Information, knowledge and collaboration management in the internationalisation of SMEs: A systematic literature review

Article (PDF Available)inInternational Journal of Information Management 36(4):557-569 · August 2016with 800 Reads
DOI: 10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2016.03.007
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Abstract
Information and knowledge can be seen as key resources for improving the internationalisation processes of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Collaboration has also been considered as an important facilitator of these processes, particularly by nurturing information and knowledge sharing. However, the current literature is unclear about the way SMEs can access information and assimilate knowledge in a collaborative network context, to support decision-making. This paper systematically reviews the literature, examining the role of information, knowledge and collaboration in internationalisation decisions of SMEs. To this end, 38 relevant journal articles were analysed, with the identification of some important issues, as well as gaps in the existing empirical knowledge. This analysis provided valuable input for the development of research suggestions and directions for future work in this area.
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1
Information, knowledge and collaboration management in the
internationalisation of SMEs: a systematic literature review
Eric Costa (eric.m.costa@inesctec.pt), António Lucas Soares (als@fe.up.pt), Jorge Pinho de Sousa
(jsousa@inescporto.pt)
INESC TEC INESC Technology and Science and FEUP Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, Campus da FEUP, Rua Dr. Roberto
Frias 378, 4200-465 Porto, Portugal
Abstract
Information and knowledge can be seen as key resources for improving the internationalisation processes of small
and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Collaboration has also been considered as an important facilitator of these
processes, particularly by nurturing information and knowledge sharing. However, the current literature is unclear
about the way SMEs can access information and assimilate knowledge in a collaborative network context, to
support decision-making. This paper systematically reviews the literature, examining the role of information,
knowledge and collaboration in internationalisation decisions of SMEs. To this end, 38 relevant journal articles
were analysed, with the identification of some important issues, as well as gaps in the existing empirical
knowledge. This analysis provided valuable input for the development of research suggestions and directions for
future work in this area.
Keywords: Systematic literature review, internationalisation, information management, knowledge management,
collaboration.
1. Introduction
There is growing evidence that internationalisation has become a key requirement for SMEs to gain competitive
advantage which results in an increasing effort in managing the companies’ internationalisation processes (Dutot,
Bergeron, & Raymond, 2014; Schweizer, 2012). The effectiveness of those processes is directly related with the
way companies manage internationalisation related information (Benito, Solberg, & Welch, 1993; Child & Hsieh,
2014; Knight & Liesch, 2002), establish collaborative networks (Ciravegna, Lopez, & Kundu, 2014; Musteen,
Francis, & Datta, 2010; Spence, Manning, & Crick, 2008) and learn and use internationalisation related knowledge
(Basly, 2007; Fletcher & Harris, 2012; Rodriguez, Barcos, & Álvarez, 2010).
Information of greater explicitness and broader scope allows for a more rational decision-making (Child & Hsieh,
2014), but the decision-makers capability for identifying, seeking and processing information is also essential for
more effective internationalisation decisions (Hsu, Chen, & Cheng, 2013). Information and knowledge are
recognised as crucial to manage international complexity and ambiguity (Hsu, Chen, & Cheng, 2013), to reduce
risks and uncertainty (Nguyen, Barrett, & Fletcher, 2006), and to stimulate awareness of foreign market
opportunities (Zhou, Wu, & Luo, 2007). From another perspective, it has been found that collaboration, in
particular when it unfolds in the context of networks, is an important facilitator in the internationalisation of SMEs
(Hutchinson, Alexander, Quinn, & Doherty, 2007). In making part of collaborative networks, SMEs’
internationalisation processes benefit in ways such as: (i) providing decision-makers with important channels of
information and knowledge (Musteen et al., 2010); (ii) influencing the approach adopted by SMEs’ leaders (Child
& Hsieh, 2014); (iii) influencing decisions on foreign market selection and entry mode (Ibeh & Kasem, 2011); (iv)
allowing to increase rapidly international commitment (Kalinic, Sarasvathy, & Forza, 2013); and (v) overcoming
resource constraints (Ciravegna et al., 2014). However, many SMEs still face major challenges and obstacles in
obtaining the right information and manage it effectively to support the internationalisation processes, thus limiting
the creation and accumulation of knowledge about those processes (Hsu et al., 2013; Nguyen et al., 2006). In
addition, in the current literature, it is not clear how SMEs assimilate information from their networks and
collaboration activities for making better decisions in terms of internationalisation.
