اتحاد تامین کننده و عدم قطعیت محیطی: یک مطالعه تجربی
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|10753||2009||15 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : International Journal of Production Economics, Volume 120, Issue 1, July 2009, Pages 190–204
Although supplier alliances are widely considered as an effective source of competitive advantage by firms operating in uncertain business environments, the literature offers inconsistent suggestions concerning how environmental uncertainty affects supplier alliances. The framework of transaction cost economics (TCE) suggests that, when environmental uncertainty is present to a nontrivial but not very high level, increases in environmental uncertainty lead to higher adoption levels of supplier alliances in order to reduce the likelihood of adaptation and evaluation problems on the part of suppliers. Some researchers from the perspective of strategic management, however, assert that firms should avoid close supplier relationships in uncertain environments so as to obtain flexibility in switching suppliers. In this research, we argue that such contradictory suggestions are partly due to the multi-dimensional nature of environmental uncertainty. With the empirical data from 175 Hong Kong electronics manufacturers, we found that two of the major dimensions of environmental uncertainty—technology change and market uncertainty—influence the adoption of supplier alliances and several related constructs very differently. Technology change has positive effects on strategic purchasing, specific investments and supplier alliances. Market uncertainty, nonetheless, provides an unfavourable environment for specific investments and does not lead to supplier alliances. Reporting findings of interest and significance, this paper provides theoretical and practical insights for strategic supply management.
Manufacturing firms today are operating in increasingly hostile business environments that are characterized by rapid technological change, shortened product life cycles, and intensifying global competition (Hagedoorn and Schakenraad, 1994; Volberda, 1996). Developing alliances with suppliers is fast becoming a popular way for firms to achieve and sustain responsiveness and competitiveness in such unfavourable environments (McCutcheon and Stuart, 2000). With the support of alliance suppliers, many firms can achieve the responsiveness or learn the technologies required to compete in a turbulent marketplace (Grant and Baden-fuller, 1995; Heide and John, 1990). Prior research has suggested that an uncertain environment influences the closeness of the relationship between a buying firm and a supplier (Heide and John, 1990; Poirier, 1999). Nonetheless, despite more than two decades of research on this topic, the impact of environmental uncertainty on buyer–supplier relationships remains controversial, both conceptually and empirically (David and Han, 2004; Rindfleish and Heide, 1997). Indeed, different perspectives in the literature offer distinct insights on the linkage between supplier alliances and environment uncertainty. According to transaction cost economics (TCE), when environmental uncertainty is present to a nontrivial but not very high level, supplier alliances are an effective way for firms to govern supplier relationships in uncertain environments because this governance method can reduce the likelihood of adaptation and evaluation problems with suppliers and, in turn, lower the transaction costs (David and Han, 2004; Rindfleish and Heide, 1997; Williamson, 1991). It is reasonable to believe that a sizable proportion of firms in different parts of the world do operate in environments where the uncertainty is not of very high levels. Thus, despite the presence of a condition, this suggestion derived from TCE is likely to be relevant and critical for a large number of organizations. On the other hand, some researchers, primarily from the discipline of strategic management, have asserted that, when faced with greater environmental uncertainty, firms may need to avoid long-term entanglements that could later prove to be disadvantageous, and will instead favour more flexible, arm's-length relationships (Crocker and Masten, 1988; Porter, 1985). One plausible explanation for such inconsistent arguments is that environmental uncertainty is a multi-dimensional construct, and that different dimensions of uncertainty may have opposite effects on the behaviours of firms involved in buyer–supplier relationships (Balakrishnan and Wernerfelt, 1986). Previous research in operations management, however, has provided little insights into the contradictory suggestions and how they can be explained. Environmental uncertainty pertains to the difficulty of making accurate predictions about the future (Achrol and Stern, 1988). For firms relying on technology to compete (e.g., electronics manufacturers), changes in technology is likely to be a key determinant that affects their abilities to predict the future. Further, market uncertainty can be another important dimension of environmental uncertainty because, in an environment shaped by rapid changes in the product market, any firm would find it difficult to accurately forecast future changes. In the literature, some researchers have employed technology change and market uncertainty as the factors to reflect environmental uncertainty (e.g., Bstieler and Gross, 2003). Consequently, we consider technology change and market uncertainty two manifestations of environmental uncertainty in this research. Our objective in this research is to empirically investigate whether different dimensions of environmental uncertainty have different impacts on the decisions of firms to adopt supplier alliances. More specifically, we examine how the two major dimensions of environmental uncertainty, namely technology change and market uncertainty, impact supplier alliances and other related constructs including strategic purchasing and specific investments. The primary contribution of this research lies in its ability to offer practically relevant insights to aid managers in considering whether or not supplier alliances are likely to be appropriate under their particular types of environmental uncertainty. In addition, the findings contribute to the management literature by offering empirical evidence on the explanatory power of TCE in predicting managers’ decisions in adopting supplier alliances.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
