Information Technologyin Collaborative Networks

The  purpose  of  an  information  system  is  to  manage  data,  information  and  knowledge connected  with  human  activity.  Information  Systems  in  Collaborative  Networks  manage available  data  and  describe  conditions  and  information  generated  by  data  integration corresponding to the various stages of products and services in the network, and the actions taken  by  network  staff  in  order  to  modify  these  stages.  Starting  from  the  information available,  these  systems  integrate  data  and,  by  contrasting  them  with  the  experience accumulated in the system’s memory, ensure optimum decision-making.Collaborative Networks Information Systems have not been formally fixed, mainly because of  their  complexity  but  also  because  until  very  recently  an  automated  data-processing system capable of attempting automation had not existed.Nowadays  the  major  obstacle  to  reach  an  adequate  level  of  automation  in  collaborative networks information systems is the lack of systematisation. Overcoming this impediment is crucial to allow the development of an electronic network (e-network), which consists of an automated  data-processing  system  trying  to  achieve  computer-aided  management  of  a Collaborative Network Information System.This  chapter  presents  an  analysis  and  a  modelization  method  for  the  decision-making process  in  a  collaborative  network,  as  the  main  target  to  be  developed  within  the  same network.   Not only is this  a technological change,  it is  something else. It proves  to be the only way to share network knowledge in a co-operative manner, among professionals from several companies, and with different degrees of collaboration expertise. The results of the analysis  of  this  innovative  kind  of  proposed  collaborative  network  process  illustrate  how collaboration is carried out through the various processes, and demonstrate the perfect way to tackle e-network development.

Designing a collaborative network

A  simple  definition  of  networks  is  “a  set  of  actors  connected  by  a  set  of  ties”  with  actors being “persons, teams, organizations, concepts, etc.” (Borgatti & Foster, 2003). Participation in  networks  has  become very  important  for  any  organization  that  strives  to  achieve  a differentiated   competitive   advantage.   Among   the   wide   variety   of   existing   networks, collaborative networks are especially relevant. These have emerged over the last few years as  a  result  of  the  challenges  faced  by  both  the  business  and  scientific  worlds,  since collaboration has become the key issue to rapidly answer market demands in manufacturing companies, through sharing competence and resources (Camarinha-Matos et al., 2009).The   collaborative   network   paradigm   offers   new   possibilities   for   effective   and   agile organization   of   future   manufacturing   systems.   In   order   to   be   successful   in   a   very competitive  and  rapidly  changing  environment,  companies  need  significantly  improved competencies in terms of dealing with new business models, strategies, organizational and governance principles, processes and technological capabilities. In this context, collaborative networks  show  a  high  potential  for  value  creation  through  new  capabilities  to  cope  with innovation  needs,  uncertainty,  mass  customization  and  fierce  competition  (Camarinha- Matos & Afsarmanesh, 2005).

A  more  comprehensive,  fine-tuned  description  is  again  contributed  by  Camarinha-Matos and  Afsarmanesh  (2005);  according  to  them,  a  collaborative  network  is  constituted  by  a variety    of    entities    that    are    largely    autonomous,    geographically    distributed    and heterogeneous in terms of their operating environment, culture, social capital and goals.

And  yet  these  entities  work  together  to  better  achieve  compatible  goals,  using  ICT  for supporting  the  development  of  collaborative  business  opportunities.  As  dynamic  inter- organizational   models,   communication   mechanisms   play   a   vital   role   in   collaborative networks,  alongside  coordination  as  the  method  to  support  the  exchange  of  information between interdependent activities or processes and among collaborative enterprises. In this context, a collaborative network defined as a virtual global manufacturing network, is   materialized   by   a   group   of   dynamic   enterprises   in   constant   transformation,  with horizontal  and  vertical  connections  set  up  among  them  and  /  or  with  other  independent companies –even with competitors. This is turn dismisses the urge to maintain their internal manufacturing  resources  and  manages  and  shares  efficiently  those  resources  available within the network.

