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Dimitrova, Sylvia Gueorguieva (2018) External Crowdsourcing for Product Innovation in B2B Industries: a Multiple-Case Study. [Ph.D. thesis]

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Abstract (italian or english)

Nowadays, companies need to survive and stay competitive in highly uncertain business environments characterized by fast-changing technologies, consumer needs, and ever-shorter product life cycles. Such reality implies that firms need to compete primarily on innovation. In an effort to generate competitive advantage and to improve their innovation capabilities and performance, more and more companies are evolving their business models thanks to the Web 2.0 technologies and external crowdsourcing and open up their New Product Development (NPD) processes to harness valuable ideas and knowledge distributed outside of the boundaries of the organization.

Crowdsourcing is an emerging Web-based model of innovation and collaboration that gained significant popularity during the last decade. It provides firms with multiple advantages, notably work force scalability, cost savings, diversity of crowd workers, a variety of novel ideas, and rapid solutions. Although crowdsourcing is a relatively new trend it is still considered “under construction” and under-investigated.

The systematic review of the literature conducted under this study provided a critical appraisal of the extant literature on the use of external crowdsourcing for NPD and innovation in general, and specifically, on its use in B2B firms. Only empirical studies were considered. The literature review helped identifying important research gaps that merit further scholarly attention. More specifically, the literature is sparse with respect to knowledge and theories about the applications of external crowdsourcing in business-to-business (B2B) context. Also, the literature lacks necessary empirical evidence of the use of external crowdsourcing by B2B companies for innovation and NPD in particular- research topics that would allow synthesis of important managerial implications. Based on the identified research gaps, the following research questions were formulated and examined:

• If, when, and to what extent crowd-generated input can substitute in-house expertise for product innovation in B2B context?
• If, how, and at which phase of the innovation process crowd-generated ideas get implemented in innovative products of B2B firms using external crowdsourcing?
• What are the challenges B2B companies face when using external crowdsourcing for NPD and innovation?

A qualitative, exploratory, and descriptive multiple-case study was deemed an appropriate research strategy. The data collection techniques used included semi-structured interviews with high-level managers of B2B firms practicing external crowdsourcing for NPD and innovation, analysis of firms’ documentation and additional Internet research.
Five B2B firms of various sizes, representing different industries participated in the study. These firms addressed different types of crowds and had different levels of experience with external crowdsourcing. Such diversity of cases and contexts gave the opportunity to investigate how the phenomenon performs in different environments and provided richer empirical evidence.

The research findings allowed answering the research questions of the present study. Furthermore, the identified similarities of the findings with the results of past empirical research on both B2C and B2B use of external crowdsourcing for NPD allowed the synthesis of the following theoretical propositions:

• Regardless of the industrial setting (B2B or B2C), external crowdsourcing serve only as a creative complement to a firm’s internal NPD and R&D processes;
• The B2B setting poses more, and more significant obstacles for the firms using the model, due to the highly-specialized skills and knowledge required from the crowds involved in external crowdsourcing;
• The B2B environment makes the usefulness of the crowdsourced input and the possibility of external crowdsourcing to replace some of the firm traditional R&D elements more challenging and unlikely.

The study results also showed that the joint development of the proposals with the idea authors was the most preferred approach used by the B2B firms to pursue the development of the most promising crowdsourced ideas. The companies used the external input predominantly in the idea generation phase of their NPD processes. The important similarities across the empirically-established external crowdsourcing practices of the B2B companies and past empirical results on both B2B and B2C external crowdsourcing for NPD served as a basis for the formulation of following theoretical propositions:

• In order to benefit from the full potential of the model and to ensure the implementation of the best crowdsourced ideas, firms need to carefully combine the idea-generation potential of external crowdsourcing with the firm-specific and industry-specific knowledge and expertise of in-house specialists.
• Companies can rely on external crowdsourcing to collect novel NPD ideas from external experts, which in turn, can serve as a basis for research collaborations and joint development projects with key crowd participants.

