A case study approach

The methodology employed to collect the data to answer the research questions stated above was an in-depth, longitudinal, multiple-case study approach. This longitudinal approach is recommended by the authors of one of the more recent and extensive studies done to date on technology-mediated communication in a B2B context (MacDonald and Smith, 2004). Longitudinal research is also used when focusing on

Tim Foster

value creation in seller-buyer relationships (Beverland and Lockshin, 2003). What made this study longitudinal in nature was the fact that the data on the extranet (as well as other levels of the I-E-I framework in this context), was collected over a nearly one-year time period as a part of an ongoing series of research efforts focusing on peeling the I-E-I framework back, level-by-level, layer-by-layer.

The use of case studies is a common approach in B2B research and has been used by various scholars looking at the various levels of web sites within such settings (e.g. Anandarajan et al., 1998; Yen and Chou, 2001). For the purpose of this study, an industrial company with an advanced extranet application was first identified, namely LKAB, a high-tech mineral/mining company in northern Sweden, one of the more advanced IT countries in the world (Deboo et al., 2003). In early contact with LKAB, a total of four buying organizations within the Nordic region in Europe (i.e. Sweden and Finland) were identified as companies with the only access to LKAB's extranet. Of these four, two buying organizations, along with specific individuals in them, were identified by the sales manager (SM) at LKAB as the most extensive users of the LKAB extranet. The focus on buyers in such situations is of vital importance according to Beverland and Lockshin (2003), who state that to understand "value", one must focus on the customer's perspective and not only the seller's. MacDonald and Smith (2004) support this by asserting that the consideration of buyer reactions to a seller's implementation of technology-mediated communication is vital, as the use of such technology is especially important from a relationship perspective.

Case 1 will represent the seller's perspective of the extranet. Because such a selling organization has more than one customer, the customer perspective is represented by two of the four buying organizations mentioned above, namely SSAB Oxelosund in Sweden (case 2), and Rautaruukku in Finland (case 3). These three case studies and the phenomena under investigation, as outline in the purpose, are depicted in Figure 2.

In case study research, Yin (1994) explains that the use of multiple sources of evidence is very important in order to increase the validity of the findings. Data collection for these three case studies relied upon three sources of evidence: Observation of and interaction with the LKAB extranet; in-depth interviews with those who used it (i.e. key informants within the selling organization and the two buying organizations), and documentation (in the form of anything written that pertained specifically to LKAB's extranet and general web site strategies). Those specific individuals who were interviewed will be presented in the findings below. Interviews were conducted both in person and over the

Figure 2 Overview of the case-study approach used for this study

Figure 2 Overview of the case-study approach used for this study

telephone, with follow-up via e-mail and phone on several occasions.

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