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Sharing Global Supply Chain Knowledge

In global supply chains, managers have consistently struggled with sharing valuable knowledge with buyers and suppliers across borders. Increasingly, talk of the "dark side" of collaborative relationships has left managers wondering who benefits most from knowledge-sharing activities: their companies or their partners. In order to find the answers to these questions, the authors conducted an in-depth study of more than 100 cross-national supply chain partnerships in the industrial chemicals, consumer durables, industrial packaging, toy and apparel industries in multiple locations in 19 countries.

Knowledge sharing encompasses the sharing of information, but it doesn't stop there. Much of the information that companies share -- data on inventory levels, sales, production schedules and prices -- is easy to codify and transmit. But other types of knowledge are more difficult to codify: know-how, managerial and communication skills, and organizational memory. Intercompany knowledge sharing is a joint activity between supply-chain partners; the parties share knowledge and then jointly interpret and integrate it into a relationship-domain-specific memory that influences relationship-specific behavior. The authors found three types of knowledge sharing within the supply chain, each offering distinct benefits to buyers and suppliers: information sharing, joint sense making and knowledge integration. They also found that no matter how "diverse" the home cultures of the buyer and supplier companies, these differences had no impact on the propensity to share knowledge.

Drawing on examples from the auto (Toyota), aerospace (Boeing, Lockheed Martin and United Technologies) and toy industries, they examine how different types of knowledge sharing can benefit buyers or sellers individually, but more importantly, how it can enhance the performance of the partnership as a whole. They conclude that, while suppliers generally benefit more from knowledge-sharing activities, both buyers and suppliers profit; understanding the benefits of absolute versus relative gains is critical when building world-class global supply chains. Sharing knowledge effectively means understanding that a disparity in benefits is part of what it takes to build partnerships that last.
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