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What They Are Saying

Future winning enterprises will excel at inter-organizational collaboration as they evolve successful joint strategies and drive the development of whole industries. This book shows you how to become a master of such collaboration.
--Denis Murphy, Co-Chairman of the SDP Alliance of leading
telecoms software companies

This book represents an important milestone in helping executives understand the power of virtual enterprise networks as a means of achieving competitive advantage. It has great examples, powerful logic and a keen sense of what's achievable through collaboration.
--Bob Barbour, Director & Chief Executive, The Centre for Competitiveness

This very welcome book is an insightful distillation of the first-hand experiences of a leading practitioner on how to guide ambitious businesses through new forms of collaboration to enhanced performance.
--Ken O'Neill, Professor of Entrepreneurship and SME Development and former President of the International Council for Small Business and the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Mobilizing and organizing people so that their endeavors are maximized is key to success in any organization or grouping. In this book, Ken Thompson looks outside the traditional business model and sets out thought-provoking ideas and drills on how to achieve this using networks on both a local and worldwide scale.
--Ronnie Kells, Chairman United Drug PLC


This book is for two audiences: huge multinational corporations (Big Fish) and small innovative companies (small fish). Sounds paradoxical? Not really. When you consider that innovation is the key to success in the 21st century, and that huge corporations like Proctor and Gamble and IBM are going to the ends of the earth seeking innovation, the picture comes into focus.

Here's what's going on. In most economies, smaller enterprises are much greater in number than large firms. For example, in the EU, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs or small fish) comprise approximately 99% of all firms and employ among them about 65 million people. Interestingly, in many sectors, SMEs are also responsible for driving innovation and competition.

But how do these two distinctly different entities --the Big Fish and the small fish-- come together to create business innovation and to swarm around new business opportunities?

Many ambitious SMEs (small fish) have bought into a competitive strategy espoused by management gurus such as Harvard's Michael Porter. Porter's strategy suggests that to take SMEs to the next level, their leaders have to find some way to move beyond their current customer bases and begin to work with the bigger, more demanding, Big Fish enterprises.

The strategy, which stacks up pretty well in practice, concludes that if the SMEs are good enough, then these Big Fish will make them even better by stretching them through ongoing strategic innovation partnerships. If, however, an SME is not good enough, it will quickly find out, which is painful, but yields valuable information for both parties. So either way it is a "win-win" situation if a small fish can somehow engage a Big Fish to test the waters for mutual benefit. It's summed up by the legendary economist Joseph Schumpeter's notion of "Creative Destruction," a process in which the old ways of doing things are endogenously destroyed and replaced by new ways.
As the business strategy expert, Peter Fingar, notes in his ground-breaking book, Extreme Competition, "Schumpeter pointed out that entrepreneurs innovate, not just by figuring out how to use inventions, but also by introducing new means of production, and new forms of organization. These broader innovations, he argued, take just as much skill and daring as does the process of 'invention.' This broader form of business innovation leads to existing ideas, technologies, skills, and equipment becoming obsolete -- sometimes overnight. The question, as Schumpeter saw it, was not 'how capitalism administers existing business structures,... but how it creates and destroys them.' What counts is competition from the new technology, the new source of supply, the new type of organization... competition which strikes not at incremental margins or profits of firms ... but at their foundations and their very lives."

Welcome to 21st century competition.

But wait. There is the bad news for SMEs trying to follow this connect-and-collaborate partnership strategy because Big Fish are almost impossible to reach directly by an individual SME for many reasons:
--Big Fish worry about small fish longevity and stability
--There are cultural chasms between Big Fish and small fish
--Small fish are too much trouble to deal with -- far too disruptive
--Small fish don't understand or fit Big Fish structures and processes
--Small fish find it hard to participate in extended information sharing sessions with Big Fish that often last 12-18 months before any revenues are realized
--Accessibility issues are commonplace as Big Fish are not generally headquartered in a given small fish's region
--Local Big Fish operations may have limited autonomy for strategic sourcing and forming new alliances

The irony is that while these Big Fish desperately want and need the innovative products, services and thinking that specialized small fish bring, every single procurement process Big Fish have is designed with the express purpose of stopping such a relationship ever developing. Though the Big Fish know that relationships with the right small fish are strategically vital, they institutionally discriminate against this under the very respectable but ultimately misguided mantra of "Supply Chain Rationalization."

So there is a Catch-22: small fish need to work with Big Fish, but they cannot directly engage them. Does that mean it's game-over?


Two plausible, but different, tactics can be considered.

The first tactic is a well-tried path that involves a small fish finding one of the Big Fish's approved suppliers to work through to eventually reach the Big Fish itself. These suppliers tend to be major enterprises in themselves and the small fish will attempt to join their supply chains --usually at the bottom of the food chain. The show-stopper with this tactic is that, no matter what these major suppliers might say or promise a small fish, they tend to do everything in their power to keep the small fish at arms length from their major customers, their Big Fish. They usually achieve this by making sure all conversations between the small fish and Big Fish are routed via themselves, and they tie the small fish up in all kinds of non-circumvention clauses to stop the possibility of any direct small fish to Big Fish trading relationships from developing. In the major supplier's private, unspoken view of the world, such a relationship is generally considered as "not in our strategic interests."