When it comes to the challenges the B2B companies face when using external crowdsourcing for NPD, the study findings showed that the five B2B firms faced multiple challenges related to the use of the model. Some of the most frequently reported by the interviewed managers are outlined below: The only challenge reported by all the investigated firms was the low quality of the crowd-generated submissions. Confidentiality concerns due to sharing of firm information with anonymous crowds on the Web were the second most reported challenge. These confidentiality concerns entailed additional consequences affecting the way the B2B firms used the model: Often, firm departments refused altogether to use external crowdsourcing and to post challenges seeking solutions to business-related problems from external experts, fearing that competitors could obtain confidential business information. Confidentiality concerns affected also the way the firms and their units who decided to launch external crowdsourcing challenges formulated their problems. In an effort to protect sensitive firm information, the business segments who decided to source external ideas formulated the tasks in a way to be very generic, instead of being specific. Also, making firm employees see the added value external crowdsourcing could bring to their organizations was a challenging task for most part of the managers. Despite the impressive number of challenges reported by the interviewees, the study results showed that most part of them are greatly interrelated and/or result from one another.

This study makes a substantial contribution to our knowledge on crowdsourcing by presenting evidence from a multiple-case study on the business use of external crowdsourcing for NPD and innovation in five leading B2B firms of different sizes and industrial sectors. It provides thought-provoking insights into a vastly underexplored topic in the literature such as the B2B use of the model, as to date external crowdsourcing remains used mainly in B2C setting and the very limited number of studies on B2B external crowdsourcing are based mostly on secondary data. Тhe analysis of the multiple-case study findings in light of the results of the extant literature on both B2B and B2C use of external crowdsourcing for NPD allowed the formulation of novel theoretical propositions. In addition to the answers to the research questions of the study, this research presents and discusses novel empirical evidence on the types of crowds the B2B companies involved in external crowdsourcing for NPD. Also, by comparing the results of the empirical analysis with previous studies, the study highlights aspects of the phenomenon that are still controversial, and hence, need to be addressed by future research.

In practical terms, the results of this study can help managers identify successful practices and processes for implementing external crowdsourcing for NPD and innovation in B2B context. Moreover, because this research analyzes the use of external crowdsourcing in firms of various sizes, representing different B2B industries, managers, especially those working in similar or other B2B sectors, may be encouraged to give external crowdsourcing a try. Manager can benefit from the presented information as they would be able to learn from the real-life experiences of five leading B2B organizations. The results of this study and the comparative analyses can also help managers identify, lessen, mitigate, or avoid the negative and non-constructive effects of inappropriate external crowdsourcing practices and processes, and help them achieve their NPD, innovation and collaboration goals more efficiently and effectively.

Abstract (a different language)

Al giorno d’oggi, le aziende devono sopravvivere e rimanere competitive in ambienti di business incerti e contrassegnati da tecnologie in rapida evoluzione, esigenze dei consumatori costantemente mutevoli, e cicli di vita dei prodotti sempre più brevi. Tale situazione spinge le imprese a competere soprattutto sull'innovazione. Nel tentativo di assicurarsi un vantaggio competitivo e migliorare le proprie capacità e prestazioni innovative, sempre più aziende stanno modificando i loro modelli di business sfruttando le tecnologie Web 2.0 e il crowdsourcing. In particolare, le imprese stanno aprendo verso l’esterno i loro processi di Sviluppo Prodotto (NPD) per sfruttare le idee preziose e le conoscenze che si trovano al di fuori dei loro confini organizzativi.

Il crowdsourcing (parola anglosassone che mette assieme i due termini “folla” e “approvvigionamento”) è un modello emergente di innovazione e collaborazione basato sul Web, che ha conquistato una notevole popolarità durante l'ultimo decennio. Tale modello offre alle aziende molteplici vantaggi, quali scalabilità della forza lavoro, risparmi di costi, diversificazione delle persone coinvolte, varietà di idee e rapidità delle soluzioni. Sebbene questo approccio sia relativamente nuovo, risulta ancora in via di consolidamento e poco studiato.