2
The main objective of this paper is to analyse, synthesise and present a comprehensive systematic literature review
(SLR) of the role of information, knowledge and collaboration in internationalisation decisions of SMEs. With
this literature review, that is predominantly descriptive and inductive in nature, the authors intended to identify the
big challenges for information management as applied to internationalisation processes and the decisions involved
in those processes. The review also aimed at analysing how information and knowledge are used and managed for
decision-making, as well as how SMEs manage collaboration activities. Thus, the research questions for this SLR
are:
RQ1: what is the role of information, collaboration and knowledge in the effectiveness of the SMEs
internationalisation processes?
RQ2: what topics and issues related with information, collaboration and knowledge are considered when SMEs
manage their internationalisation processes?
Figure 1 - Main topics related with information, collaboration and knowledge considered in the literature addressing
the internationalisation of SMEs
Accordingly, this paper uncovers challenges for researchers in information and knowledge management in
designing new artifacts such as collaborative information management platforms fostering innovative models for
decision-making and knowledge creation and dissemination as a way to achieve more rational, less uncertain
internationalisation processes. Additionally, this SLR contributes to the scientific knowledge on business
management and internationalisation by: (i) studying in detail the influence of the above referred thematic areas
in the internationalisation of SMEs, with specific focus on decision-making processes; (ii) identifying some of the
research gaps in the existing literature; (iii) suggesting directions for future research.
In a preliminary analysis of the selected literature (38 papers) an overarching conceptualisation (a kind of basic
ontology) was developed (see Figure 1). It is this conceptualisation that will be used to organise the findings
(Section 3) and it will be referred to in the discussion and future research section (Section 4).
The structure of the paper is as follows. Section 2 describes the research methodology applied for this paper, which
follows a SLR five-step approach. Section 3 presents the findings of the SLR, organized according to the
conceptualisation described in Figure 1. Section 4 discusses the obtained results, presenting meaningful research
suggestions and directions for future work. Section 5 and Section 6 provide some limitations and conclusions of
the paper.
3
2. Research methodology
This research followed the systematic literature review (SLR) methodology (Tranfield, Denyer, & Smart, 2003)
as opposed to traditional narrative or descriptive reviews. Using a SLR approach it is possible to create a basic
framework for a more in-depth analysis of the literature, adopting a replicable, scientific and transparent process
(Tranfield et al., 2003). As suggested by Denyer and Tranfield (2009), a scoping study (exploratory review) of the
field was produced prior to the SLR, in order to: (i) clarify the existing basis for the work to be developed; (ii)
specify the fit of the proposed SLR into the current body of knowledge; (iii) define concepts; (iv) determine the
research questions to be addressed.
Therefore, this paper systematically reviews relevant literature on the role of information, knowledge and
collaboration in the effectiveness of making decisions in internationalisation processes of SMEs. The underlying
adopted SLR followed a five-step approach, as outlined by Denyer and Tranfield (2009) and Wong, Skipworth,
Godsell, and Achimugu (2012):
1) question formulation;
2) locating studies;
3) study selection and evaluation;
4) analysis and synthesis;
5) reporting and using the results.
The following research questions were defined for this study (Step 1): what is the role of information, collaboration
and knowledge in the effectiveness of the SMEs’ internationalisation processes? what topics and issues related
with information, collaboration and knowledge are considered when SMEs manage their internationalisation
processes?
The Step 2 concerns the selection of the bibliographic database or search engine, as well as the definition of the
search criteria or search strings. The search was tightly aligned with the research questions. Following similar
literature reviews (Camargo-Pérez, Carrillo, & Montoya-Torres, 2014; Hassini, Surti, & Searcy, 2012; Kamal &
Irani, 2014) two bibliographic databases were used: Web of Science and Scopus. These databases cover a
significant proportion of the published material on internationalisation, including the most relevant peer-reviewed
journals on the area. Table 1 presents the search strings applied and the number of results obtained.