Drawing from TCE, we posit in this research that the two different dimensions of environmental uncertainty, i.e., technology change and market uncertainty, impact supplier alliances directly and indirectly through constructs including specific investments and strategic purchasing. The results indicate that while technology change has significantly positive effects on supplier alliances, specific investments, and strategic purchasing, market uncertainty is only negatively related to specific investments. The results also indicate that both specific investments and strategic purchasing are positively related to supplier alliances. In addition, the descriptive statistics presented in Table 2 indicate that on 7-point Likert scales, the mean values of the two uncertainty dimensions, namely marketing uncertainty and technology change, are 4.94 and 5.16 respectively, implying that the hypotheses’ underlying assumption—firms operated in an environment where the environmental uncertainty was nontrivial but not of very high levels—was met. The statistics also reveal that the standard deviation of marketing uncertainty and technology change is 1.10 and 1.22, respectively, implying that although the data of this study were collected from a single industry, the sample firms operated in fairly different environments in terns of uncertainty. 5.1. Theoretical implications The results indicate that the two dimensions of environmental uncertainty, i.e., technology change and market uncertainty, have very different effects on supplier alliances, specific investments, and strategic purchasing. The findings indicate that technology change leads to specific investments and supplier alliances. These are consistent with the predictions of TCE. Thus, when the cause of the uncertainty faced by a firm lies in technological change, TCE is likely to be an effective framework to predict the decisions of the firm in managing supplier relationships. On the other hand, the findings suggest that market uncertainty only has a negative relationship with specific investments, implying that the more uncertain the buying firm is about the market of the product, the more unwilling it will be to make supplier-specific investments. This may be partly due to the fact that for firms whose product market is highly uncertain, they favour a flexibility in switching suppliers more than obtaining support through the partnerships with long-term suppliers. In other words, when the cause of a firm's uncertainty is rooted in changes in the product market, the concepts of TCE are unlikely to be effective to predict how managers decide the form of supplier relationships. One plausible explanation for the strong relationship between technology change and supplier alliances is related to the nature of the changes in technology. The nature of technological change can fall into two categories according to the level of obsolescence of existing technologies, skills, and knowledge (Henderson and Clark, 1990; Tushman and Anderson, 1986). Technological change is “competence-destroying” if the capabilities required to explore it are so different that the skills and knowledge embedded in the organization are rendered obsolete. Technological change is “competence-enhancing” if the skills and knowledge required to explore it build on existing ones. In the context of a buyer–supplier relationship, a radical change in the technology of the buying firm may make the skills and knowledge of the supplier obsolete. For instance, the advent of the digital video camera would mean that suppliers of analogue cartridges (i.e., a major component of analogue video cameras) would see their capabilities become obsolete. Therefore, if the technological change in the buying firm tends to be “competence-destroying”, the relationship with the related suppliers may be short-term because the buying firm desires a flexibility in changing suppliers more easily, and vice versa. The context of this research is the electronics industry of Hong Kong. Most of the Hong Kong electronics manufacturers serve the OEM market and have exploited low-cost, flexible manufacturing strategies (Enright et al., 1997). Instead of producing highly innovative products, the industry has been placing a great emphasis on producing products that have already been created and accepted by the market, but at lower manufacturing costs. In addition, the R&D expenditure in Hong Kong has been one of the lowest figures in the developed world (Hong Kong Government, 2004). This suggests that the sample firms in this study are unlikely to have innovative and radical progress in the development of their technology, implying that the nature of their technology change should be “competence-enhancing”, rather than “competence-destroying”. As a result, the sample firms in this study are likely to consider supplier alliances, through which they can obtain the continuous and long-term support of suppliers for incremental developments in technology, as more appropriate in their particular environments. This research also provides empirical evidence to support the argument that uncertainty is a multi-dimensional construct. Indeed, environmental uncertainty is a common construct in the management literature because researchers often regard it as an antecedent of different management practices. Therefore, researchers have to be aware of the multi-dimensional nature of the environmental uncertainty and employ several measures to reflect the construct in order to obtain more accurate results. 