FACTORS AFFECTING USAGE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
IN SUPPORT OF KNOWLEDGE SHARING: A MULTIPLE CASE
STUDY OF SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS IN HONG KONG
KEN N. K. CHOW*
Knowledge Management Development Centre Ltd., Room 505, 5/F, Far East Consortium Building,
121 Des Voeux Road Central, Hong Kong, China.
This study aims to explore key factors affecting the usage of information technology (IT) tools in
support of knowledge sharing in service organizations in Hong Kong. In a comparative case study of
five firms, the usage patterns of IT tools is influenced by an array of factors in the form of enablers,
barriers and motivators for knowledge sharing with varying importance. The findings support some
extant theories on knowledge management (KM). This study contributes to theory and practice by
evaluating relationships between multiple factors and the usage of IT tools in support of knowledge
sharing. Building upon existing KM frameworks, the study comes up with a revised framework with
factors at operational level for use by researchers as a basis for further study as well as by
practitioners as a guide to induce higher IT usage for knowledge creation in service organizations.
With the widespread use of the Internet and telecommunication technologies comes a
new age of globalization and levels the playing field as never before (Friedman, 2005).
As firms in Hong Kong have to compete with their counterparts worldwide, it is
necessary to explore ways to enhance competitive edge. This paper examines KM and
focuses on cultural and operational factors and their impact on the usage of IT in support
of knowledge sharing within firms to enhance competitive edge.
2. Literature Review on KM
Differential firm performance is attributed to variance in resource endowment
(Barney, 1991). The firm is a dynamic system of knowledge production and application;
explicit knowledge is “knowing about” which is codified and can thus be easily
communicated, while tacit knowledge refers to "knowing how" in a subject matter which
can only be revealed through application (Grant, 1996). Information is converted to
knowledge once it is processed in the mind of individuals (Alavi and Leidner, 2001).
Knowledge is created through a dynamic interaction on the continuous dialogue among
individuals in the form of socialization, combination, externalization and internalization
(Nonaka, 1994). Exchange of information may also generate knowledge (Nahapiet and
Ghoshal, 1998). By leveraging existing knowledge and creating new knowledge, firms
* Ken N. K. Chow is an online marketing consultant. He holds a DBA from the Hong Kong Polytechnic
University. He is an Executive Committee Member of the Knowledge Management Development Centre Ltd.,
Hong Kong. This paper is adapted from his doctoral thesis submitted to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University
in October 2008.
put themselves in an advantageous position in the market and out-compete their rivals
(Kogut and Zander, 1992; Teece et al., 1997; Gold et al., 2001).
KM is defined as a means to manage an organization’s knowledge with a view to
enhancing performance and creating value (Davenport and Prusak, 1998). Information
systems can be used to facilitate KM in a firm and the wider market (Alavi and Leidner,
2001). Becerra-Fernandez et al. (2004) describe KM processes broadly as to discover,
capture, share or apply knowledge and suggest using specific IT tools in support of KM.
The IT tools in the context of knowledge sharing refer to electronic devices for
communication and information exchange (see Table 1 below).
Hislop (2002) points out that as knowledge has tacit and explicit components which
are subjective, socially constructed and embedded in organizational contexts, what IT
can do at most is to facilitate knowledge sharing, but ultimately all depends on how far
people can proactively utilize this kind of communication tool (i.e. motivation in the use
of IT) and how far they can assimilate knowledge to enhance their work performance and
organization capabilities (i.e. ability in knowledge assimilation). Malhotra and Majchrzak
(2004) demonstrate that large firms share knowledge by “leveraging their globally
dispersed knowledge resources” through “far-flung teams” with the use of team
collaborative software, electronic discussion forum, instant messaging, synchronous
application sharing and electronic whiteboards. Mohamed et al. (2006) echo that doubleloop
learning can be facilitated by IT tools like videoconferencing, telephone, email and
virtual community of interest.
Ardichvili (2008) proposes a framework for understanding motivators, barriers and
enablers for knowledge sharing and learning. Motivating factors include utilitarian
considerations, value-based considerations, and a sense of community and belonging.
Barriers include interpersonal factors, technology-related factors and cultural norms.
