Knowledge management in SMEs and MNCs: matching knowledge mobility mechanisms to supply network configuration profiles

05 Feb 2018

While ‘knowledge mobility’ presents significantly different challenges for SMEs and MNCs, it is strongly influenced by two common factors: the type of knowledge to be integrated and the configuration of the operations network. Only by understanding the various types of knowledge and how they - and the configuration profile of the network (Nascent, Emerging, or Mature; Local, Regional, or Global; SME or MNC) – affect how knowledge is shared, can a proactive and integrated approach to knowledge management be developed. This study specifically examines knowledge transfer mechanisms in knowledge intensive manufacturing firms and across their networks. Here, both SMEs and MNCs are required to make critical decisions about the ‘level’ of collaboration and knowledge sharing with network partners - whether it should be purely transactional or more strategic. A network configuration framework is extended to incorporate knowledge-specific dimensions of analysis, derived from the academic literature on stages of emergence and knowledge transfer theory, and supported by a review of knowledge integration mechanisms in practice. This was supported by benchmarking exercises involving a series of multi-organisational network cases with different types of SME-SME and MNC-SME interactions, and gaining insights on factors that will affect future Knowledge Mobility Configurations through a series of industrial case studies. The resulting Knowledge Mobility Configuration (KMC) framework was tested and refined using five case studies indicative of a growing shift towards information and knowledge-intensive activities – involving production and supply network ‘partners’ - in both SME and MNC contexts. In terms of contribution, there has been limited empirical research to-date into the determinants of successful knowledge transfers in MNC-SME network contexts. The network configuration element of the KMC framework provides insights on how such networks evolve, and how specific knowledge mobility profiles may evolve over time. Our findings demonstrate the critical role of knowledge management in internationalisation, and that skills, knowledge, technology and organisational processes are integral to any emerging network design criteria and/or ‘capability’ acquisition assessment. The choice of integration mechanism is not only influenced by the type of knowledge being ‘mobilised’, but also by industrial context and the maturity of the network within which the knowledge is being shared. This more nuanced approach may be used as a basis for a proactive and differentiated approach to knowledge mobility and integration across SME and MNC networks.