How Firms Can Acquire Competitive Advantages through Ability and Willingness in Different External Environments: The Mediating Roles of Supply Chain Collaboration and Interfirm Coopetition


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date5 Jan 2022


Confronted with unprecedented challenges in today’s fast-changing global conditions, firms increasingly rely on collaborating with other firms to acquire competitive advantages. Although there is increasing demand, collaboration may not bring the expected benefits. One of the prerequisites for achieving success in collaboration is to select appropriate collaborative parties, because different parties have different knowledge and resources, which will lead to diverse collaborative outcomes. In practice, on the one hand, firms need to collaborate with supply chain partners (i.e., supply chain collaboration, SCC) in the supply chain context; on the other hand, firms may also collaborate with their competitors (i.e., interfirm coopetition) in the market context. Drawing on the ability-willingness framework and practical experience, this thesis argues that a firm’s ability and willingness exert a determining impact on a firm’s collaboration with supply chain partners and with competitors respectively—ability plays an evident role in affecting SCC, whereas willingness exhibits a determining effect in interfirm coopetition. Given the necessity and importance of information systems (IS) and managerial perspectives in contemporary firms, this thesis explores the two forms of interfirm collaboration from these two perspectives. Specifically, it focuses on the role of information technology (IT)-enabled ability in facilitating SCC from an IS perspective, and emphasizes the effect of a firm’s inherent willingness on interfirm coopetition from the managerial perspective. The literature review indicates that in external environments, how a firm’s IT-enabled ability and inherent willingness acquire competitive advantages through SCC and interfirm coopetition respectively, have not been adequately explored. As such, the research question of this thesis is: in external environments, how do firms develop collaboration with supply chain partners and with competitors through ability-willingness to acquire competitive advantages?

To address existing research gaps, two studies are conducted to explore how firms collaborate with supply chain partners and with competitors via ability-willingness to acquire competitive advantages. Specifically, to explore how a firm’ s IT-enabled ability responds to external environments through SCC, Study 1 draws on boundary object theory to construct the relationships among interorganizational systems (IOS) characteristics, SCC, and supply chain agility (SCA), and take into account the contingent role of environmental uncertainty. To explore how a firm’ s inherent willingness responds to external environments through interfirm coopetition, Study 2 draws on the dynamic capabilities perspective to explore relationships among entrepreneurial orientation (EO), interfirm coopetition, and knowledge creation (KC), as well as consider the contingent roles of competitive environments. Through a two-wave, match-paired survey of business directors and IT directors in 156 manufacturing firms in the optoelectronic industry and a match-paired survey of senior managers in 170 Chinese high-tech firms, this thesis combines structural equation model and process analysis method, and verifies 14 of the 19 proposed hypotheses, including SCC mediates the relationships between IOS characteristics (i.e., adaptability and standardization) and SCA, and interfirm coopetition mediates the impact of EO on KC.

By comparing the thesis with existing research, its innovative contributions are found in the following three aspects:

Innovative points 1: It proposes and verifies that ability (i.e., IOS characteristics) and willingness (i.e., entrepreneurial orientation) play a determining role in facilitating supply chain collaboration and interfirm coopetition respectively, which provides an overall understanding of the drivers of interfirm collaboration. Based on the ability-willingness framework, this thesis demonstrates the positive impacts of IOS characteristics, as representations of IT-enabled ability, on SCC, and the positive impact of EO, as a representation of inherent willingness, on interfirm coopetition. These findings provide an overarching perspective of interfirm collaboration, and enrich existing literature on SCC and interfirm coopetition by identifying IOS characteristics and EO as an antecedent, respectively.

Innovative points 2: By verifying the mediating effect of supply chain collaboration and interfirm coopetition, this thesis illustrates the mechanism through which firms acquire competitive advantages via ability-willingness in different external environments, which not only expands the understanding of interfirm collaboration and how to benefit from interfirm collaboration but also complements the deficiency of the existing research on the mediating mechanism. This thesis verifies the mediation of SCC between IOS characteristics and SCA, and the mediating impact of interfirm coopetition between EO and KC. These findings, on the one hand, indicate that SCC and interfirm coopetition have diverse goals: SCC mainly aims to integrate resources and orchestrate actions to effectively respond to external changes; while interfirm coopetition mainly intends to acquire complementary and valuable knowledge and resources to create new knowledge. On the other hand, these findings reveal the influencing mechanisms of IOS characteristics on SCA and EO on KC, and complement the lack of discussion in the literature about influencing mechanisms.

Innovative points 3: It identifies uncertain environments and competitive environments as the boundary conditions of the development and implementation of supply chain collaboration and interfirm coopetition, respectively. On the one hand, it promotes comprehensive understanding of supply chain collaboration and interfirm coopetition by clarifying how they vary within external environments; on the other hand, it verifies the critical role of external environments in the development and implementation of interfirm collaboration. This thesis identifies different key environmental factors in SCC and interfirm coopetition. Specifically, this thesis finds that environmental uncertainty exerts a critical moderating effect on the development and implementation of SCC, and verifies that the impact of IOS adaptability on SCC and the mediation of SCC between IOS adaptability and SCA could be strengthened by a high level of environmental uncertainty. And this thesis finds that competitive environments (i.e., environmental competitiveness and dysfunctional competition) exert evident moderating roles in the development and implementation of interfirm coopetition. It suggests that the effect of EO on interfirm coopetition, the impact of interfirm coopetition on KC, as well as the mediation of interfirm coopetition could be strengthened by environmental competitiveness; and the effect of interfirm coopetition on KC could be weakened by dysfunctional competition. These findings indicate that the development and implementation of SCC and interfirm coopetition are not invariable, but vary within external environments.

Practically, this thesis provides useful guidelines for firm managers on how to effectively establish collaborations with different parties (i.e., supply chain partners and competitors). These guidelines include a focus on designing appropriate IOS characteristics to promote SCC, and building EO to facilitate interfirm coopetition should be emphasized. Second, this thesis provides specific suggestions for firms’ managers on how to treat collaboration with different parties and benefit from interfirm collaboration: managers should recognize the important role of SCC in transforming the impacts of IOS characteristics on SCA, and need to pay more attention to nurturing the ability to effectively detect and address external changes to benefit from SCC; and managers should realize the critical role of interfirm coopetition in transforming the effect of EO on KC, and need to emphasize the creation of new knowledge to benefit from interfirm coopetition. Furthermore, this thesis offers practical advice for managers on how to take appropriate actions in response to external environments. With the increasing environmental uncertainty, managers should focus on designing adaptive IOS and establishing SCC to nurture SCA. With the increasing environmental competitiveness, managers need to leverage EO to develop collaboration with competitors that can further promote KC. And with the increasing dysfunctional competition, managers should be more careful about creating new knowledge through interfirm coopetition.

    Research areas

  • supply chain collaboration, interfirm coopetition, capability-willingness framework, IOS characteristics, entrepreneurial orientation