The fast-emerging cloud computing has been touted as one of the most promising information technology (IT) advancements that could fundamentally change how IT solutions are delivered to firms . With the unique characteristics and advantages of cloud computing, firms are expecting to adopt it for improving performance. While sounding promising, the predictions of cloud computing impacts on firm performance were being confounded [2–4]. These lead to the serious considerations about whether cloud computing should be applied; and thereby, firms often get stuck into a state of indecision.
Different from traditional enterprise IT applications, cloud computing has unique characteristics, such as rapid elasticity, ondemand self-service, and resource pooling , which could be applied into different functional activities within firms. Prior literature primarily focused on one single perspective of IT adoption. Some of the previous studies focused on the technical component (i.e. the human-created tools or technologies that carry out organizational work), such as new technologies like business intelligence and analytics
 and cloud computing [7,8]. Other papers focused on the social component by emphasizing the humans and their relationships [9–11].
We consider unique characteristics of cloud computing to understand the value creation from the technical view. Moreover, due to the lack of existing research on the integration of the social and technical impacts on the cloud computing technology, our current paper examines the relationship between the cloud computing use and value in different firm activities through socio-technical perspectives combined with unique cloud computing characteristics.
In this research, we aim to examine the impact of cloud computing use in-depth through two perspectives: within-firm and across-firm.
First, within the firms, we separate cloud computing use into primary use and support use according to Porter’s value chain model : (a) primary use refers to using cloud computing into primary activities.
These primary activities include inbound logistics, operations, outbound logistics, marketing and sales, and service and (b) support use refers to using cloud computing into support activities that includes human resources, technology, procurement, and firm infrastructure. We leverage on the socio-technical theory (STT) as a theoretical base for identifying the antecedents of cloud computing use, and the resource-based view (RBV) for examining IT value. STT identified two interrelated subsystems in a work system of the organization, including social and technical subsystems . Anecdotal evidence indicates that RBV is a potential framework to investigate the impacts of IT resources on firm performance [14–16]. The resources created by the integration of cloud computing with firm-owned activities are expected to have effects on performance. Thus, we extended RBV to the cloud computing context and examined the influences of cloud computing uses on firm performance via value creation. Specifically, we aim to explore the first research question:
Summary of cloud computing characteristics from the literature.
Research Question 1. What are the differentiated effects of sociotechnical determinants on primary use and support use of cloud computing, and further impact on firm performance?
Second, examining the antecedents of cloud computing adoption in a specific industry shows that technology readiness and security concerns have a significant effect on adoption of technologies in education industries, nevertheless, which is not in high-tech industries [17,18].
However, they did not compare the different effects of attributes on cloud computing uses across different industries. To bridge the gap, we compare the effects across two salient sectors: manufacturing sectors and service sectors, and thus explore the second research question:
Research Question 2. How do such effects differ in service and manufacturing sectors via using cloud computing?
The remaining of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 covers literature review including cloud computing characteristics, the value of cloud computing grounded on the STT, and the RBV. Section 3 presents the research model and hypotheses, followed by research methodology in section 4 and empirical analysis results in section 5, including the analysis of full sample and subsamples in service and manufacturing sectors. Findings are shown in section 6. Finally, discussions, implications, and conclusions are presented in section 7.
- Literature review
2.1. Unique characteristics of cloud computing and value Cloud computing is not a completely novel concept, which was evolved based on computing, such as grid computing, cluster computing, and service computing. So, it has some characteristics in common, such as modularization, virtualization, or independence of devices and places . However, cloud computing has some unique characteristics different from traditional IT. These characteristics are the key aspects that distinguish themselves in many aspects. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) indicated the “characteristics of cloud computing: on demand self-service, broad network access,resource pooling, rapid elasticity, and measured service” (, pp.2).
Based on these characteristics, later studies considered two or three characteristics, or expanded the notion of them. Marston et al.  tried to encapsulate the unique features from a technological perspective and emphasized on the aspects of dynamic scalability, elasticity, and automated self-provision of resources. Gangwar et al.  proposed unique advantages of the cloud computing from the technical perspective such as scalability, flexibility, and shared resources. They considered scalability as the ability of cloud users to scale up the cloud computing infrastructure and resources to meet the new requirements of hardware or software. Cao et al.  considered scalability in terms of service and payment options, where the scalability of service can provide an environment conducive for companies. The scalability of payment can reduce the cost structure.
Table 1 summarizes the existing research related to the unique characteristics of cloud computing. Since we focus the cloud computing use on the user-side rather than on the supply-side, we do not consider the resource pooling and measured service. We select three unique characteristics (i.e. on-demand self-service, dynamic scalability, and rapid elasticity) on the user side in this study to fill the gap from existing research on cloud computing by empirically investigating the impacts of these three technical characteristics on cloud computing use. Based on the NIST definition , related characteristics are defined as follows: (a) on-demand self-service provides the ability for firms to automatically obtain computing capabilities (such as network storage) to fulfill demand at any time and any location; (b) dynamic scalability emphasizes the release of firmwide capabilities to scale resources (such as technological architecture) dynamically inward commensurate with demand;
and (c) rapid responsiveness (rapid elasticity) refers to the capability of quickly and instantly responding outward to customers, which appears to be unlimited. This responding capability is appropriate to any numbers of customers at any time. To clearly distinct elasticity from scalability, we emphasized rapid elasticity on the aspect of responsiveness; therefore, we use the term “rapid responsiveness” instead.
Previous studies investigated several related benefits and business value related to cloud computing such as operational efficiency [4,20],reduction in the cost structure [2,4], new types of products and services [3,10], finance outcomes [21,22], and supply chain integration [2,9].
Majority of the prior research directly evaluated cloud computing adoption as the antecedent of benefits and business value. Mixed results are found for these studies. Several studies discovered positive impacts of cloud computing adoption on business value [21,23]. However, other studies found that cloud computing implementations could lead to the failures of business value [3,24]. Some researchers suggested the necessity to incorporate organizational internal practice such as related skills competence  and managerial capabilities (Garrison et al.2012, ), to ensure the realization of the value.
2.2. Cloud computing value and firm performance: Resource-based view
Originated from the strategic management field, the RBV gives a valuable way to consider the relationship between information systems (IS) and firm strategies; and these strategies can help firms to exploit the internal strengths and reduce the level of internal weaknesses through the use of IS [16,25]. This theory suggests that firms can create sustainable competitive advantages, if they have heterogeneous strategic resources with rare, valuable, and imperfectly imitable attributes ([25,26]. Cloud computing itself is not a kind of heterogeneous resources since it is available to all competitors. But, the extent of cloud computing use for different firm activities could become heterogeneous resources and create business value for firms. Firms with the high extent of use better integrate cloud computing with firm-owned activities, and further develop value for themselves. When the cloud computing technology is integrated with different firm activities in the value chain, such integration becomes heterogeneous resources that are non-substitutable,inimitable, and rare. The resource integration becomes rare resources,indicating that few competitors could create or obtain the same or similar resource integration due to their different business contexts or situations . Then, such integration is usually inimitable because it is particular to specific firms . Moreover, the high extent of cloud computing use provides firms with different and novel ways to produce unique products and services that could not be easily substituted by competitors [23,24].
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