to geographical dispersal of supply activities or supply chain features. Strategic factors. A total of 20 of 26 respondents felt that the time was right for the UN to start an initiative to encourage e-procurement. Out of 26, ten respondents claimed that their organization had an e-procurement strategy already, and eight of these had documented it. However, only nine respondent organizations had different e-procurement strategies for different parts of their product/service portfolio. This appears surprisingly low, considering the large range and heterogeneity of products and services purchased by the UN. The relationship between e-procurement and strategy (Porter, 2001) was apparent in the survey ndings. Respondents were asked whether they had strategies for procurement and e-procurement, and whether these were documented. The aim was to explore whether those organizations that had more advanced strategies had also made more progress with e-procurement implementation. Those organizations currently using or planning to implement e-procurement in the next few years were signicantly more likely to have a procurement strategy ( f,g) that was documented ( h,i). Unsurprisingly, organizations not planning to implement e-procurement were less likely to have an e-procurement strategy ( j) that was documented ( k,l). Those organizations planning to implement e-procurement were more likely to have different e-procurement strategies for different parts of the product/service portfolio (m), and were adopting a portfolio approach to e-procurement (van Weele, 2002). Those organizations currently using e-procurement were signicantly more likely to agree strongly that their e-procurement strategy was being driven by their IT strategy (n) conrming previous studies that relate e-procurement adoption to IT strategy (Chopra et al., 2001b). Organizations planning to implement e-procurement were more likely to agree e-procurement strategy was driven by their own organization (o), corresponding with the view that organizational readiness impacts on e-business strategy (Mehrtens et al., 2001a). Those organizations currently using e-procurement were signicantly more likely to agree that constraints to e-procurement are more likely to be external with suppliers rather than internal (p) highlighting the role of suppliers in e-procurement (Bagchi and Skjoett-Larsen, 2003). How does adoption of e-procurement across the UN affect policy issues? This section discusses the ndings in relation to the nal research question, considering the policy implications of e-procurement adoption across the UN, and moving to a specic focus on the digital divide. The subsequent section discusses the UN policy response to e-procurement in the context of the digital divide. There is evidence internationally of public procurement being used as a lever to deliver broader policy objectives (Arrowsmith, 1995; McCrudden, 2004). The UN, including its many afliated agencies, represents a vast global market for suppliers of

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virtually all types of goods and services. The UN, and in particular the UNDP, has supply policies concerning increasing purchasing spend with suppliers from developing countries to enhance their economic development. The IAPWG has had considerable success in promoting and implementing supply policies across the UN such as not selecting suppliers that use child labor or are involved in the production of landmines, which are shaping the international aid supply market. UNICEFs policy on child labor is particularly strict, far more so than save the children whose policy allows some exibility if the suppliers are providing food, schooling or medical support, and the hours worked by children is kept to a minimum. The case studies revealed how some UN policies may be implemented through the e-procurement system. For example, WHO has an essential drugs policy, suggesting that developing nations need 2,000 (mostly generic) essential drugs rather than the tens of thousands of branded drugs offered by pharmaceutical companies. The policy is being considered for promotion through the e-procurement catalogue system, and the essential drugs could be offered on the WHOWebBuy facility to developing nations. This is an example of how e-procurement can deliver broader policy objectives. However, the case studies and policy workshop revealed complexity and particular policy issues that had to be dealt with. The main issue dealt with in the workshop was the digital divide. The digital divide. During the case study interviews, concerns were raised regarding the digital divide. Some concerns related to inconsistent capability between different parts of the UN supply system, exemplied in the quote:
We are dealing with 1,500 institutes (end-users) and 5,000 suppliers in nearly 110 countries. Moreover, the UN is not an integrated corporation. While internal aspects of e-procurement can be implemented, it is not reasonable at this time to expect our counterparts in developing countries to have reliable broad-band internet connections.

Other concerns related to lack of IT capacity in suppliers in developing nations:


E-procurement should be deferred in order to provide equal opportunities to suppliers from developing countries which do not have sufcient IT capacity.

More formal representation of the views of the less developed members of the UN is provided:
The United Nations is mandated by its legislative bodies to increase procurement from developing countries and countries with economies in transition. In this respect, Member States want the United Nations to maintain conventional procurement means in order not to disadvantage suppliers from these countries.

