Managerial implications

The implementation of collaborative supply-chain partnerships implies lateral collaboration both across functional areas and organizational boundaries that require significant cultural and organizational changes in traditional, hierarchical organizations with strong functional areas. Still, as the formation of collaborative supply-chain partnerships is becoming increasingly prevalent, managers have little guidance when it comes to when and how to best achieve such cross-firm linkages. We tested empirically the viability of trust and electronically mediated exchange to advance collaboration in supply-chain relationships. Therefore, our findings are not only of theoretical interest, but can also be of great practical significance. For the practicing manager, the challenge is mainly one of balancing effort and knowing where to invest scarce time and effort.

In short, our results suggest that managers wishing to develop collaborative supply-chain partnerships should invest efforts both in developing trusting relationships as well as in establishing means to conduct increased levels of electronically mediated exchange. Also, this study argues that managers of supply-chain relationships involving the exchange of standardized products can enhance collaboration by placing a relative emphasis on electronically mediated exchange, while the establishment of a solid trust-based social foundation is of higher importance in exchange relationships for customized products.

Under all conditions and purchasing contexts, ensuring a seamless flow of materials and information is critical. Still, it might have gone without notice that communications between trading partners is key and electronically mediated exchange plays an important role despite a sense that the linkages are mundane. Ties between trusting partners can simply be made stronger through electronically mediated exchange. Yet, it is equally important to note that these electronically mediated exchanges cannot substitute for the face-to-face interactions that are essential for trust to build. Having established a trusting relationship, these forms of non-personal interactions that enable information dissemination can support and contribute to sustaining a trusting relationship.

We have shed light on a subtle but important point - do not underestimate the importance of open and frequent exchanges of information. To some degree it is the process of information exchange and not the content of the exchange that is important. Trust is based, in part, on the seamless and accurate exchange of information. Nothing replaces personal interaction in the early stages of relationship building; at the same time, electronically mediated exchange and its technology should be seen as enablers and complementors.

Niklas Myhr and Robert E. Spekman

Given the attention given to RFID (radio frequency identification) and other enterprise-level technologies, it is clear that an in-depth appreciation for the mechanisms that drive collaboration is important. We have provided a glimpse into the complex interplay of these mechanisms.

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