A second, less well-known tactic has the potential to be much more successful. In this case like-minded small fish directly engage key Big Fish through collaborative business networks that have sufficient scale and resources to interest and engage the Big Fish.

                  small fish in a Virtual Enterprise Network engaging Big Fish

Thus, this book, The Networked Enterprise, is for the owners and managers of SMEs (small fish) and explains in simple terms, illustrated with numerous real examples and practical techniques, exactly how they can use Virtual Enterprise Networks to develop the kind of strategic partnerships they need with the Big Fish to propel them to the next level of competitive success.

The Networked Enterprise is also ideal reading for large enterprises (Big Fish) and their more far-sighted major supply chain players that want to enhance their access to innovation, agility and alternative risk/reward and cost models by developing and partnering with Virtual Enterprise Networks.

In short, this book provides strategic insight, specific guidelines and real-world case studies for small fish and Big Fish alike. Big Fish and small fish simply don't get along in the real world, because Big Fish constantly swallow and consume small fish without even noticing it. The Virtual Enterprise Network creates a symbiosis, a living, mutually beneficial relationship among dissimilar organisms, where the participants, big and small, can thrive together in the 21st century world of extreme competition.

The Virtual Enterprise Network (VEN)

The goal of a Virtual Enterprise Network (VEN) is to connect Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) into peer networks, supported by appropriate collaboration practices and technologies, to give them the capabilities and competitive advantages of large global enterprises, particularly in:
--Marketing Reach
--Product Development
--Human Capital and IT Capital

Moreover, an overarching goal of a VEN is to achieve these capabilities while retaining the VEN's inherent competitive advantages over large enterprises in:
--Speed and Responsiveness
--Entrepreneurship and Innovation
--Low Overheads

A VEN is, therefore, a way for businesses to achieve virtual scale, enabling it to operate as if it possesses more resources and capacity than it actually has within its own physical organizations. This allows the VEN to function with all the resources and reach of a large enterprise, but without sacrificing its speed, agility and low overhead. This enables it to compete for bigger, more profitable contracts with higher innovation and design elements, with bigger customers that are more willing to build strategic partnerships rather than simple transactional relationships with the VEN's individual suppliers.

What do we mean by "Virtual" Enterprise Network?
"Virtual" has three distinct and complementary meanings in a VEN:

1. Virtual -- as the opposite of Physical, new (non-physical) enterprises forming and dissolving from other (physical) enterprises, each with different processes, systems and cultures, with the need to build trust, common aims and working practices very quickly.

2. Virtual -- as not geographically in the same place, with the use of virtual team technologies and techniques to address this.

3. Virtual Capacity -- in the sense of "Virtual Memory," where a computer operates as if it has more capacity than it actually has, allowing enterprises to incorporate external skills and resources to exploit market opportunities.

I'm not sure why it has taken so long for something like this book to appear. But at least we finally have it. It has been more than ten years since we recognized that there was more to this notion of the virtual enterprise than the usual consultants' buzzwords. A decade ago, there was a sort of tipping point when information technology and management science exceeded existing limits, and the virtual enterprise phenomenon was obvious and leverageable for competitive benefit. Back then, the best minds in the related disciplines put together a sort of small Manhattan Project to provide insights and new tools. But, alas, nothing very useful to the business world emerged from that work--until now. That's why this book is essential reading if you are interested in adding the virtual enterprise network to your competitive options.

You might be interested in examining with me why such a valuable book on such a useful collection of ideas is so rare. The history of the virtual enterprise movement is a history of wise and unwise government attention. Nearly every advance in management science has become affected by and entangled with government action, and so was the case here. The U.S. military had a serious problem: complex weapon systems were simply costing too much, and some sys-tems were unattainable at any price. The management systems of the large system integrators were simply responding too slowly to technology cycles and market needs. In response, a research program was established within the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA had incubated or enhanced nearly every advance in information technology, including the Internet. Large amounts of money were spent on DARPA's industrial infrastructure research, much of it wisely. At the beginning, we all thought this would be merely an information technology challenge, and quickly learned that all sorts of other disciplines were involved. The research group I was associated with took this challenge very seriously and produced real results in both approach and example. Surprisingly, it was those examples that caused us problems.

The DARPA effort was shut down because it was working. The large defense contractors cried foul. How could they compete with better, cheaper, faster? Our program was defunded.

The European Community, seeing an opportunity to compete, set aside significant amounts of funding in their research frameworks for things along these lines. The funding was much smaller than in the U.S., and as it turned out suffered from more severe problems in the way the work was designed. It's widely recognized now that these defects probably confused the disciplines for creating the virtual enterprise. Though there have been lots of conferences and technical papers, these are fueled by artificially subsidized graduate student projects that allow readers to only see the movement in terms of computer connectivity. Lost is the common-sense awareness that there are simple things you can do to innovate in your management approach to succeed. The concept of virtual enterprise networks is a new area and is empowered by technology, but it is guided by smart management principles as you'll read here. These dynamics explain why we haven't seen dozens of high quality studies like this in the area, and why this book is so valued by this researcher.

Read it and prosper.

--Ted Goranson
Chief Research Scientist, Earl Advanced Research, and author of The Agile Virtual Enterprise: Cases, Metrics, Tools. For many years, Goranson, who holds multiple degrees from MIT, has been involved in the intelligence community and played a key role DARPA's industrial infrastructure research.

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--Companion Book--



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Meghan-Kiffer Press, 
Tampa, FL USA

Innovation at the Intersection of Business and Technology

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