The digital divide was described by participants at the workshop in terms of accessibility to, and use of, information. Factors affecting the digital divide are summarized in Table III, derived in the workshop. The international divide was perceived as the most extreme form of digital divide (as opposed to, say within nations or between small and large rms) as clusters of factors occur together. The digital divide presents considerable challenges for the purchasing community, and is an issue that all areas of e-commerce face. From an academic perspective, there is a lack of empirical research investigating e-procurement in the context of the digital divide both in a global context and within nations. From a practitioner perspective, organizations may face e-procurement connectivity issues with suppliers in developing countries with a lack

Resources Environment Capacity

Geographical

Financial/economical Infrastructure Political Social Cultural Training Education Technical expertise Human resources Terrain Urban/rural Population distribution

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Source: UN IAPWG heads of purchasing Workshop (2003)

Table III. Factors affecting the digital divide

of technological infrastructure and online access. Whilst developing countries might benet from e-commerce, doubt has been raised over whether they are ready to participate in e-commerce, have the kinds of industries that act as demand-pull, and whether social, political and institutional arrangements are in place to encourage and sustain e-commerce (Lund and McGuire, 2005). In developed countries, the digital divide may be evident in the gap between SMEs and larger suppliers in e-procurement adoption (ISM/Forrester Research, 2003). e-Procurement adoption may limit the supply base, and contribute to the digital divide. One focus group participant commented:
The pure procurement issue is that by implementing e-procurement, the UN should not limit access and penalise developing country suppliers.

UN policy response As a result of the whole study, the UN heads of purchasing chose to act in a number of ways. First, they saw their role as assisting in developing economies, legislation, education, partnerships with private business and good governance. However, they are constrained by their own legislation requiring them to provide services to all member states. The study demonstrated that a UN policy to implement e-procurement across all UN organizations would act to the detriment of member states that were less-developed nations, and would be in direct conict with UN development policy. Therefore, they chose not to pursue e-procurement unilaterally. Rather, individual organizations on a case by case basis should review their own positions and use e-procurement as appropriate to their situations, in line with broader UN policies. Advisory services, funding and support should be provided, particularly education and partnering to help mitigate the effect of the digital divide. They also decided to establish a mechanism for inter-agency learning relating to e-procurement experience. Following the study, the UN has since launched a series of programmes to encourage businesses in developing countries to adopt e-commerce (Supply Chain Europe, 2004). Conclusions This study investigated issues, inuences and impacts of e-procurement adoption by exploring the perceptions of UN heads of purchasing in an extended multiple-method case study. There appears to be a balancing act between UN supply policy to increase

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purchasing from developing nations, and any IAPWG initiative to implement e-procurement more widely across the UN family. Therefore, the choice by the UN heads of purchasing not to implement a universal e-procurement strategy seems prudent. Organizations in the UN may benet from being conservative adopters (Davila and Palmer, 2003a), adopting a wait and see approach. This research had several limitations. The limited number of respondents to the survey prevented more advanced quantitative analysis. The case studies would have beneted from more interviewees. The study was also restricted to organizations in a large, complex confederal network, which may limit generalisability. However, the ndings may have salience in the public, not-for-prot and voluntary sectors, where procurement is increasingly used as a lever to achieve social and economic reform, and in private sector rms keen to demonstrate corporate social responsibility. This study may also have broader relevance for other complex international networks such as multinational corporations, which are large, geographically dispersed, goal disparate inter-organizational networks (Ghoshal and Bartlett, 1990). e-Procurement adoption amongst multinational corporations will impact upon suppliers, especially in the SME sector who are often reliant on the support and existence of multinational corporations located in their region. More research could be conducted to assess how e-procurement adoption and other complex policy objectives interact. The digital divide is a salient contextual factor for the UN in its consideration of e-procurement, and is likely to have resonance for a range of other organizations in different contexts. Future research could investigate what range of interventions might help to bridge the divide and assist e-procurement uptake amongst suppliers in developing countries. Much research on e-procurement has been conducted in the private sector (Tatsis et al., 2006) and this research contributes to the small but growing number of studies of e-procurement in the context of the public and not-for-prot sectors (Carayannis and Popescu, 2005; McManus, 2002) by studying e-procurement in the UN. What may be good practice in a prot-making rm may be viewed as in conict with broader policy objectives of not-for-prot and public sector organizations.

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Wu, F., Mahajan, V. and Balasubramanian, S. (2003), An analysis of e-business adoption and its impacts on business performance, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Vol. 31, pp. 425-47. Wu, F., Zsidisin, G.A. and Ross, A.D. (2007), Antecedents and outcomes of e-procurement adoption: an integrative model, IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, Vol. 54, pp. 576-87. van Hoek, R. (2001), E-supply chains virtually non-existing, Supply Chain Management, Vol. 6, pp. 21-8. van Weele, A.J. (2002), Purchasing and Supply Chain Management Analysis, Planning and Practice, Thomson Learning, London. Yin, R. (1994), Case study research: design and methods, Applied Social Research Methods Series, 2nd ed., Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA. Zhu, K., Dong, S.T., Xu, S.X. and Kraemer, K.L. (2006), Innovation diffusion in global contexts: determinants of post-adoption digital transformation of European companies, European Journal of Information Systems, Vol. 15, pp. 601-16. About the authors Helen Walker is the Deputy Director of the Centre for Research in Strategic Purchasing and Supply, University of Bath School of Management. Her research interests are sustainable procurement, public procurement, and the role of procurement in inuencing supply markets. Helen Walker is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: mnshlw@management.bath.ac.uk Christine Harland is the Director of CRiSPS and her main research interests are in supply strategy, embracing supply chain management and inter-organization network strategy.

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