A Critical Analysis of Information and Communication Technology Adoption and Impact in South African Small and Medium Enterprises.

Sinfree Gono

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The thesis examines the impact of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the manufacturing and logistics sectors of South Africa with a specific focus on Johannesburg. The study set out to fill a gap in knowledge in the area of ICT adoption by SMEs in a developing country context. As an emerging economy South Africa is ranked 25th in the world and is the most advanced country in Africa, contributing about 15% to the total gross domestic product (GDP) of Africa.
The study followed an exploratory research approach. To explain the impact of ICT adoption and use by SMEs, it is necessary to understand the perspectives of owner-managers and other actors involved in the process of ICT adoption and use by the firm. This was achieved through a survey of 130 SMEs operating in the Johannesburg manufacturing and logistics industries, and a total of 52 in-depth interviews with owner-managers, top managers, sector representatives and those in academia. In answering the main research question, ‘what is the impact of ICT adoption and use in the South African manufacturing and logistics sectors’, a novel theoretical framework was developed based on an extensive review of the literature on ICT adoption and use by SMEs by taking into account factors that are critical to a developing country context such as South Africa. This framework brings together factors relating to the Firm, the Market and the context of Regulation (FMR). The firm context represents the internal characteristics of the SME (e.g. owner-manager, resources and capabilities), and the market context considers industry structure as the primary cause of ICT adoption (e.g. competitiveness, supply chain involvement). The regulation context considers the policies and regulations that foster and encourage the competitiveness of SMEs (e.g. government support).
The analysis of data unearthed findings that challenged the main stream literature. The first critical finding is that increasingly SMEs are dependent on their association with large organisations which had a major influence on their ICT adoption initiatives. Second, the role of government was found to be a defining factor in encouraging adoption of ICT through policy requiring firms to adopt specific technologies. Third, the thesis highlights the critical role of owner-managers and employees in South African SMEs especially in relation to their ICT expertise. Since valuable capabilities rely on individuals who may choose to join, stay or leave the firm, the search for SME solutions to South African SMEs’ ICT challenges may need to focus on developing human capital rather than blanket approaches to SME support. Overall, the findings indicate that ICT has an important role to play in augmenting the effective use of the firm’s resources with which they are combined. However SMEs in South Africa need to overcome numerous constraints posed by a combination of internal and external factors as depicted in the FMR framework. The originality of the FMR framework derives from its combining these three different but related viewpoints of SMEs. The thesis shows that in the case of developing country SMEs each individual aspect of the framework offers a necessary but no sufficient condition for the adoption and utilisation of ICT for strategic impact.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Harindranath, G 'Hari', Supervisor
  • Özcan, Gül Berna, Supervisor
Award date1 Aug 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

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