Academic journal article Irish Journal of Management

Collaboration in High Technology Companies in Ireland: Three Case Studies

Academic journal article Irish Journal of Management

Collaboration in High Technology Companies in Ireland: Three Case Studies

Article excerpt

Introduction

High technology companies now play a significant role in Ireland's economy. For the year 2001 (during which time the case research reported in this paper was undertaken), computer equipment alone accounted for almost 25% of Ireland's exports (Central Statistics Office, 2002). The output of high technology companies is frequently the result of the efforts of many different companies, culminating in the activities of a system integrator. The relationships between system integrators and their suppliers can range across a spectrum of possibilities from that of traditional "arms length" to one of tight coupling. This paper focuses on the latter end of this spectrum, with a cross case analysis of three Irish-based high technology system integrators and the evolving nature of their collaborative relationships with their suppliers. The case data presented was gathered in the latter half of 2001 as part of CO-IMPROVE - an EU-funded research project focused on collaborative improvement within extended manaufacturing enterprises (EMEs).

Collaborative Improvement in the Extended Manufacturing Enterprise: The CO-IMPROVE Project

Collaboration

The concept of the extended manufacturing enterprise differs from that of the "supply network" (Childe, 1998), viewing suppliers as part of the principal company with all parties involved focused on maximising the benefits of the business they are involved in. Knowledge is seen as a key driver of value creation and understanding in these networks, as knowledge encoding mechanisms help to explain the sources of value for these organisational forms (Kogut, Shan & Walker, 1992). A well-developed collaborative learning capability is seen as critical to the alignment and improvement of value-adding activities of collaborating partners in the EME.

Collaboration is premised upon the creation of long-term relationships, the development of complementary capabilities and engagement in joint planning (Macbeth, 1994). Major benefits associated with inter-firm collaboration derive from the opportunity to access new markets, new technologies and new skills, to reduce operational costs and product time to market, and to optimise overall supply chain performance (Kogut, 1989; Hagedoorn, 1993; Eisenhardt and Schoonhoven, 1996). Collaborative improvement (CoI) - a particular form of inter-firm collaboration - may be defined as:

"...a purposeful inter-company interactive process that focuses on continuous incremental innovation, aimed at enhancing the EME overall operational performance. It is simultaneously concerned with bringing about change in the EME, developing the EME's capabilities, and generating actionable knowledge. Finally, it is an evolving systematic change process that is undertaken in a spirit of collaboration and learning" (Cagliano, Caniato, Corso & Spina, 2002: 134).

The CO-IMPROVE Project

CO-IMPROVE (GIRD-CT2000-00299) is an EU-funded project of three years' duration, which commenced in March 2001. The objectives of CO-IMPROVE are to develop a business model, supported by a web-based technical system, and action learning-based implementation guidelines to support the design, implementation and ongoing development of collaborative improvement between partners in EMEs. The CO-IMPROVE project stems from a recognition that competitiveness of European companies will rely increasingly on how fit they are as innovative and knowledge creative players within dynamic, complex integrated networks. Academic partners include Aalborg University, Politecnico di Milano, Trinity College Dublin and University of Twente. Industrial partners, including EMEs, are drawn from Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Research Design

CO-IMPROVE commenced in March 2001. Over its first six months, data gathering included a series of semi-structured interviews with the senior purchasing and engineering managers in the system integrator at the centre of EMEs in Denmark, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands. …

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