Enablers include supportive culture, personal trust and availability of suitable tools.
According to literature, cultural and practical factors play an important role in the use
of IT for knowledge sharing. Individual factors examined by scholars will be discussed
in Section 5.3.
3. Research Gap and Research Questions
So far, there is no extensive research on whether and how an array of factors affects
the usage of IT in support of knowledge sharing among different levels in the
organizational hierarchy and how various factors affect one another.
This research raises the following questions: (1) What are the key factors influencing
the usage patterns of IT in support of knowledge sharing in service organizations in
Hong Kong? (2) How do these factors affect the usage of IT tools at different levels of
the organizational hierarchy? (3) To what extent does this study validate past findings
and extant theories? (4) How can Hong Kong firms maximize IT usage in support of
knowledge sharing to increase competitive advantage, taking into account such factors?
It is interesting to note that Nonaka’s knowledge creation model is largely embedded
in traditional Japanese values and management practices (Glisby and Holden, 2003). This
can be supplemented by Nahapiet and Ghoshal (1998)’s concept of knowledge creation.
Since no single knowledge creation model can be applied across different cultures, it
might be useful to adopt knowledge creation models from different cultural backgrounds,
just like Becerra-Fernandez et al. (2004). In order to enhance explanatory power in the
context of Hong Kong with a mix of Western and Chinese styles of management, this
study makes reference to Becerra-Fernandez et al. (2004)’s analytical framework as a
theoretical basis for evaluating firms’ usage of IT in support of knowledge sharing in
Hong Kong, as shown in Table 1 below:
Table 1: Analytical framework for evaluating firms’ usage of IT in support of knowledge sharing
Illustrative IT in support of KM
Employee rotation across
Telephone, audio / video-conferencing,
electronic discussion groups, email
Memos, manuals, letters,
Internet / Intranet / Extranet, team collaboration
tools, information repositories, best practices
and lesson learned databases
4. Research Methodology and Design
4.1. Case Study
Case study approach is most appropriate for studying a phenomenon which is broad
and complex (Gummesson, 2000; Yin, 2003). As this research may contain a priori
identifiable patterns of relationships between independent and dependent variables, a
positivist approach is adopted. This study is also exploratory in nature, since it is
necessary to take an open approach in gathering insights from diversified perspectives.
The service industry is selected for this research as it forms a major pillar of the Hong
Kong economy. IT, finance and telecommunication service as leading sectors in using IT
as knowledge enabler (Shapira et al., 2006), together with property development, a key
sector of the local economy are chosen for study. The selected firms are medium and
large corporations, both local and multinational.
4.2. Data Collection and Analysis
In this research, a combination of structured surveys, interviews, observations and
archival sources is used to collect data. At least one senior executive and one middle or
junior manager / professional staff in each firm were selected for interviews (Perry,
Prior to the interviews, structured surveys were conducted. All interviewees were
requested to fill in information about the type of IT tools being used, their usage at
different organizational layers, under what circumstances they are used, reasons to use
and factors affecting usage pattern of IT tools. Interviewees were asked to indicate their
usage of each IT tool on a seven-level scale varying from 1 = no or very low usage to 7
= very high usage. Individual scores for senior executives, middle managers and junior
staff in each case firm were summed up to reflect the overall usage for each IT tool
across all five case firms. See Table 2 below.
The interviews were held during September to December 2007. Interviewees were
asked open-end questions, followed by more focused, semi-structured questions and
probing questions. The questions were intended to (1) explore what factors account for
the usage patterns of IT in support of knowledge sharing; (2) understand how these
factors affect the usage patterns of IT in support of knowledge sharing; and (3) assess the
relative impact of these factors in affecting the usage patterns of IT in support of
knowledge sharing (see Table 3 below). During each interview, direct observation of
meetings and other office activities was made, which served as evidence to support what
the interviewees stated. This case study also made reference to archival sources including
annual reports and press releases, which provide background information.
Data analysis follows Yin (2003)’s strategy of case description and pattern matching
logic – to identify patterns (i.e. factors affecting IT usage for knowledge sharing) and to
account for such phenomena in each firm (i.e. to build internal validity); to compare and
contrast patterns in different firms, to account for similarities and differences in various
dimensions, and to generalize findings across firms (i.e. to achieve external validity).