L’analisi sistematica della letteratura che sta alla base del presente lavoro ha prodotto una valutazione critica della letteratura esistente sull'uso del crowdsourcing esterno applicato al processo NPD e all'innovazione in generale, e in particolare, sul suo utilizzo nelle aziende che operano nei mercati industriali (business-to-business - B2B). La revisione della letteratura, che ha considerato solo lavori a carattere empirico, ha consentito di identificare alcune importanti lacune che richiedono un'attenzione ulteriore da parte degli studiosi. Più specificamente, la letteratura è povera in merito alle conoscenze e alle teorie sulle applicazioni del crowdsourcing esterno nel campo B2B. Inoltre, è carente per quanto attiene analisi empiriche sull'uso del crowdsourcing esterno a supporto dell'innovazione e dello Sviluppo Prodotto, sempre in particolar modo nel caso di aziende B2B. Sulla base dei gap di ricerca identificati, sono state pertanto formulate ed esaminate le seguenti domande di ricerca:
• Se, quando e fino a che punto le indicazioni prodotte dalla “folla” possono sostituire le competenze interne all’azienda nelle attività di innovazione di prodotto in un contesto B2B?
• Se, come e in quale fase del processo di innovazione le idee provenienti dalla “folla” vengono implementate in prodotti innovativi da aziende B2B che utilizzano il crowdsourcing esterno?
• Quali sono le sfide che devono affrontare le aziende B2B quando utilizzano il crowdsourcing esterno per lo Sviluppo Prodotto e l’innovazione?

Per rispondere alle domande di ricerca si è ritenuto appropriato applicare la metodologia dei casi studio, qui utilizzata per scopi esplorativi e descrittivi. Nello specifico le informazioni e i dati dei casi analizzati sono stati raccolti tramite interviste semi-strutturate con manager di alto livello di aziende B2B che hanno utilizzato il crowdsourcing esterno nei processi NSD e innovativi, opportunamente integrate da analisi della documentazione aziendale e ulteriori informazioni reperite su Internet.
Lo studio ha coinvolto cinque aziende B2B di varie dimensioni e appartenenti a diversi settori industriali. Si tratta di aziende che hanno utilizzato “folle” di vario genere e hanno sperimentato il crowdsourcing esterno a vari livelli e intensità. La diversità dei casi e dei contesti analizzati ha offerto l'opportunità di indagare il manifestarsi del fenomeno in ambienti differenti e ha fornito evidenze empiriche più ricche.

I risultati della ricerca hanno permesso di rispondere alle domande di ricerca enunciate. Inoltre, la comparazione di quanto emerso nel presente lavoro con i risultati dei precedenti lavori empirici ha portato alla formulazione delle seguenti proposizioni:
• Indipendentemente dal settore industriale idi applicazione (B2B o B2C), il crowdsourcing esterno funge solo da complemento creativo ai processi di Sviluppo Prodotto e R&S interni di un'azienda;
• L’appartenenza al settore B2B pone maggiori e più significativi ostacoli alle aziende che utilizzano il modello, a causa delle competenze altamente specialistiche richieste alla “folla” coinvolta nel crowdsourcing esterno;
• Il contesto B2B riduce l'utilità dell'input del crowdsourcing e rende meno probabile che il crowdsourcing esterno sostituisca alcuni degli elementi tradizionali della R&S.
I risultati dello studio hanno anche evidenziato che lo sviluppo congiunto delle proposte con gli autori delle idee è stato l'approccio maggiormente utilizzato dalle aziende analizzate per perseguire lo sviluppo delle idee più promettenti. Le aziende, poi, hanno utilizzato gli input esterni prevalentemente nella fase di generazione delle idee. Sempre confrontando i risultati della presente analisi con quelli di precedenti studi sia in ambito B2B che B2C si è giunti a formulare ulteriori proposizioni:
• Per beneficiare appieno delle potenzialità offerte dal modello e per garantire l'implementazione delle migliori idee prodotte dal crowdsourcing, le aziende devono coniugare attentamente queste ultime con le proprie conoscenze e competenze interne
• Le aziende possono fare affidamento sul crowdsourcing esterno per raccogliere nuove idee da esperti esterni, che a loro volta possono servire come base per avviare collaborazioni di ricerca e progetti di sviluppo congiunto.

