In this study we adopt an inter-organizational view to examine virtual organizations. Thus, we understand this phenomenon as a strategic agreement between organizations that collaborate and coordinate their work through information technologies. This dimension adds greater flexibility to the strategic alliance, which in turn is beneficial for the integration of knowledge. In high technology industries, inter- organizational virtual organizations add further advantages to this option of knowledge integration through strategic alliances because of the importance of speed and flexibility. We put forward a series of propositions, following an initial approximation to this phenomenon through the combination of the strategic alliances, virtual organizations and the knowledge-based view literatures.
Since the concept of virtual organization was introduced by Mowshowitz (1986) and popularized by Davidow and Malone (1992), it has become increasingly used in management theory and, in particular, in the information systems literature. An initial approach to this term suggests that a virtual organization is a geographically distributed organization whose members are bound by a long-term common interest, and who communicate and coordinate their work through information technologies (Ahuja and Carley, 1999). Computers and information technologies favour the linking of corporate processes (Davidow and Malone, 1992) and the shift towards virtual organizations entails fundamental changes in managing daily operations and coordination tasks.
According to some authors (e.g. Kasper-Fuehrer and Ashkanasy, 2003), there are two approaches to studying virtual organizations, depending on the unit of analysis: the intra-organizational view, in which virtual organization is a collaboration of business units within an organization, or the inter-organizational view, in which different organizations collaborate to form a cooperative agreement. We focus on the second approach since our interest lies in the integration of knowledge through various firms.