Findings are categorized (Miles and Huberman, 1994) according to IT usage patterns and
the importance of each factor.
5. Case Analysis
5.1. Profile of Case Companies and Need for Knowledge Sharing
Company A is an international IT and telecommunication corporation listed in Hong
Kong. Company B is a global leader in financial and insurance services with
headquarters in North America. Company C is a large property conglomerate listed in
Hong Kong. Company D, headquartered in Hong Kong, is a medium-sized IT service
provider with business stronghold in China and South East Asia. Company E is a
medium-sized firm in IT and telecommunication with regional coverage which is listed
locally. Given cut-throat competition in all these industries, it is imperative for each firm
to keep abreast of market developments, to share and generate knowledge and to devise
innovative solutions to meet customer needs.
5.2. Usage of IT Tools in support of Knowledge Sharing
In all five case firms, telephones/voicemails and emails are most popular;
teleconferences, intranet, information portal (with access to information repositories, best
practices / lesson learned databases) and videoconferences are not used heavily; and
electronic discussion groups and team collaboration are seldom used.
Nonetheless, at different hierarchical levels, there are various patterns of usage of
specific IT tools (see Table 2 below). IT usage patterns vary among senior, middle and
junior staff, because they have diverse task requirements, possess different experience
and language proficiency, and display different mentalities and attitudes.
A B C D E Sum A B C D E Sum A B C D E Sum
Telephones and voicemails 6 6 5 6 5 28 High 6 6 5 6 6 29 High 6 6 6 6 6 30 High 87 High
Emails 6 7 7 7 6 33 High 7 7 6 5 5 30 High 5 5 2 4 4 20 Medium 83 High
Teleconferences 7 5 4 5 4 25 High 6 4 4 4 4 22 Medium 3 2 2 2 2 11 Low 58 Medium
Intranet 4 4 4 3 4 19 Medium 4 4 4 3 5 20 Medium 4 4 2 3 5 18 Medium 57 Medium
Information portal (access to
information repositories, best
practices, lesson learned etc)
3 3 5 3 3 17 Medium 5 5 6 4 4 24 High 3 3 3 3 3 15 Medium 56 Medium
Videoconferences 5 4 3 1 2 15 Medium 2 2 2 1 2 9 Low 1 1 1 1 1 5 Low 29 Low
Electronic discussion group 1 1 1 1 4 8 Low 1 1 1 1 1 5 Low 1 1 1 1 1 5 Low 18 Low
Team collaboration software 1 1 1 1 1 5 Low 1 1 1 1 1 5 Low 1 1 1 1 1 5 Low 15 Low
1. Maximum score for each IT tool for each category of staff in all 5 companies (A, B, C, D & E) = 7 x 5 = 35
Score of 24 - 35 out of a maximum of 35 ⇒ High usage
Score of 12 - 23 out of a maximum of 35 ⇒ Medium usage
Score of 0 - 11 out of a maximum of 35 ⇒ Low usage
2. Maximum aggregate score for each IT tool for all 3 categories of staff in all 5 companies (A, B, C, D & E) = 7 x 5 x 3 = 105
Aggregate score of 71 - 105 out of a maximum of 105 ⇒ High usage
Aggregate score of 36 - 70 out of a maximum of 105 ⇒ Medium usage
Aggregate score of 0 - 35 out of a maximum of 105 ⇒ Low usage
Usage of IT tools for knowledge sharing in five case companies 1
Score Ranking Score Ranking Score Ranking
Senior executives Middle managers and
professional staff Junior and frontline staff
Aggregate usage of
IT tools 2
Table 2 – IT usage patterns in support of knowledge sharing in five case firms (A to E)
In all case firms, senior managers prefer face-to-face meetings in sharing business
insights, discussing strategic plans and negotiating with business partners. However, it is
difficult to line up such meetings because of their busy schedules, so they tend to resort
to emails and tele/ videoconferences. By virtue of their competency, senior managers can
freely choose the most appropriate IT tool as circumstances warrant. Only the senior
management in Company C places much importance on information portal, probably
because the nature of work involves highly meticulous planning in construction projects
and stringent risk management. Online discussion is prevalent in one firm only, because
the CEO strongly advocates it.