In merito alle sfide che le aziende B2B devono affrontare quando utilizzano il crowdsourcing esterno nelle attività NPD, lo studio ha evidenziato che le cinque aziende analizzate hanno dovuto affrontare varie sfide. La sfida indicata da tutte e cinque le aziende investigate è stata la bassa qualità delle proposte generate dalla “folla”. Le preoccupazioni circa la riservatezza sollevate dalla condivisione di informazioni aziendali con persone anonime sul Web sono state la seconda sfida più segnalata. I problemi di riservatezza hanno comportato ulteriori conseguenze sul modo in cui le aziende investigate hanno utilizzato il modello: spesso i reparti aziendali rifiutavano di utilizzare il crowdsourcing esterno e di inviare sfide alla ricerca di soluzioni ai problemi aziendali di esperti esterni, temendo che i concorrenti potessero ottenere informazioni commerciali riservate. Le preoccupazioni relative alla riservatezza hanno influito anche sul modo in cui le aziende e le unità di business che hanno deciso di lanciare le sfide esterne e formulare i problemi. Nel tentativo di proteggere le informazioni aziendali sensibili, le unità di business che hanno deciso di raccogliere idee dall’esterno hanno formulato i problemi in un modo molto generico. Inoltre, vari manager hanno segnalato la difficoltà di far comprendere ai dipendenti il valore che il crowdsourcing esterno potrebbe portare all’impresa. Infine va segnalato che molte delle sfide incontrate dalle aziende sono risultate fortemente interrelate tra loro, e che in qualche caso una è stata conseguenza di un’altra.
In conclusione si può affermare che questo lavoro fornisce un contributo sostanziale alle conoscenze sul crowdsourcing grazie a quanto raccolto analizzando cinque casi studio di aziende B2B leader in diversi settori industriali che hanno fatto uso del crowdsourcing esterno per lo Sviluppo Prodotto e l'innovazione. Il lavoro fornisce spunti stimolanti su un argomento largamente inesplorato in letteratura, quale l’impiego di questo modello in ambito B2B. Nello specifico, la comparazione di quanto emerso dallo studio con i risultati di precedenti analisi empiriche sia in un contesto B2N che B2C ha portato alla formulazione di nuove proposizioni teoriche. Infine lo studio ha consentito di evidenziare alcuni aspetti del fenomeno che risultano ancora controversi e, quindi, necessitano di essere affrontati dalla ricerca futura.
In termini pratici, i risultati del lavoro possono aiutare i manager a individuare pratiche e processi di successo per implementare il crowdsourcing esterno per lo Sviluppo Prodotto e l'innovazione nel contesto B2B. Inoltre, poiché questa ricerca analizza l'utilizzo del crowdsourcing esterno in aziende di varie dimensioni, appartenenti a diversi settori B2B, i manager, in particolare quelli che lavorano in settori simili o in altri settori B2B, possono essere incoraggiati a sperimentare iniziative di crowdsourcing esterno. Essi poi possono trarre vantaggio dalle informazioni qui presentate, in quanto utili per apprendere dalle esperienze reali di cinque importanti aziende B2B. I risultati di questo studio e le analisi comparative possono anche aiutare i manager a identificare, attenuare, mitigare o evitare gli effetti negativi di pratiche e processi esterni di crowdsourcing inappropriati e aiutarli a raggiungere gli obiettivi di Sviluppo Prodotto, innovazione e collaborazione in modo più efficiente ed efficace.

EPrint type:Ph.D. thesis
Tutor:Scarso, Enrico
Ph.D. course:Ciclo 31 > Corsi 31 > INGEGNERIA ECONOMICO GESTIONALE
Data di deposito della tesi:23 November 2018
Anno di Pubblicazione:24 November 2018
Key Words:crowdsourcing, B2B, business-to-business, innovation, new product development, NPD, external crowdsourcing
Settori scientifico-disciplinari MIUR:Area 09 - Ingegneria industriale e dell'informazione > ING-IND/35 Ingegneria economico-gestionale
Struttura di riferimento:Dipartimenti > Dipartimento di Tecnica e Gestione dei Sistemi Industriali
Codice ID:11368
Depositato il:06 Nov 2019 08:57
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