Information Technology and Microfinance in Developed Countries: The Spanish Case, with a Focus on Catalonia

Information Technology and Microfinance in Developed Countries: The Spanish Case, with a Focus on Catalonia

Glòria Estapé-Dubreuil (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain) and Consol Torreguitart-Mirada (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-993-4.ch017
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Abstract

As Information Technology becomes increasingly more present in the so called Information Society, its potential to constitute a strategic resource also increases. Whether, and to what extent, strategic changes linked to the adoption of IT have effectively reached specific economic sectors or industries is therefore of interest. This chapter is meant as a contribution in that area, analyzing the relationships between IT and microfinance, focusing on the microfinance sector in Spain. Our study shows that the microfinance sector’s basic IT infrastructures are above the Spanish average. Two main uses of IT tools are revealed: (1) to provide information, both to prospective clients and to those sustaining microfinance, and (2) as a management and support tool, including on-line direct support to would-be entrepreneurs. Strategic use of IT is less widespread, related primarily to financial transparency issues, more clearly shown by MFIs linked to the social economy. Finally, depth of outreach related to the actual IT use in the sector is also discussed.
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Introduction

As technical changes, such as information systems or information technologies, become increasingly available, their potential power to transform organizations has also increased. The term “information system”, or management information system, is used to encompass all kinds of organization-wide systems designed to manage all major functions of an enterprise. Meanwhile, “information technologies” stand for a large array of communication media and devices (e-mail, video-conferences, the internet, groupware and corporate intranets, mobile phones, and so on). As has become conventional in the literature, the term information technology (IT) shall be used here in its broader sense, to include both information systems and information technologies, since they are often inextricably linked (Dewett & Jones, 2001; Hackler & Saxton, 2007).

Literature has widely examined different roles played by IT in organizations, especially in large firms, but also in small firms and in nonprofit organizations. IT knowledge entails its use as a vehicle for the storage or communication of information, but also the enhancement of administrative and operational efficiency and effectiveness of the organization (Lee, Kim, Choi & Lee, 2009). As IT becomes more and more affordable, powerful and accessible, technical knowledge and expertise are likely to be amongst the critical resource dependencies of many organizations (McLoughlin, 1999). At the same time, advanced IT has the potential to support innovative and strategic responses to the challenges faced by the organizations (Castells, 2000).

Currently, IT has been explicitly regarded as a strategic resource for public, private and nonprofit organizations alike, in a number of recent theoretical and empirical works. Measures of performance nevertheless differ between for-profit and nonprofit organizations. While financial performance is a basic guide to strategy development in the for-profit sector, it has to be replaced with other measures, such as efficiency and effectiveness in achieving its mission, in the nonprofit and public sectors (Moore, 2000). Based on several profit and cost-based performance measures, results of a well known study conducted by Bharadwaj (2000) on a group of large firms indicate better performance of firms with high IT capability. Similar findings are reported by Ragowsky & Gefen (2008) concerning the competitive advantage provided by the use of information systems in (large) manufacturing companies, stressing their strategic impact in increasingly complex environments. Those results also matter to small businesses, as shown by Smith (1999) or Lee et al. (2009) amongst others, correlating the knowledge and use of IT to the firm’s performance.

The use and effects of technology on nonprofit organizations have also been studied to some extent in the literature. Results indicate that significant numbers of voluntary organizations show a “relatively low use and application of the core networking technologies, [... thus] under-exploiting the transformational and learning capabilities inherent within these technologies” (Burt & Taylor, 2000, p. 132, referring also to Gordon, 1998). Saidel & Cour (2003) report on nonprofit organizations’ awareness of the effect of IT on their missions, although “it is not clear [...] just how carefully decision makers examine the relationship between mission and technology” (p. 22). Basic use of IT is widespread among nonprofit organizations; even though their employment of IT to help fulfill the organizational mission is significantly lower (Hackler & Saxton, 2007). Strategic change in several nonprofit organizations has nevertheless been encountered and studied in the literature (Elliot, Katsioloudes & Weldon, 1998; Burt & Taylor, 2000, 2003; Finn, Maher & Forster, 2006).

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