5.2. Managerial implications While managers and researchers have been considering suppler alliances as one of the popular “best practices” for the past two decades (McCutcheon and Stuart, 2000; Dyer and Ouchi, 1993; Powell, 1987), a number of studies have estimated the failure rate of inter-firm partnerships to be around 30–50% (Anderson and Jap, 2005) implying that a firm's decision to develop such a relationship must proceed with extreme caution. Consequently, this study offers particularly useful insights to managers who have to decide if supplier alliances are an appropriate means in governing their supplier relationships. According to TCE, when uncertainty is present in a nontrivial but not very high level, buying firms should develop supplier alliances in order to reduce the problems of adaptation and evaluation (Williamson, 1991). Our research partly supports this argument but offers additional important considerations. First, we found that different dimensions of environmental uncertainty have different effects on the development of supplier alliances. Hence, before committing to a supplier alliance, firms have to pay attention to understand the nature of their environmental uncertainty so as to be able to more accurately evaluate whether supplier alliances are suitable for them. Second, of the two dimensions of environmental uncertainty examined, technology change is a much more critical dimension because it has a positive impact on strategic purchasing, specific investments, and supplier alliances. Thus, firms, in particular those who have to rely on technologies to compete, have to assess their levels of uncertainty in this dimension very carefully in order to make sure they will adopt an appropriate attitude in managing suppliers. Third, the results pertinent to market uncertainty reveal that when the product market is a highly turbulent one, supplier alliances may be perceived as not effective in managing suppliers and a low level of supplier-specific investments may be considered more desirable. Finally, the results indicate that strategic purchasing and specific investments are positively related to supplier alliances. This implies that firms intending to adopt supplier alliances may have to be well prepared with the professional skills to strategically manage the purchasing function and with the resources to make supplier-specific investments. 5.3. Limitations and future research We offer our research findings with the caveat that they are subject to some limitations. First, this study focused on manufacturers who were not operating in a highly uncertain environment. While this is consistent with the underlying assumption in the hypotheses and with the environments of a sizable portion of manufacturers in different parts of the world, future research may explore how a highly uncertain environment impacts organizations’ decisions in managing supplier relationships. Second, the data of this study were collected from a single industry. More new insights could be obtained if future research will collect data from different industries and compare the findings. Third, the assumption of the cause-and-effect relationships between the constructs of the conceptual model cannot be proved statistically in this study. More specifically, instead of being the outcome of a high level of specific investments, supplier alliances could be the driving force of specific investments. Thus, methodologies such as longitudinal or case studies could be used to collect data to support causal relationships. Fourth, although the scale items of all the constructs of this study met the good-fit criteria of the SEM analysis, some of the measures (e.g., technology change and market uncertainty) have two items only. Future research shall employ three or more items to gauge all constructs in order to achieve a higher level of accuracy in the measurement. Fifth, this study was designed and conducted from the perspective of the buying firm in a buyer–supplier relationship. Future research may offer new contributions by using a dyadic or network methodology. With the data from both buyers and suppliers, more detailed insights concerning supplier alliances can be resulted. Finally, researchers could extend the current study by investigating some relevant but relatively unexplored issues. For instance, among the three relationship governance methods suggested by TCE, this study examined the decisions on two of them (i.e., market versus hybrid). Future research could explore how the use of hierarchy as a governance method is related to different dimensions of environment uncertainty. Additionally, research could investigate whether there are mediating factors (e.g., product complexity; Zhang and Reichgelt, 2006) between the associations of uncertain elements and supplier alliances. Similarly, it would be interesting to study whether the relationship between specific investments and supplier alliances can be strengthened when some relational factors such as trust or commitment are of high levels. By addressing these unexplored issues, future research could offer additional insights to the literature of operations and supply management.