Objectives of a collaborative network

A network knows well what it is doing; from an inter-organizational perspective, what will allow it to correctly define its processes, tasks, activities and ICT tools and mechanisms is not only the psychological processes underlying the behaviour of network actors, but also its  evolution  in  time,  its  decision-making  ability,  and  its  knowledge  of  what  really  works (Gösling et al., 2007).One  feature  of  inter-organizational  networks  which  particularly  differentiate  them  from standard  or  traditional  organizations  is  the  absence of  hierarchy.   How  can  appropriation concerns and inter-organisational networks be managed, and how can tasks in networks be coordinated in the absence of pure hierarchy? (Gösling et al., 2007). The question of how to guide  the  behaviours  of  their  collaboration  partners  to  prevent  possible  confrontations makes it necessary to define the control mechanisms  (outcome control, behavioural control, social  control  and  institutions)  and  the  processes  (formal  and  informal),  together  with  a good information system (ICT) to support them.Control  in  collaboration  relationships  is  necessary  because  it  allows  ensuring  the  optimal performance   of   the   collaboration,   identifying   plans   and   activities   of   the   actors,   and regulating the conduct of factors in the collaboration. (Gösling et al., 2007). The collaboration reflects  the  achievement  of  a  delicate  balance  between  actors  in  the  network,  which  will need to be constantly reviewed and renegotiated.The benefits of collaboration can be pecuniary and non-pecuniary: financial, market access, interaction,  sympathy.  Actors  should  have  positive  expectations  in  order  to  have  an

incentive   to   start   and   maintain   an   inter-organisational   relationship.   But   inefficient collaborative settings, premature termination of a tie, negative expectations about the future value of an inter-organisational relationship, as well as failures of joint efforts and goals can be observed (Gösling et al., 2007).

The  key  ingredients  of  alliance  success  (Bleeke  &  Ernst,  1995)  include  flexibility  in  the management  of  the  tie,  building  trust  with  partners,  regular  communication,  constructive management  of  conflict,  continuity  of  personnel  for  the  inter-organisational  tie,  managing partner expectations, and so on. In this sense, relationships inside a collaborative network must be tolerant enough to permit obtaining  a  permeable  organization,  allowing  simultaneous  collaboration  with  a  varied group   of   participants,   all   with   different   features.   Organisation   of   the   manufacturing network must be thought of as a permeable, flexible, open and dynamic system, in which relations occurring in the network facilitate the actors’ connection and disconnection, their linking   up   with   one   or   several   sub-groups   in   the   network,   and   the   co-existence   of participants with varied characteristics. It can be anticipated that this dynamic system will be defined by low barriers to entry and exit, geographical flexibility, low costs, fast diffusion of technology, high diversification and exceptional economies of scale. The  paradigm  of  collaborative  networks  can  help  companies,  namely  SMEs,  to  face  these challenges   and   reach   competitive   advantage.   A   company   joining   efforts   with   other companies may typically expect to achieve: a larger dimension; access to new markets and new knowledge; sharing of risks and resources; a collaborative environment for innovation, through the combination of synergies, competencies, culture and experiences; and joining of complementary   skills   and   capacities   which   allow   each   entity   to   focus   on   its   core competencies while keeping a high level of agility (Camarinha-Matos, 2009).

Construction phases of a collaborative network

In the construction of a collaborative network several aspects should be taken into account, such  as  the  cultures  of  the  network  and  the  companies  that  constitute  it,  as  well  as  the relationships already formed or to be created in the future among the companies that will constitute  this  network.  The  analysis  of  these  factors  will  mainly  allow  establishing  the various phases through which a network will pass during its construction.In the design of a collaborative network as a virtual organization for global manufacturing, the cultural differences among the companies that are integrated in it, especially if they are to collaborate robustly, could pose a difficult challenge. Opposed focuses on activities such as, for example, internal communication, the realization of objectives, the professional career system, the structure of power or the relationship employee-superior, etc. may translate into conflicts  in  terms  of  task  performance,  expectations  and  practices  in  the  collaborative network. For this reason, one could conclude that the organizational culture of the network will have to avoid a high degree of incompatibilities in the cultural practices of its members. The relationships between the companies that may be comprised in the network generate a society  that  results  in  the  appearance  of  a  source  of  information  on  the  reliability  and capacity of both its current members and its potential participants. This society represents a dynamic system formed by the previous relationships and the current partners, and evolves in time as new relations and connections are established. The  analysis  of  the  influence  of  these  social  networks  in  the  construction  of  a  virtual collaborative  network  is  basic,  since  in  the  transactions  between  companies  of  a  network,relational  capital  is  in  many  cases  more  valuable  than  economic  capital  (Luo,  2001).  The companies participating in a virtual network may face a high risk of opportunistic conducts, due to the unpredictable behaviour of potential partners and the high costs that this would cause  if  it  actually  happened.  This  situation,  originated  in  the  lack  of  information  on  the reliability of the potential collaborator, whose conduct is a key factor in the success of the alliance, could be a source of uncertainty.

