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Sociotechnical fit and perceived usefulness of enterprise social networks.

Over the past 5 years, many companies have shifted to networked organizational forms, in which hierarchical structures are deemphasized and communication is central to the organization's functioning (Ellison, Gibbs, & Weber, 2015). Online social networks have become extremely popular and changed the way people live and work (Han, Jun, & Kim, 2019; Maduku, 2017), and within networked organizations employees increasingly accomplish their daily work by collaborative technology. In most organizations personnel responsible for this aspect of the operation actively seek to devise a social media strategy to exploit the potential commercial opportunities of enterprise social networks (ESNs). The proliferation of ESNs has profound implications for the functioning of the enterprise, as an internal platform through which much social interaction and collaboration occur (Wipawayangkool & Teng, 2016; L. Wu, 2013).

In many of the academic studies on ESNs, scholars have taken into account the adoption, implementation, and application of these systems (Aboelmaged, 2018; Ellison et al., 2015). These studies are helpful at the strategic level, but in most enterprises the staff responsible for the implementation of the ESN also need measures that are more practical to help decide whether a specific ESN will fit the requirements of that business, for example, to improve performance (Kwahk & Park, 2016).

Thus, in this study I proposed a sociotechnical fit framework to explore three reasons for concerns related to users' perceived usefulness of ESNs. First, according to sociotechnical systems thinking, social elements and the corresponding relationships must be considered to shape the system infrastructure. Second, innovation in operations and human relationships from the ESNs depends on the purpose of the particular business (Yusof, 2015). Perceived usefulness is a critical measure to assess the acceptance and success of ESNs; thus, it is essential to develop a framework to identify the determinants of perceived usefulness in adopting ESNs. Third, although the potential and value of ESNs have been established, from the research currently available it remains unclear how ESNs make useful platforms to sustain employee participation in collaborating and knowledge sharing (Ge, Xu, & Pellegrini, 2019). Therefore, the fit of organization, technology, and human inputs should be considered in estimating the perceived usefulness of ESNs.

Literature Review and Development of Hypotheses Sociotechnical Systems Perspective of Enterprise Social Networks

ESNs are related to organizational measures, such as the effectiveness of strategic networking behavior and the company's performance in terms of innovativeness (Leonardi, 2014; Recker, Malsbender, & Kohlborn, 2016). However, to date, most studies of ESNs have been carried out within the computer-supported cooperative work context via examining computer and human--computer interaction communities (Harmon & Demirkan, 2015), focusing on specific systems and a detailed description of how to use ESNs (Aral, Dellarocas, & Godes, 2013). Following this view, in this study I examined how the affordances enacted by ESNs may enhance or transform how employees perceive the usefulness of ESNs in regard to carrying out work tasks.

Technology Fit Model and Human Perceived Usefulness

The task--technology fit is affected by both task and technological features, and determines users' performance and utilization of the technology. The task--technology fit model has been widely used to research information systems in different settings, with the exception of the ESNs context (Aljukhadar, Senecal, & Nantel, 2014; B. Wu & Chen, 2017). The role of perceived usefulness in system utilization has also been thoroughly investigated since the 1970s (Goodhue & Thompson, 1995). Numerous scholars have confirmed the reliability and validity of perceived usefulness as a predictor of the intention to use different technologies in various contexts (see, e.g., Alsabawy, Cater-Steel, & Soar, 2016; Wei & Ram, 2016). However, it remains unclear whether technology fit influences the perceived usefulness of ESNs. Thus, in this study I sought to fill the gap in the literature by answering two research questions:

Research Question 1: What factors impact the perceived usefulness of enterprise social networks?

Research Question 2: Is the proposed sociotechnical fit model valid and reliable for identifying factors affecting perceived usefulness?

Antecedents of Organization--Technology Fit

Organization--technology fit is a basic measure of the organization employing efforts in fitting appropriate technological functionalities to the business's objectives (Gibbs, Eisenberg, Rozaidi, & Gryaznova, 2015). Although ESNs can influence employee performance by enabling more effective interactions with or between employees, simply possessing technology is not enough (Leonardi, 2013). Organizations must design ESNs to align with business objectives and use them effectively to achieve desired outcomes. Multiple organizational factors affect system uptake (Zhang & Venkatesh, 2013), including having the appropriate vision, offering adequate support, and providing organizational incentives. Support for the implementation of an ESN, particularly by senior management, is also critical to the success of the ESN. Therefore, I posited the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Organizational factors will have a positive effect on organization--technology fit for enterprise social networks.

