Communications of the Association for Information Systems


In this article, we apply transaction cost theory (TCT) and institutional theory to the realm of IS outsourcing. TCT posits that firm's outsourcing governance is influenced by transaction cost factors, namely, bounded rationality, opportunism, and risk. Institutional theory, on the other hand, has been advocated to explain non-choice behavior of organizations in the context of competitors, norms, and professional associations. Although TCT has been used extensively in the extant literature to study outsourcing arrangements, we argue that as IS outsourcing practices propagate in organizational fields, TCT explanations will take a back seat to institutional explanations. We appropriate the transaction cost framework to the IS outsourcing setting and consider when and how firm's decision to adopt outsourcing and corresponding ex-ante screening and ex-post monitoring of the vendor will be influenced by mimetic, normative, and coercive institutional pressures. More specifically, we argue that greater the density and rate of adoption in outsourcing during innovation diffusion and stability stages, the greater the possibility that transaction cost factors will be replaced by institutional factors in explaining firms' governance structures (decision to adopt outsourcing, and corresponding screening and monitoring). Conversely, we posit that when the institutional pressures are relatively weak, TCT better explains the intricacies of IS outsourcing arrangements. In conclusion, future research directions and managerial implications of the institutional environment on IS outsourcing governance are discussed.