Encouraging SME eCollaboration-The Role of the Champion Facilitator

By Jones, Michael; Burgess, Lois | Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

Encouraging SME eCollaboration-The Role of the Champion Facilitator


Jones, Michael, Burgess, Lois, Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning


Introduction

There is a great amount of discussion in the literature about the importance of firms, especially small to medium enterprises (SMEs), to work together and maneuver from a position of competitiveness to one of collaboration (Cheng, Love, Standing, & Gharavi, 2006; Ginige, 2006; Lawson, Hol, & Hall, 2007). Popular strategies exist to leverage synergies, expand economies of scale, increase market access and size, and optimize supply chain advantages (Jones & Burgess 2009b). With the enhancement of eCollaboration, firms can also learn to integrate systems, enhance knowledge transfer and retention, and increase redundancy of labor and capital (Lawson et al., 2007). The electronic enhancement of collaboration, through eCollaboration, also permits firms to transcend the boundaries of space and time, allowing asynchronous communication and other Information Communication Technology (ICT) enablers (Burgess & Sargent 2007).

The problem, however, is that a majority of SMEs fail in their attempts to realize these advantages through eCollaboration for one very strong and clear reason--there is little or poor utilization of a facilitator or project champion (Ginige, 2006). Based on the analysis of a series of focus groups in three industry sectors in Sydney, Australia, this paper takes a look at this problem. The paper will present empirically grounded discussion on how firms can better adopt the services of a facilitator--a champion, either internal or external--and what such a person, or people, can do to better ensure eCollaboration success.

What is eCollaboration?

Collaboration is the process by which two or more businesses work together to achieve a common purpose or goal using shared resources and co-commitment. eCollaboration is a new approach to the formation and maintenance of cooperative enterprise involving the introduction of electronic communication tools to facilitate collaboration. With eCollaboration the interface between firms changes and can take a multitude of forms. Most common are the Internet and email. However, businesses can embrace a range of tools from as simple as a mobile phone or SMS (text) through to complex systems like SharePoint, web sphere, and other management information systems. eCollaboration can be understood as "the computer mediated process of two or more (dislocated) people working together on a common purpose or goal, where the participants are committed and inter-dependent and work in a common context using shared resources, supported by (web-based) electronic tools" (Mayrhofer & Back, 2003, p. 7). Through eCollaboration, stakeholders are able to network between the fields of computer-human interaction, computer-supported cooperative work, and electronic commerce.

eCollaboration provides participants clear market advantages. A commonality of information exchange enables an expedient path of communication that establishes a sense of exclusivity to only those members with collaborative access (Ma, 2009). Seamless knowledge management and storage is also achieved (Meixner & Haas, 2008). Transaction costs can be reduced, and a larger population of stakeholders can be included in transactions for minimal marginal expense (Meixner & Haas, 2008). Firms are able to engage in value creation through enhanced inter-partner learning and by "combining internal and external resources in innovative ways" (Ma, 2009, p. 68). Shared information systems also enable firms to optimize supply chains, reduce inventory costs and risks, improve customer service, and better manage forecasting and planning (Ma, 2009). Some of the problems related to intercultural conflict that are common with conventional forms of collaboration may be avoided through a greater reliance on the virtual environment associated with eCollaboration (Stern & Hicks, 2000).

In some situations, eCollaboration may have detrimental effects. Firms will differ in their levels of technological acceptance. …

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