As for middle management, professional staff and knowledge workers, they also use
emails and telephones most often. They use information portal more often than their
seniors to solve operational problems, but seldom use videoconferences and online
discussion tools, mainly because of the different nature of their work. As for junior staff,
they sort out matters with colleagues and customers directly by means of face-to-face
meetings and telephones, the most convenient means of communication for them. Their
nature of work seldom calls for other IT tools for knowledge sharing, and they are not
well-equipped to use them. The usage of intranet in one firm is relatively high, because
the CEO strongly advocates it. This is however an exception rather than a norm.
5.3. Factors affecting IT Usage in Service Organizations in Hong Kong
The following is an analysis of major factors affecting IT usage in support of
knowledge sharing in five service organizations in Hong Kong. They are grouped into
two categories, viz (1) operational level – practical concerns such as nature of work, staff
capability, perceived usefulness and ease of use and (2) cultural at the national and
Impact on usage of IT tools
for knowledge sharing
(dependent variable) 1
Emails 3 3 3 3 2 1 1 0 0 1
Information portal 2 2 1 2 1 0 1 0 0 1
Intranet 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tele-conferences 3 3 2 2 1 1 2 0 0 1
Telephones and voicemails 3 3 3 3 2 1 3 0 0 2
Video-conferences 2 1 2 2 1 0 1 0 0 1
Impact score 2 15 14 12 13 7 3 8 0 0 6
Impact on IT usage 3 High High Medium High Medium Low Medium Low Low Low
Emails 3 3 3 3 2 1 3 2 3 0
Information portal 3 2 3 2 0 0 1 1 1 0
Intranet 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 2 0 0
Tele-conferences 3 3 3 2 1 1 2 1 2 0
Telephones and voicemails 3 3 3 3 2 1 3 1 3 0
Video-conferences 2 1 3 1 0 0 1 1 1 0
Impact score 2 16 14 16 12 5 3 10 8 10 0
Impact on IT usage 3 High High High Medium Low Low Medium Medium Medium Low
Emails 3 3 2 3 2 1 2 0 0 0
Information portal 3 1 2 3 1 1 2 0 0 0
Intranet 2 3 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0
Tele-conferences 2 3 2 2 1 1 2 0 0 0
Telephones and voicemails 3 3 3 3 2 2 2 0 0 0
Video-conferences 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0
Impact score 2 14 14 11 13 8 5 10 0 0 0
Impact on IT usage 3 High High Medium High Medium Low Medium Low Low Low
Emails 3 3 2 3 2 1 1 0 0 0
Information portal 2 2 2 2 1 0 1 0 0 0
Intranet 3 1 2 2 1 0 1 0 0 0
Tele-conferences 3 3 2 2 1 1 2 0 0 0
Telephones and voicemails 3 3 3 3 2 1 2 0 0 0
Video-conferences 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Impact score 2 14 12 11 12 7 3 7 0 0 0
Impact on IT usage 3 High Medium Medium Medium Medium Low Medium Low Low Low
Emails 3 3 2 3 2 1 1 1 0 0
Information portal 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 0 0
Intranet 3 3 2 2 1 0 2 2 0 0
Tele-conferences 3 3 2 1 1 1 1 1 0 0
Telephones and voicemails 3 3 3 3 2 1 2 1 0 0
Video-conferences 1 1 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 0
Impact score 2 14 14 12 11 7 3 8 6 0 0
Impact on IT usage 3 High High Medium Medium Medium Low Medium Low Low Low
73 68 62 61 34 17 43 14 10 6
High High High High Medium Low Medium Low Low Low
1. Impact of factor on specific IT tool usage in each case firm is rated as 0 = None; 1 = Low; 2 = Medium; and 3 = High
2. Maximum impact score for each factor on IT usage in each case firm = Maximum impact score for each factor on usage of a specific IT tool x 6 kinds of IT tools = 3 x 6 = 18
3. Impact score of 13 to 18 out of a maximum of 18 ⇒ High impact on usage of IT tools for knowledge sharing in each case firm
Impact score of 7 to 12 out of a maximum of 18 ⇒ Medium impact on usage of IT tools for knowledge sharing in each case firm
Impact score of 0 to 6 out of a maximum of 18 ⇒ Low impact on usage of IT tools for knowledge sharing in each case firm
4. Maximum impact score for each factor across 5 case firms = Maximum impact score for each factor on a specific IT tool x 6 kinds of IT tools x 5 case firms = 3 x 6 x 5 = 90
5. Overall impact score of 61 – 90 out of a maximum impact score of 90 ⇒ High impact of each factor on usage of IT tools for knowledge sharing across 5 case firms
Overall impact score of 31 – 60 out of a maximum impact score of 90 ⇒ Medium impact of each factor on usage of IT tools for knowledge sharing across 5 case firms
Overall impact score of 0 – 30 out of a maximum impact score of 90 ⇒ Low impact of each factor on usage of IT tools for knowledge sharing across 5 case firms
Nature of work
Overall impact score
(out of a max of 90) 4
Overall impact on IT usage 5
Perceived ease of use
Factors affecting usage of IT tools
for knowledge sharing
corporate level, as shown in Table 3 below. This section also discusses factors examined
by scholars and validates findings from past research and extant theories.