As ESNs facilitate extensible peer-to-peer communication and are the leading channel through which employees can communicate without time and place constraints, these networks have impacts on at least four common business objectives within the organization: social capital formation, boundary work, attention distribution, and social analysis (Majchrzak, Wagner, & Yates, 2013; Stein, Song, Baldi, & Li, 2017). Moreover, at both individual and organizational levels ESNs aid in distributing information and sharing knowledge for business objectives, such as communication, collaboration, and document repository systems (Aboelmaged, 2018). Therefore, I proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 2: The characteristics of enterprise social networks will have a positive effect on organization--technology fit.

Antecedents of Task--Technology Fit

Task--technology fit is a basic measure of the employment of an information technology system in fulfilling different tasks (Goodhue & Thompson, 1995), such as transmitting leaders' instructions, and is defined as how well the functions of the information system match the tasks that the user must perform. Because ESNs are used by individuals to perform information tasks, ESN features can influence usage and users' perception of the technology. The first step in creating an ESN that is fit for purpose is to identify users' needs and expectations of tasks, because different objectives and requirements are achieved through different social software tools and technologies (Reid, 2016). Therefore, I posited the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 3: The characteristics of enterprise social networks will have a positive effect on task--technology fit.

Tasks are broadly defined as the actions carried out by individuals in turning inputs into outputs (Goodhue & Thompson, 1995). Researchers of problem solving have shown that task characteristics play an important role for people in attaining better task performance (Zhang & Venkatesh, 2013). A participant in an ESN is considered as being mainly motivated to either consume content (i.e., reading) or generate content (i.e., posting). Thus, from the view of the key user motivation, task performance demonstrates the particular task--technology fit in an organization (Singh, Sahoo, & Mukhopadhyay, 2014). Therefore, I posited the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 4: Task characteristics will have a positive effect on the task--technology fit of enterprise social networks.

Antecedents of Perceived Usefulness

Perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness are concepts widely used in the literature to investigate whether users accept information systems (see, e.g., Alsabawy et al., 2016; Yusof, 2015). The organization--technology fit influences the perceived usefulness of ESNs, which, in turn, helps to determine their perceived usefulness (Ashraf, Thongpapanl, & Spyropoulou, 2016). The emphasis in organization--technology fit is on the importance of matching appropriate technological functionalities to the business objectives imposed by the organization, and researchers have suggested that a good fit will result in technology utilization (Kim, Park, Ahn, & Rho, 2015). In addition, organization--technology fit has been linked to the impact of technology on individual performance (D'Ambra, Wilson, & Akter, 2013). Thus, organization--technology fit should interact with the relationship between information systems and user assessment, and I formed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 5: Organization--technology fit will have a positive effect on users' perceived usefulness of enterprise social networks.

Task--technology fit is an important factor in explaining the effective use of ESNs (Goodhue, Klein, & March, 2000). Researchers have shown that aligning ESNs with different work practices requires users to communicate with each other in carrying out tasks (Subramaniam, Nandhakumar, & Baptista, 2013). ESNs provide interactive platforms through which individuals create, discuss, and modify user-generated content together (Huang, Singh, & Ghose, 2015), which is an important aspect of online social relationships (Shriver, Nair, & Hofstetter, 2013; Venkatesh, Morris, Davis, & Davis, 2003). Thus, I proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 6: Task--technology fit will have a positive effect on the perceived ease of use of enterprise social networks.

Perceived ease of use is an important component of technology acceptance and usage behavior. In the context of ESNs, perceived ease of use can be defined as the extent to which an individual believes that using ESNs will be effortless. Previous researchers have shown that perceived ease of use has a positive impact on users' attitude about the perceived usefulness of the systems (Ozturk, Bilgihan, Nusair, & Okumus, 2016; B. Wu & Zhang, 2014). In ESN contexts, perceived ease of use could affect the perceived usefulness of ESNs. Thus, I proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 7: Users' perceived ease of use will have a positive effect on the perceived usefulness of enterprise social networks.