Social   integration   will   enable   the   companies   forming   the   virtual   network   to   receive information regarding the capacities, aptitudes and necessities of new collaborators to the network,  thus  increasing  reliability  in  the  face  of  opportunistic  conducts.  These  social relations need time to settle and seed but, once established, they will become a catalyst for managerial relationships inside the network. Therefore,  knowing  the  map  of  existing  social  relationships,  besides  being  helpful  when building  the  network,  is  fundamental  in  order  to  succeed.  The  virtual  network  will  be closely related with the intensity of the social relationships present in it.

As  described  above,  one  of  the  key  factors  when  constructing  the  virtual  manufacturing network is constructing confidence. There are other key factors, such as transparency, clear- cut power relationships and fulfilment of commitments and obligations. These factors have an obvious influence on the social relations being built in a virtual manufacturing network. Figure 1 shows the various phases of trust in the relationships between companies inside a collaborative  virtual  network.  Point  1  is  the  denominated  structural  trust  (Madhok,  1995).

This  level  of  confidence  is  based  on  the  tangible  aspects  of  the  collaboration.  Explicit mechanisms are usual, such as very formal contracts including penalty systems or coercive measures to avoid opportunistic conducts. Although essential in the initial phases, it is not enough in the long run as it is unstable and easily affected by factors such as transparency or keeping  commitments  and  it  does  not  keep  in  mind  the  social  aspect,  relying  on  the symmetry of contributions. With   time,   personal   relationships   develop   and   the   interactions   among   persons   from different  companies  generate  a  higher  degree  of  confidence  (point  2).  In  this  phase  the relationships  in  the  virtual  collaborative  network  are  based  on  reliance  rather  than  on  a formal contract. The foundations of this trust have a cognitive component originated in the experience  of  previous  interactions.  This,  according  to  Saphiro  et  al.  (1992),  is  a  kind  of knowledge-based confidence, which expands into mutual understanding. An  important  aspect  of  the  virtual  collaborative  network  is  the  directly  proportional relationship between the degree of virtualization and the level of confidence attained. The collaborative network under construction will gradually become more and more virtualized, as time passes and honest trust among companies builds up.In point 3 the actors of the network begin to establish more casual, fluid relationships, and this is what defines a phase of trust based on knowledge, where network processes become smoother and the costs of transactions decrease drastically.

With   time,   trust   becomes   a  very   effective   mechanism   in   the   relationships   between companies, helping to mitigate the problems generated by strong competition among them, or the organizational complexity of the virtual collaborative network. Trust will also reduce the  costs  of  transaction  because  it  reduces  the  costs  of  design  and  negotiation  of  the contracts (point 4). This phase is denominated social trust (Madhok, 1995).

The  conclusions  are  that  confidence  is  a  cultural  mechanism  in  virtual  networks  which grows   slowly   with   time   and,   if   appropriate   measures   are   taken   in   order   to   reduce transaction   costs   radically,   managerial   collaboration   will   flow   more   effortlessly   and knowledge transfer will be eased.In the development of a collaborative network, basic actions are instigated which facilitate teamwork between companies to quickly progress along the confidence curve:

•    Social  companies  must  invest  their  resources  in  improving  confidence  in  the  early phases of collaboration.

•    It  is  necessary  to  minimize  rotations  of  personnel  so  that  social  relationships  have continuity and increase mutual trust.

•    Intense collaborations should initially be avoided as the process of construction of social trust requires time.

•     Social relationships can be improved by creating value for complementary capacities.

In  short,  the  virtual  collaborative  network  will  focus  initially  on  a  reduced  number  of activities  and main  abilities  that  will  be  complementary  to  those  of  other  partners.  When these capacities are mutually appreciated, progress in future developments will strengthen trust and minimize opportunistic conducts.It must not be forgotten that that one of the reasons for the existence of global production networks is their ability to transfer and utilize knowledge in a more efficient way than by means of external mechanisms of the market.This  type  of  knowledge  constitutes  one  of  the  lasting  competitive  advantages  (Gupta  & Govindarajan, 2000). It is also a major factor in the managerial differentiation (Trice & Beyer,1993).  Knowledge  transfer  within  the  network  could  help  approach  cultural  practices (Hofstede  et  al.,  1990).  By diluting  and  expanding  these  assets  in  the  network,  a  cultural homogenization process takes place. Figure  2  shows  the  cultural  mechanisms  occurring  in  the  constitution  of  a  network,  both before the formalisation (ex ante) of collaboration and after it (ex post). This is a continuous process    where    these    mechanisms    are    mutually    recognised.    These    four    cultural mechanisms-social  integration,  knowledge  transfer,  trust,  and  cultural  similarities  among network members, should not be understood as static mechanisms, or independent from the managerial   collaboration   process.   They   are   dynamic   elements   that   exert   mutual   and continuous influence during the whole life of the collaboration; they are in constant progress and are capable of reinforcing the relationship. For the network to be a successful one, it is not  necessary  that  all  the  mechanisms  have  a  strong  activity,  but  rather,  that  a  certain harmony or synchronization exists in them.

