Knowledge Dissemination in Multinational Corporations
Abstract: Today’s globalization trend in industry is of major importance for world economy. One effect of the globalization trend is that international companies are exposed to a broadened knowledge base. A major competitive advantage for a multinational corporation (MNC) is its ability to utilize knowledge that is situated at the different locations. Thus, in order to improve and manage the utilization of knowledge within MNCs, it is necessary to try to get a better understanding of factors that influence knowledge dissemination (KD). Therefore, the overall research purpose of this thesis is to explore factors that influence KD in product realizing MNCs. Three research questions have been formulated and a research model of KD consisting of five components (Actors, Content, Media, Context, and Activity) has been developed in order to specify and fulfill this purpose. The five components are used to group previously identified influencing factors. The primary research strategy has been to use case studies. The main empirical data stem from five studies of Swedish product realizing MNCs performed over a 13-year period. Three were case studies performed at Volvo Car Corporation. The fourth was a multiple case study including four other MNCs. In addition to this, one survey has been performed, where the respondents were representatives from R&D units at 18 MNCs. The findings regarding the first research question (How can an introduction of IT-based media for KD affect product and production verification processes?) suggest that the use of IT-based media has a negative influence, directly or indirectly. Several of the factors associated with the component Actors are found to have a negative influence on KD. However, regarding Content, mainly negative effects have been observed due to information overload effects. The observed effects are mixed for the component Media. Positive effects, such as the possibility for actors to revisit and secure their original interpretations thanks to the use of data bases and e-mail, have been observed. This is particularly relevant within time zone separated MNCs. Negative factors include the information overload aspect as well as de-contextualization. Therefore, concerning Context, language distance exhibits the characters of an obstacle or an inhibitor depending on which level of IT-maturity the involved actors display. The mechanisms displayed when a common “computer”-language is introduced are similar to the one’s displayed when bi-lingual intermediaries are used or when intra-organizational boundaries are bridged thanks to temporary project constellations. Thus, with Activity, it is clear that the introduction enables companies to start the KD process earlier. The results for a local geographical setting indicate that there is an inhibiting effect on KD. However in the MNC setting, this introduction seems to provide an opportunity for virtual socialization, positive for KD. The findings regarding the second research question (How can an increased use of IT-based media affect KD in the interface between Product Development and Manufacturing?) suggest that IT-maturity is highly relevant for the Actors. However, the obstacle-like character of IT-maturity implies that this aspect should be included in the recruitment processes in order to secure a high IT-maturity in parts of MNCs where this is not obvious, while for Media, the increased use is a facilitator. This is particularly clear for actors with lower degrees of IT-maturity. However, for Context, overarching organizational solutions (such as boundary-bridging projects) increase trust, which is positive for KD. It has also been shown that several of the factors considered crucial in order to achieve efficiency in the PD / manufacturing interface are influenced in positive as well as in negative ways. Therefore, regarding the third research question (How can factors be classified to enable management of – and influence - KD?) a categorization of factors, focusing on their relative impact on KD, has been developed. This categorization comprises Facilitators (which have a positive impact on KD), Inhibitors (which have a negative impact on KD), and Obstacles (factors that obstruct KD until certain conditions or levels are fulfilled). The analysis indicates that several factors, influencing KD in the local - national and co-located - verification setting, are also present in the expanded multinational setting. Furthermore, there is evidence that several factors are applicable on multiple interaction levels.
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