Table 3 – Major factors affecting IT usage in support of knowledge sharing for case firms (A to E)
5.3.1. Dominant role of perceived usefulness and ease of use on IT usage for
Davis (1989) defines perceived usefulness as “the degree to which a person believes
that using a particular system would enhance his or her job performance.” He also
defines perceived ease of use as “the degree to which a person believes that using a
particular system would be free of effort.”
In this study, there is empirical evidence that perceived usefulness and ease of use
have a strong impact on the usage of IT tools for sharing of information and knowledge
across all organizational levels, though its popularity also hinges on other factors like
nature of work and staff capability.
In all case firms, IT tools are employed as long as they are perceived as useful for
designated purposes; for instance emails for confirming understanding and verbal
agreement, telephones for handling urgent matters and clarifying details, video and
teleconferencing tools for open discussions among multiple parties, and information
portals for providing updated market information to support decision-making.
In all companies under study, emails and telephones are perceived as the easiest and
fastest ways of conveying simple messages and gist of discussions. Emails can be
accessed at anywhere anytime. On the other hand, videoconferencing tools are not
available in every branch office; intranet and databases are not adequately developed in
some firms because of resource constraints; and team collaboration software is seldom
used in any firm under study because it is not perceived as convenient.
Where one or two IT tools (e.g. emails and phones versus team collaboration tools
and electronic discussion tools) can serve similar purposes and meet particular task
requirements (i.e. cater for the nature of work), staff would pick one or two (e.g. emails
and phones) which they think is/are most useful and easy to use, and which they are
competent to handle (staff capability).
5.3.2. Dominant role of staff capability in IT usage for knowledge sharing
According to Townsend and Cairns (2003), capability can be described in terms of
three dimensions: ability (i.e. current competence plus potential); self-efficacy (belief in
one’s own capability); and values (such as trust, valuing diversity or global sensitivity).
In all case companies, staff capability in terms of business knowledge and experience,
language ability and computer literacy has a rather strong influence on staff’s usage of IT
tools for sharing of information and knowledge. Senior managers demonstrate
knowledge, skills as well as an understanding of the dynamic nature of their business
(Townsend and Cairns, 2003). They have rich experience and a good command of both
spoken and written English, and share views with ease by whatever means of
communication. As for middle managers, their command of written and spoken English
is not as good, and they often talk face-to-face and on the phone, followed up by emails.
Junior staff who are less competent talk on the phone in Cantonese instead of writing
emails in English.
Such findings may be partially explained by Western scholars’ concepts of strong ties
and weak ties (Granovetter, 1983) and notion of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986). Senior
managers have a mission to build social connections and to explore new grounds, and so
they engage in face-to-face discussions among multiple parties, supplemented by
conferencing tools and emails. This provides empirical support of individuals’
appreciation of benefits brought about by networking (Granovetter, 1983) in knowledge
sharing. There is also evidence in this study that personal factors like self-efficacy
(Bandura, 1986) are at play. Where language proficiency and computer skills of staff in a
firm are high, as in Companies A and B, there is a greater usage of emails across the
board. In Company C, junior staff at construction sites find it difficult to use computer
and to write in either English or Chinese, so they prefer talking over the phone. Unlike
enablers like perceived usefulness and ease of use which induce IT usage (i.e. positive
correlation between their impact and IT usage), staff capability may both induce and
discourage IT usage, thus its net impact on overall IT usage may be relatively less.
