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Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Abstract

IS literature has predominantly taken a black box perspective on IS certifications and studied their diverse set of outcomes, such as signaling superior quality and increased customer trust. As a result, there is little understanding about the structure of certifications and its role in decision makers’ evaluations of certifications to achieve these outcomes. However, idiosyncrasies of novel IT services, such as cloud services, create a need for “unblackboxing” certifications and theorizing about their constituting structural building blocks and structural elements, as well as examining key features that might lead to a more favorable evaluation of a certification by decision makers. To advance theory building on certifications, this article develops an empirically grounded typology of certifications’ key structural building blocks and structural elements, and examines how they interpret substantive features within these elements. Using evidence from 20 interviews with decision makers from a wide range of industries in the context of cloud service certifications, we find that a decision maker’s aggregate evaluation of a certification is a function of their interpretations of its features guided by cognitive interpretive schemas along six key structural elements, contrasted with the decision makers’ expectations regarding the certification’s outcomes. This study contributes by conceptualizing the necessary and sufficient elements of certifications, constructing a nascent theory on decision makers’ evaluations of certifications, and illuminating the dynamics between certifications’ structural elements and outcomes as a coevolutionary process. We discuss implications for the certification literature and give managerial advice regarding the factors to consider when designing and evaluating certifications.

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