The role of formal controls in facilitating information system diffusion

Information systems (IS) studies highlight that IS usage, a pre-requisite for IS diffusion, may be difficult to attain when usage is voluntary because users can resist using the system. User resistance may be overcome through the application of organizational controls. Control theory explains how users’ actions and practices are shaped in line with organizational guidelines and procedures. This paper reports on a qualitative case study and shows how formal control mechanisms (behavior and outcome controls) can have a positive and conclusive impact on IS diffusion. The paper makes three contributions to knowledge. First, it explains how the application of outcome control mechanisms can lead to IS diffusion despite user resistance. Second, it suggests that IS diffusion paths are iterative, rather than smooth and linear. Finally, the paper demonstrates that in some contexts, despite a lack of reward expectancy, sanction expectancy can be an effective force during the IS diffusion process.