5.3.3. Dominant role of nature of work on IT usage for knowledge sharing
Davenport (2005) defines the nature of work in terms of its complexity (varying from
routine to requiring interpretation / judgment) and the level of interdependence (varying
from individual actions to collaboration in groups). Peterson et al. (2001) mention four
dimensions, namely information input, mental processes, work output and interactions
with others as the basic underlying structure of work.
In this study, there is ample evidence that nature of work exerts a strong influence on
IT usage for knowledge sharing. Given the diversified nature of work of staff at different
hierarchical levels in an organization, they employ various IT tools to meet their specific
task needs. In Company A, most business issues related to new market rollouts are fluid,
so managers use tele/ videoconferences, followed up by phones and emails. In Company
C, where complicated professional work involves integration of multiple disciplines,
knowledge workers utilize an array of IT tools like databases, phones and emails, apart
from face-to-face discussions. As business discussion may be sensitive and controversial,
senior managers in Company A, B, C and D seldom express their views online. Similar
to staff capability, nature of work may both induce and discourage IT usage, thus the net
impact of nature of work on overall IT usage may turn out to be relatively less.
5.3.4. Influence of national culture on IT usage for knowledge sharing
This study shows that most Chinese middle and junior managers in Hong Kong
display uncertainty avoidance and collectivism (Hofstede, 1980), while tendency of
uncertainty avoidance is less evident among senior Chinese managers (Hofstede, 1994),
which affects their choice of IT tools. Firstly, Chinese middle-level staff in all case firms
refrain from sharing unless instructed by supervisors. To ensure data accuracy and to
avoid being challenged, they use a mix of high-context communication (e.g. face-to-face
meetings and telephones) to share information (Hall, 1976; Mehta et al., 2006), lowcontext
communication (e.g. emails) to clarify understanding, as well as databases for
verification. The influence of uncertainty avoidance is that some middle-level staff who
want to clarify matters would use a mix of IT tools, but other middle and junior staff who
do not bother to commit themselves simply refrain from doing so. Secondly, most
Chinese managers in this study, regardless of their ranks, display collectivistic trait and
like to share with in-group members which echoes the findings of Ritter and Choi (2000)
and Ardichvili et al. (2006), and since such matters are usually sensitive, they prefer
face-to-face chats or telephones at most, rather than using other IT tools.
5.3.5. Influence of management orientation on IT usage for knowledge sharing
In a case study on Buckman Laboratories, Pan and Scarbrough (1999) find out that
management and leadership critically facilitate KM practice. In this study, management
orientation only has a moderate influence on staff’s sharing propensity and their choice
of IT tools for knowledge sharing. As far as high-context communication is concerned,
nature of work and staff capability have a stronger impact than management orientation
on the usage of IT tools for sharing in all case firms. As for low-context communication,
factors like in-group influence may overshadow the effect of management orientation on
the overall usage of emails for Company A, C, D and E.
5.3.6. Influence of corporate culture on IT usage for knowledge sharing
Based on the Organizational Cultural Profile developed by O’Reilly et al. (1991),
knowledge-related values like “people-oriented”, “team-oriented”, “sharing information
freely” and “achievement orientation” have a positive correlation with KM (Orlikowski,
1992; Harper and Utley, 2001; Jarvenpaa and Staples, 2001).
In this research, corporate culture only has a little effect on IT usage for knowledge
sharing. Sharing culture in Company B is confined to senior managers in close contacts
with open-minded Western colleagues. Other aspects of corporate culture like customeroriented
culture in Company A may induce IT usage for sharing among middle and
junior staff; and performance culture in Company B motivates those with achievement
orientation to report to supervisors by various means of communication.
