Knowledge Management for Strategic Alliances: A Case Study

Knowledge Management for Strategic Alliances: A Case Study

Mario J. Donate, Fátima Guadamillas, Jesús D. Sánchez de Pablo
DOI: 10.4018/jsita.2012070101
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Managing organizational knowledge in alliances implies establishing the best possible strategic design to create, acquire, maintain, transfer, and apply organizational knowledge developed between the partners (or acquired from partners) in order to achieve competitive goals. In this paper, the role of knowledge management strategy (KMS) in strategic alliances is analyzed in a technology-intensive company. The importance of alliances for technological companies and the necessity of designing suitable KMSs in alliances –in terms of objectives and goals, knowledge management tools, and support systems– are explained first of all. Moreover, the analysis of a case study of KMS in the strategic alliances of a company currently developing different businesses in technological settings is developed by the authors. Finally, several conclusions are discussed, based on how the implementation aspects concerning KMS in strategic alliances have been managed and the way they have contributed to the attainment of the company’s objectives and goals.
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1. Introduction

The growth of alliances has generated considerable interest in this topic among both academics and practitioners over the past 25 years (Grant & Baden-Fuller, 2004; Meier, 2011). In particular, the strategic management literature has recognized alliances as a source for firms to acquire and improve their knowledge-based capabilities in current innovation-intensive environments (Oxley & Sampson, 2004). Alliances can thus operate as a mechanism for firms to develop a competitive advantage, outperforming their rivals by means of the company’s proven access to economies of scope and scale, complementary capabilities and knowledge, the possibility of competing in new markets, the improvement of their learning capacity, or the sharing of costs and risks of R&D projects, among other reasons (Saxton, 1997; Ireland, Hitt, & Vaidyanath, 2002; Luo, 2008).

A Knowledge Management Strategy (KMS) is considered in this paper as one of the main factors for firms in order to build collaborative (competitive) advantages through strategic alliances. Managing organizational knowledge in alliances involves working on the best possible strategic design to create, acquire, maintain, transfer and apply organizational knowledge developed or acquired amongst the partners in order to achieve strategic goals (Guadamillas, Donate, & Sánchez de Pablo, 2006).

A clear relationship exists between strategic alliances and the way KMS are established by firms in order to obtain specific knowledge outcomes. For instance, Lane and Lubatkin (1998) and Stuart (2000) contend that the main objective of partners in a technological alliance is inter-organizational learning, as a consequence of the difficulty faced by each partner in terms of internally solving their competitive challenges. Inter-organizational learning is based on the absorptive capacity of the company, which represents its ability to asses, assimilate and use the external (acquired) knowledge (Cohen & Levinthal, 1990; Lane & Lubatkin, 1998). For that learning to take place, an adequate KMS has to be developed to effectively exploit the flows of knowledge that are produced in the strategic alliance through absorptive capacity (Grant & Baden-Fuller, 2004). In doing so, the development of innovations will speed up, thus making its implementation over a short period of time possible, ultimately leading to important advantages for the firm whilst encouraging a superior level of learning (Stuart, 2000).

In order to effectively manage a strategic alliance, organizational and technical aspects have to be taken into account: the use of information technology (IT) and the systems that make the access to knowledge easier, the organizational culture that fosters innovation development and ethical and responsible behavior, and human resources (HR) practices. All of these make the establishment of a coherent structure for knowledge management in strategic alliances a complicated issue (Schmaltz, Hagenhoff, & Kaspar, 2004; Guadamillas et al., 2006).

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