It is essential that ESNs fit both the task and the organization. I drew on theories from a literature review to develop a research model in which the organization--technology--human fit is considered, to outline related constructs as predictors of the perceived usefulness of ESNs. The model is depicted in Figure 1.

Method

Participants and Procedure

I conducted a survey with employees of JA Company in China to collect data for testing my theoretical model. JA Company is a self-operated electricity supplier in China, and has been using Tita as a tool for online plan management, internal communication, and task performance management since 2014. Tita, which is based on the Microsoft program Yammer, is the first ESN to be used in China.

With the help of the information technology manager of JA Company, I sent an email containing a hyperlink to the survey to 340 JA Company employees and I received 320 responses from October to December, 2017. Responses to the questionnaire were anonymous and participants were provided with sufficient information to make an informed decision as to whether to take part in the survey. The data were first checked for missing values, which were imputed by utilizing an expectation maximization method. Finally, 275 valid surveys were used for data analysis. The demographic characteristics of the respondents are shown in Table 1.

Measures

The first section of the survey included items about respondents' demographic characteristics, such as gender, age, education level, department, working years, time spent on ESNs in daily work, and experience with using ESNs. In the second section of the survey, respondents completed scales taken from previous references and adapted to fit the ESN context, as shown in Table 2. Responses were rated on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree.

Results

Reliability and Validity

To ensure adequate convergent validity, all item factor loadings should be significant and exceed .70, the composite reliability for each construct should exceed .70, and the average variance extracted for each construct should be greater than .50 (Hajli, 2014). Table 2 shows a summary of the reliability and convergent validity of constructs used in this study. Overall, Cronbach's alpha scores indicate that each construct exhibited strong internal reliability (> .70), and all three conditions for acceptable convergent validity were met.

Model Fit

Six indices (Cangur & Ercan, 2015) were used to assess the overall model fit. Table 3 shows that all indices for the overall model fit met recommended values.

Structural Equation Modeling Analysis

The study results in Figure 2 illustrate that, with the exception of Hypothesis 2, all of the hypotheses were supported in the proposed direction. The three predictors of perceived usefulness (i.e., perceived ease of use, organization--k fit, and task--technology fit) explained 89% of the variance. In addition, the variance explained for perceived ease of use was 59%, that for organization--task fit was 72%, and that for task--technology fit was 64%.

In Hypotheses 1 and 2 I addressed how organization--technology fit is related to organizational factors and the technological characteristics of ESNs. Hypothesis 2 was not supported, possibly because ESNs provide users with fundamental capabilities of social networking and knowledge sharing for work; however, it is important to encourage employees to join and contribute to the network. Thus, organization--technology fit does not differ based on the technological characteristics of ESNs but does depend on organizational support for the ESNs.

In Hypotheses 3 and 4 I explored task--technology fit as influenced by ESN technological features, task features, and organization--technology fit. All hypotheses were supported. One explanation for these findings is that although organization--technology fit is critical, it might not be the basic goal that people consider when using ESNs. Nearly 70% of the sample in this study spent more than 4 hours on ESNs in their daily work; they found that ESNs are useful only if they apply to appropriate tasks. From this perspective, the results I obtained are logical.

Supporting Hypotheses 5 to 7, significant relationships were verified between organization--technology fit and perceived usefulness, between perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness, and between task--technology fit and perceived ease of use. Thus, according to my results, a prerequisite for perceived usefulness of ESNs is organization--technology fit.

Discussion

Theoretical Implications

Information systems researchers have expended considerable effort in developing technology adoption models. There is a large amount of literature on the antecedents of perceived usefulness (see, e.g., Aboelmaged, 2018; Aljukhadar et al., 2014; Ge et al., 2019); however, little research has been conducted to examine ESNs from the perspective of users' perceptions and how these relate to sociotechnical fit. For academics, the sociotechnical fit research model and the analysis process proposed in this article provide challenging issues for further theoretical development. Therefore, in this study I have made three novel contributions to the literature on ESN use.

First, I have developed and verified a sociotechnical fit model in which the organization--technology--human fit is considered in theory-driven research to outline related constructs that can be employed to increase the users' perceived usefulness of ESNs. According to the empirical results, most of the hypotheses I formed in the sociotechnical fit model were supported and the model had good explanatory power, providing a valuable theoretical contribution to the user adoption literature for supporting ESN use and coordination.