5.3.7. Utilitarian concerns on IT usage for knowledge sharing
Jian and Jeffres (2006) postulate that employees’ willingness to share is based on
cost-benefits analysis, among other things. Similarly, in this study, utilitarian factors have
a strong impact on the usage of IT in support of knowledge sharing.
There is evidence in this research that staff are motivated to share because the
perceived benefits outweigh the potential cost (Ardichvili, 2008; He and Wei, 2009).
Chinese managers share views because of “intrinsic benefits (knowledge self-efficacy
and enjoyment in helping others)” and “extrinsic benefits (reciprocity and organizational
reward)” (Kankanhalli et al., 2005; He and Wei, 2009). In all case firms, sharing is
perceived to bring about intrinsic benefits like job satisfaction arising from improving
colleagues’ work performance and promoting working relationships; sharing is also
perceived to bring about extrinsic benefits like strengthening one’s capabilities and
enhancing service quality and the Company’s competitiveness. In project teams for all
case firms, middle-level staff are more ready to share because of extrinsic benefits, i.e.
they think they have a chance to represent their department and prove their competence
and they should live up to their bosses’ expectations, in exchange for career advancement.
The findings also prove that multi-disciplinary collaboration can transcend in-group
communication and promote sharing in service organizations. There is relatively little ingroup
influence in project teams, and middle-ranked staff are ready to share in face-toface
discussions, or by telephones and emails. Project team members are more willing to
contribute their knowledge if they perceive that it would increase their reputations, and
they have the experience to share (McLure-Wasko and Faraj, 2005). With experts
coming from a wide array of fields, multi-disciplinary project teams bring together
“social capital” (Nahapiet and Ghoshal, 1998) which benefits all concerned.
5.4. A Multi-theoretical Model for IT Usage for Knowledge Sharing
Ardichvili (2008) describes how motivators, barriers and enablers affect knowledge
sharing in virtual communities.
Firstly on motivators (Ardichvili, 2008), there is evidence in this study that staff
share because of perceived personal benefits and a sense of belonging. Knowledge selfefficacy,
enjoyment in helping others and promoting working relationships benefit
employees in case firms emotionally (He and Wei, 2009). To identify themselves with
the company (Jian and Jeffres, 2006; Ardichvili, 2008), senior managers in Company C
share wisdom with their protégés and groom them into effective managers.
Secondly on barriers (Ardichvili, 2008), there is ample evidence in all case firms that
cultural factors like in-group orientation and uncertainty avoidance impede knowledge
sharing by means of IT tools especially among middle and junior staff.
Thirdly on enablers (Ardichvili, 2008), there is empirical support in this research that
usefulness and ease of use of IT tools (for all case firms), staff’s ability (for all case
firms), top management’s support (for Company E), and a corporate culture promoting
interactions (for Company B) facilitate knowledge sharing in an organization.
As shown above, no one factor, however dominant it is, can lead to high usage of a
specific IT tool. Single-factor theory is inadequate to account for the usage of IT in
support of knowledge sharing. Multi-theoretical model can explain it better.
6. A New Model
A key finding in this study is that, apart from motivating
factors, barriers and enablers advocated by Ardichvili (2008),
practical concerns such as staff capability and nature of
work have strong impact on the usage of IT tools in support
of knowledge sharing. Based on Ardichvili (2008)’s model
and findings in this study, a new three-dimensional model
(in Figure 1) is proposed to analyze factors affecting IT
usage in support of knowledge sharing.
(at operational level)
Nature of work
(at operational level)
Usage of Specific IT Tool
Usage of Specific IT Tool
Usage of SpecificIT Tool
Figure 1 – a new model
The impact of the two new dimensions, viz staff capability and nature of work may
be positive or negative. Managers in the case firms display capability – ability, selfefficacy
and appropriate shared values (Townsend and Cairns, 2003); this induces high
usage of IT for knowledge sharing. Contrarily, staff who are less competent may refrain
from using IT for sharing. Similarly, the usage of IT tools also depends on the nature of
work defined by Peterson et al. (2001) and Davenport (2005). Where an IT tool fits
staff’s work requirements, its usage is high; and vice versa. As such, companies adopting
KM should choose appropriate IT tools for knowledge workers to share knowledge.