Information in a collaborative network

Support   of   collaborative   networks   modifies   the   traditional   focus   of   the   enterprise information system design. Collaborative networks being open organizations, they require open information systems.These   systems   must   allow   for   uncomplicated   and   fluid   communication   between   the different  actors  of  the  network,  whether  they  are  inside  or  outside  the  perimeter  of  the organization.  This  means  an  opposed  approach  to  the  integration  view  of  information system design. The ability to capture and share information between different information systems  of  various  companies  is  often  limited  by  the  diversity  of  the  business  processes,organizational units, structures of data and technologies, as well as the difficulty of sharing knowledge between the solutions of the different partners (Vatcharaphun et al. 2010)

Information flow in a collaborative network

The   information   flows   that   have   to   interact   in   a   collaborative   network   come   from information systems used by independent organizations; this makes it necessary to re-define the  concept  of  interoperability,  which  should  be  re-formulated  in  order  to  reduce  the complexity in the articulation of the problem. At  a  strategic  level,  information  flows  are  determined  by  communications  and  messages that respond to the management of common objectives in the collaborative space. They seek control  and  coordination  between  the  activities  of  the  partners.  At  an  operational  level, information   resources   such   as   data,   technology   and   software   components   should   be specified up to interface level for each particular information system. These flows should be negotiated  with  and  directed  by  software  components,  aligning  them  with  the  different process  levels  of  the  company.  This  alignment  process  of  the  different  levels  of  the participant  companies  should  not  be  interpreted  as  a  process  of  “information  system integration”. As described in section 2.2 above, trust is a key factor in network building, but there  are  other  factors  affecting  information  flows  to  a  larger  extent:  transparency  and clarity  in  power  relationships.  These  key  factors should  be  taken  into  consideration  when establishing the information flows of the virtual network, so that they settle down between the appropriate decision-makers of each participant company.

The classical corporate boundaries have recently begun to blur and the value chain is leasing its  attributes,  and  being  replaced  by  a  web  of  fluid  and  flexible  relations,  as  stated  by Camarinha-Matos  (2009),  In  decision-making  processes  inside  a  collaborative  network, clients are a core asset in terms of value creation; they contribute to increase the operational efficiency  of  the  network  by  introducing  new  possibilities  and  their  innovations  identify unique competitive advantages. In the collaborative network, the role of clients is evolving from that of mere consumers of products and services to being “partners” in the process of value creation. As described by Camarinha-Matos (2009)., the paradigm of collaborative networks offers new opportunities in  the  implementation  of  agility  in  production,  as  well  as  in  other  industrial  sectors.  A collaborative network involves a group of companies or actors in the network, together with another group of clients, supported by an appropriate platform and infrastructure (section3.1). This platform is basic for the decision-making process (at strategic and / or operational levels), with many of these decisions being agreed among diverse network actors.Interaction gaps between network actors could pose a serious problem in order to effectively involve other actors: this obstacle should be overcome by network-wide decision-making, as well as by an appropriate operational structure. An example of implementation of a knowledge- based information system for decision-making can be found in Vatcharaphun et al. (2010).


Technology  improves  at  an  ever-increasing  rate,  but  the  speed  at  which  companies  adapt their strategies and competencies to develop technological innovations and exploit market opportunities remains limited. While networks provide an option to increase agility through collaborative access to relevant external competencies, we know little about systematically managing such networks (Katzy & Crowston, 2008).When  building  or  designing  a  virtual  global  manufacturing  network,  cultural  differences among  the  companies  integrated  in  it  for  intense  collaboration  are  one  of  the  main

Related Posts

Comments are closed.

© 2024 Mechanical Engineering - Theme by WPEnjoy · Powered by WordPress