Second, by taking a sociotechnical fit view, in this study I have conceptualized organization--technology fit and task--technology fit in the context of ESNs. In addition, along with perceived ease of use, I included sociotechnical differences--such as organization factors, task characteristics, and technological characteristics--in the research model because of the critical role they play in users' perceived usefulness of ESNs. Therefore, my findings offer insight into sociotechnical differences, which are developing relevance in an ESN context.

Third, I have confirmed that the users' perceived usefulness of ESNs has two principal motivations mediated by perceived ease of use. Organization--technology fit is an extrinsic motivation for performing an activity for a consequence related to the organization, and task--technology fit is an intrinsic motivation for performing an activity for its own sake. Consequently, my findings in this study help to increase understanding of the roles of the principal motivations that drive users' perception of usefulness in the context of ESNs.

Practical Implications

First, as the fastest growing part of online social networks, ESNs have brought both ease and convenience to employees in organizations. To improve the performance of specific tasks, staff responsible for this aspect of organizations should keep the communications running smoothly in ESNs. Therefore, managers of organizations should value this important and growing channel of communication, because ESN applications contribute to competitive advantages.

Second, the study results indicate that organization--technology fit and task--technology fit, as mediated by perceived ease of use, explain users' perceived usefulness of ESNs. Therefore, ESN providers should attach importance to interface design elements when targeting users' perceived usefulness. Moreover, ESNs should be developed and implemented with the ease of use in mind, because simplicity of the business processes is critical for successfully completing the tasks in ESNs.

Third, ESNs were developed as part of a broader cultural change initiative by leaders, such that the age and cultural background of employees may make some of them more receptive than others are to the use of ESNs in the workplace. For example, the majority of JA Company employees were aged in their 20s, and they were perhaps more familiar with and receptive to social media technologies than older people might be.

Limitations and Future Research Directions

First, I collected data only from Tita users employed by JA Company in China, so that my results may be not fully generalizable to other cultures and organizations. Future research involving data collection in other Chinese as well as non-Chinese firms may offer important information for comparing organizational differences. Second, although I attempted to draw from diverse theories, there certainly might be other important exogenous variables that significantly impact users' perceived usefulness. Future researchers may use experimental designs to investigate other moderators that impact the users' perceived usefulness of ESNs, such as their interactivity, the department in which the individual is employed, and education level.

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the National Social Science Fund "Thirteenth Five-Year Plan" education topic (BFA180064), and by the Shanghai Philosophy and Social Sciences Project (2016BGL002).

References

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Bing Wu (1)

(1) School of Economics and Management, Tongji University, People's Republic of China

CORRESPONDENCE Bing Wu, School of Economics and Management, Tongji University, Shanghai 200092, People's Republic of China. Email: ww_bing@163.com

https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.8458
Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of the Respondents

Variables        Category                       F        %

Gender           Male                          154     56
                 Female                        121     44
Age              Under 20 years                  3      1.1
                 20-30 years                   190     69.1
                 30-50 years                    82     29.8
Education level  Less than bachelor's degree    11      4.0
                 Bachelor's degree             154     56.0
                 Master's degree                74     26.9
                 Doctorate                      36     13.1
Department       Finance                         8      2.9
                 Sales                          42     15.4
                 Human resources                17      6.4
                 Product development            54     19.4
                 Information technology        140     50.9

Note. N = 275.