7.1. Answers to Research Questions
This study has addressed the four research questions in Section 3 as follows –
(1) An important insight drawn from this study is that an array of factors conspires to
influence the usage patterns of IT tools for knowledge sharing in service organizations in
Hong Kong. This includes (a) operational level – perceived usefulness, perceived ease of
use, staff capability and nature of work; and (b) cultural level – uncertainty avoidance
(national culture), collectivism (national culture) and management orientation (corporate
culture). Key drivers of IT usage are “technical” factors at the operational level.
Nonetheless, the impact of each factor cannot be isolated in practice, as the popularity of
an IT tool is not solely determined by one factor; other factors also come into play.
(2) IT usage patterns of staff at different organizational ranks may vary. This may be
attributed to different characteristics of senior, middle and junior staff – who have
diverse task requirements (i.e. nature of work), possess different experience, language
proficiency and communication skills (i.e. staff capabilities), and display different
mentalities and attitudes (mainly due to staff capabilities, uncertainty avoidance,
collectivism and management orientation).
(3) Research findings confirm the importance of operational factors. The impact of
cultural factors is less evident.
(4) Knowing the relative impact of each of the factors, managers can manipulate
them to induce more usage of IT tools among staff, with a view to sharing and creating
knowledge, and to enhancing their firm’s competitive advantage.
7.2. Managerial Implications
Judging from the findings of this research, it is clear that multiple factors affect IT
usage for knowledge sharing, and that there is room for the management to manoeuvre
resources in order to enhance organizational capabilities and strengthen the firm’s
competitive edge. At an early stage, firms may face difficulties because of a lack of
staff’s identity with the firm’s vision and the ability to effect change; so the management
may need to leverage on external expertise in introducing good business practices as an
interim measure. However, from a long-term perspective, firm commitment and clear
steering from the top is essential for bringing about and sustaining a sharing culture. To
encourage widespread sharing of information and knowledge within a firm, it is
advisable for senior management to line up multi-disciplinary project teams to transcend
in-group communication and to convince staff of the benefits of sharing. To this end, the
management should train up staff in terms of business knowledge and experience,
language ability, computer literacy and communication skills. The management should
also encourage socialization among both strong ties and weak ties. In addition, the
management should provide appropriate IT tools which match the nature of work of
different staff in the company, and which are perceived to be useful and easy to use.
7.3. Contribution of this Research
Based on Ardichvili (2008)’s model, this research comes up with a new threedimensional
model to analyze how multiple factors can influence IT usage for knowledge
sharing and casts light on how to better utilize IT tools for such purpose. This study adds
value to theory and practice because the new model significantly improve explanatory
power and can be of use to researchers as a basis for further study as well as a guide for
practitioners to induce higher IT usage for knowledge creation in service organizations.
7.4. Limitations of this Study and Implications for Future Research
Firstly, this study is specific to service organizations in Hong Kong only.
Interviewees are confined to Chinese managers; it is not clear whether and how far their
perceptions and behaviours are similar to those of their Western counterparts. The
findings should preferably be substantiated by empirical findings from a wider spectrum
of industries in different countries. Secondly, under the current qualitative approach, it is
difficult to single out one variable and to gauge its impact on other variables or how it is
affected by other variables. Such approach may best be supplemented by a quantitative
study to underpin relationships among an array of variables. Thirdly, this research
focuses more on technical aspects of knowledge sharing, and there is no definitive
conclusion on the impact of social, cultural and structural factors (Tornatzky and
Fleischer, 1990) on IT usage in support of knowledge sharing. This is an area for further
research. Lastly, this case study takes a snapshot of situations in each case firm instead of
conducting a longitudinal study of how IT usage behaviours related to knowledge
The author gratefully acknowledges Professor Peter Walters of the Hong Kong
Polytechnic University, Professor Zhou Nan of the City University of Hong Kong and Dr
Esther Li of Lingnan University of Hong Kong for their valuable advice on his research.
Special thanks are due to anonymous reviewers of the International Conference of
Knowledge Management 2009 for their valuable comments. The author would also like
to thank the personnel from the five service companies in Hong Kong for their staunch
support in this case study.
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