Recognizing Innovation through Social Network Analysis: The Case of the Virtual eBMS Project

Recognizing Innovation through Social Network Analysis: The Case of the Virtual eBMS Project

Grippa Francesca (University of Salento, Italy) and Elia Gianluca (University of Salento, Italy)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-587-2.ch811
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Advances in communication technologies have enabled organizations to develop and operate decentralized organizational structures by supporting coordination among workers in different locations. Such developments have lessened formality in control structures and replaced formal channels of communication with less formal social networks. The chapter describes the development and application of a ‘Social Network Scorecard’ (SNS) managerial tool to monitor social interchanges and relationships within and across organizations in order to assess the effectiveness of knowledge networks. In this chapter, a project team made up of individuals from academia and industry collaboratively implemented an integrated technological platform for KM, e-Learning, e-Business, and project management disciplines in a higher education environment. This VeBMS platform, consisting of a collaborative working environment within the University of Salento, Italy, was used as a ‘test bed’ to evaluate the validity of the scorecard in practice. The chapter describes how the SNS tool can help in monitoring the evolution of an organizational community, recognizing creative roles and initiatives, and tracing the connections between such initiatives and innovative outcomes. Looking at trends at individual, team, inter-organizational, and organizational levels, researchers identified the most innovative phases within the team’s life cycle using network indicators like density and degree centrality. The SNS provided feedback on the effectiveness of the team and helped discover the phases in which the team acted in a manner conducive to innovation. The Virtual eBMS project team followed the typical structure of an innovative knowledge network where learning networks and innovation networks co-exist with a more sparse interest network.
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Looking at tacit knowledge as the key competitive factor, the discipline of Knowledge Management is going towards a new phase focused not just on knowledge codification (building databases, installing technologies, collecting and disseminating information). In what has been recognized as the “new wave of Knowledge Management” (Cross et al., 2006), managerial efforts are put in exploiting tacit knowledge built in social capital, searching for techniques to foster organizational learning and knowledge creation. Network-based competition requires new types of “business scorecard” for managers to understand the reliance and limitations of resource exchange in social networks. The utilization of network metrics to monitor the evolution of an organizational or inter-organizational network provides advantages for managers in terms of business intelligence and ability to recognize the emergence of innovation. Although managers recognize the importance of fostering collaborative networks inside and across organization’s boundaries, there is still a lack of methods and tools to assess and support links among people, and nurture the most promising relationships that might lead to innovation.

In this contribution we propose a Social Network Scorecard applied to an innovative project aimed to design and implement a technological platform integrating Knowledge Management, e-Learning, e-Business and Project Management. The platform - called “Virtual eBMS” - is a collaborative working environment enabling knowledge sharing and learning processes within a higher education institution (eBMS). The e-Business Management Section (eBMS) is a department of Scuola Superiore ISUFI, an advanced education institute of University of Salento, in Italy. In this research we have applied a methodology, that we call Social Network Scorecard, to monitor and discover the hidden phases and individual roles that are associated to the emergence of innovation. The innovation we are referring to is represented by the components of a technological platform whose success (described later) is based on the ability of a small team to create a high level of connection within and across university boundaries.

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