Management Information Systems Quarterly


The role of information systems in the creation and appropriation of economic value has a long tradition of research, within which falls the literature on the sustainability of IT-dependent competitive advantage. In this article, we formally define the notion of IT-dependent strategic initiative and use it to frame a review of the literature on the sustainability of competitive advantage rooted in information systems use. We offer a framework that articulates both the dynamic approach to IT-dependent strategic advantage currently receiving attention in the literature and the underlying drivers of sustainability. This framework models how and why the characteristics of the IT-dependent strategic initiative enable sustained competitive advantage, and how the determinants of sustainability are developed and strengthened over time. This explanation facilitates the pre-implementation analysis of planned initiatives by innovators, as well as the post-implementation evaluation of existing initiatives so as to identify the basis of their sustainability. In carrying out this study, we examined the interdisciplinary literature on strategic information systems. Using a structured methodology, we reviewed the titles and abstracts of 648 articles drawn from information systems, strategic management, and marketing literature. We then examined and individually coded a relevant subset of 117 articles. The literature has identified four barriers to erosion of competitive advantage for IT-dependent strategic initiatives and has surfaced the structural determinants of their magnitude. Previous work has also begun to theorize about the process by which these barriers to erosion evolve over time. Our review reveals that significant exploratory research and theoretical development have occurred in this area, but there is a paucity of research providing rigorous tests of theoretical propositions. Our work makes three principal contributions. First, it formalizes the definition of IT-dependent strategic initiative. Second, it organizes the extant interdisciplinary research around an integrative framework that should prove useful to both research and practice. This framework offers an explanation of how and why IT-dependent strategic initiatives contribute to sustained competitive advantage, and explains the process by which they evolve over time. Finally, our review and analysis of the literature offers the basis for future research directions.