Table 2. Construct Reliability and Convergent Validity of Study
Measures

Construct                                      Item loadings  AVE  CR
Organizational factors (Seo & Lee, 2016)                      .74  .96
  1. I think the leadership in the             .73
     company will have an impact on
     ESN use.
  2. I think my colleagues in the company      .74
     will have an impact on ESN use.
  3. I believe that organizational             .86
     initiatives (e.g., incentives) will
     have an impact on ESN use.
ESN characteristics (Kane, 2015)                              .72  .98
  1. The ESNs can contribute to                .78
     employees' communication with each
     other without time and place
     constraints.
  2. The ESNs can provide conformable          .92
     communication environments.
  3. The ESNs can provide the right            .73
     information at the right time.
Task characteristics (Recker et al., 2016)                    .71  .99
  1. I need to communicate with others in      .79
     the company without time and place
     constraints.
  2. I need to find and access digital         .70
     content of the company in real time.
  3. I need to know what other employees       .94
     in the company are doing.
Organization-technology
fit (Strong & Volkoff, 2010)                                  .82  .94
  1. The ESNs are fit for transmitting         .78
     the leader's instructions.
  2. The ESNs are fit for maintaining          .68
     relationships with coworkers.
  3. The ESNs are useful for improving         .78
     the performance of the company.
Task-technology fit (Aljukhadar et al., 2014)                 .73  .98
  1. Using ESNs fits with my working           .71
     practice.
  2. The function of ESNs is fit for           .70
     communicating with the company
     staff.
  3. The ESNs are suitable for helping         .74
     me complete my work tasks.
Perceived ease of use (Ozturk et al., 2016)                   .70  .93
  1. The ESNs are very easy for me to          .82
     use.
  2. The function of the ESNs is simple        .87
     and easy to operate.
  3. Others in the company can clearly         .67
     understand my interactions with
     them when I use the ESNs.
Perceived usefulness (Alsabawy et al., 2006)                  .86  .97
  1. By using the ESNs, I believe that         .52
     the staff has improved the
     efficiency of communication.
  2. By using the ESNs, I have improved        .64
     my working efficiency.
  3. By using the ESNs, I can reduce           .73
     the time needed to acquire
     information.
  4. By using the ESNs, I believe              .69
     that the staff has increased
     my work output.

Construct                                        Cronbach's [alpha]
Organizational factors (Seo & Lee, 2016)         .92
  1. I think the leadership in the
     company will have an impact on
     ESN use.
  2. I think my colleagues in the company
     will have an impact on ESN use.
  3. I believe that organizational
     initiatives (e.g., incentives) will
     have an impact on ESN use.
ESN characteristics (Kane, 2015)                 .90
  1. The ESNs can contribute to
     employees' communication with each
     other without time and place
     constraints.
  2. The ESNs can provide conformable
     communication environments.
  3. The ESNs can provide the right
     information at the right time.
Task characteristics (Recker et al., 2016)       .80
  1. I need to communicate with others in
     the company without time and place
     constraints.
  2. I need to find and access digital
     content of the company in real time.
  3. I need to know what other employees
     in the company are doing.
Organization-technology
fit (Strong & Volkoff, 2010)                     .92
  1. The ESNs are fit for transmitting
     the leader's instructions.
  2. The ESNs are fit for maintaining
     relationships with coworkers.
  3. The ESNs are useful for improving
     the performance of the company.
Task-technology fit (Aljukhadar et al., 2014)    .88
  1. Using ESNs fits with my working
     practice.
  2. The function of ESNs is fit for
     communicating with the company
     staff.
  3. The ESNs are suitable for helping
     me complete my work tasks.
Perceived ease of use (Ozturk et al., 2016)      .97
  1. The ESNs are very easy for me to
     use.
  2. The function of the ESNs is simple
     and easy to operate.
  3. Others in the company can clearly
     understand my interactions with
     them when I use the ESNs.
Perceived usefulness (Alsabawy et al., 2006)     .94
  1. By using the ESNs, I believe that
     the staff has improved the
     efficiency of communication.
  2. By using the ESNs, I have improved
     my working efficiency.
  3. By using the ESNs, I can reduce
     the time needed to acquire
     information.
  4. By using the ESNs, I believe
     that the staff has increased
     my work output.

Note. ESN = enterprise social network, AVE = average variance
extracted, CR = composite reliability.

Table 3. Indices for the Research Model

Model indices                        Results value

Chi-square/degrees of freedom ratio  .10
Root mean square residual            .065
Goodness-of-fit index                .95
Normed fit index                     .91
Comparative fit index                .92
Tucker-Lewis index                   .94

Model indices                        Recommended value

Chi-square/degrees of freedom ratio  [less than or equal to] 3
Root mean square residual            [less than or equal to] .090
Goodness-of-fit index                [greater than or equal to] .90
Normed fit index                     [greater than or equal to] .90
Comparative fit index                [greater than or equal to] .90
Tucker-Lewis index                   [greater than or equal to] .90
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Author:Wu, Bing
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Dec 1, 2019
Words:5096
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