Table 1 - Search strings and number of results
search strings
search field
date of search
number of results
Web of Science
(decision* OR “decision making” OR “decision-
making”) AND (internationali*) AND (information
OR “information management”)
Topic
02-03-2015
242
(decision* OR “decision making” OR “decision-
making”) AND (internationali*) AND (knowledge
OR “knowledge management”)
Topic
02-03-2015
238
(decision* OR “decision making” OR “decision-
making”) AND (internationali*) AND (collaborat*
OR “collaborative networks” OR network*)
Topic
02-03-2015
175
Scopus
(decision* OR “decision making” OR “decision-
making”) AND (internationali*) AND (information
OR “information management”)
Article title, abstract,
keywords
02-03-2015
293
(decision* OR “decision making” OR “decision-
making”) AND (internationali*) AND (knowledge
OR “knowledge management”)
Article title, abstract,
keywords
02-03-2015
220
(decision* OR “decision making” OR “decision-
making”) AND (internationali*) AND (collaborat*
OR “collaborative networks” OR network*)
Article title, abstract,
keywords
02-03-2015
193
4
The initial search strings using the two bibliographic databases resulted in the identification of 1.361 articles, i.e.
655 for Web of Science and 706 for Scopus. Following the suggestion of Denyer and Tranfield (2009), citation
management software packages (Mendeley and EndNote) were used for information management purposes during
this step and the following ones.
In the study selection and evaluation (Step 3), some inclusion and exclusion criteria were defined, as a way to
select only the more relevant studies to include in the review, i.e. the studies that actually address the research
questions. To focus the review on recent studies and recent methodologies and technologies, a 20-year time horizon
was first established (1995-2014). Only articles published in peer-reviewed journals in English were considered.
Colicchia and Strozzi (2012) argue that by restricting the search only to peer-reviewed journals, the quality control
of search results can be enhanced due to the rigorous process to which such articles are subject prior to publication.
Some specific research areas were considered for the two bibliographic databases:
Web of Science:
International Relations;
Business Economics;
Library and Information Science;
Engineering;
Operations Research Management Science.
Scopus:
Business, Management and Accounting;
Economics, Econometrics and Finance;
Engineering;
Decision Sciences.
This exercise reduced the number of articles for review to 632. After checking duplicates, by using Mendeley and
EndNote (first in each search string and after, considering the whole set), titles and abstracts of the selected articles
were analysed for relevance. This process was performed by two reviewers to check for inter-rater reliability and
agreement. Articles eligible for review had to fulfil four main criteria: (i) articles had to be focused on SMEs
(including studies that compared SMEs with multi-national enterprises - MNEs); (ii) articles had to be related to
the area of management studies (excluding for example Education and Health Disciplines); (iii) articles had to be
empirical (qualitative and quantitative studies) rather than theoretical or conceptual; (iv) articles had to be focused
on the influence of information, knowledge and collaboration in internationalisation processes of SMEs, with
specific emphasis on decision-making processes. At this stage, the number of articles for analysis was reduced to
77.
Finally, in the last stage a more detailed analysis of the 77 articles was made, with the two reviewers performing
a full text review. Articles from 1995 to 2004 were first excluded, since they were only representative of a very
small percentage of the sample, and also to perform a more focused review and analysis, giving priority to more
recent studies and consequently reducing the time horizon from 20 to 10 years (2005-2014). Through the full text
review, some other articles were excluded as they were not in accordance with the specific research focus of this
study, this allowing to reduce the number of final articles for analysis and synthesis to 38, as listed in Table 2.
Table 2 - Summary of the systematic review articles selection and evaluation
Search 1
Search 2
Total
Bibliographic database analysis
Web of Science
242
238
655
Scopus
293
220
706
Inclusion/exclusion criteria
Web of Science
Date range
213
225
609
Document type
175
190
500
Subject area
162
172
452
Language
148
161
421
5
Scopus
Date range
279
215
682
Document type
166
166
472
Subject area
56
97
222
Language
53
91
211
TOTAL
201
252
632
After checking duplicates (in each search)
175
199
524
After checking duplicates (in all searches)
406
Title and abstract analysis
77
After detailed article analysis
38
The content of each paper was analysed by the reviewers in Step 4, extracting and storing information and cross
tabulating the studies, in order to identify key issues. Using two reviewers, when their interpretations and findings
are compared, it is possible to minimize errors, as well as to resolve any differences, thus producing a more robust
data set (Denyer & Tranfield, 2009). A summary of the information contained in each of the 38 articles was then
prepared using a data extraction form organized with relevant categories, such as research methodologies used and
key findings / contributions. This information was used to systematize, structure, and tabulate the data.
The current paper represents the formal presentation of the results to the academic community (Step 5). The
remaining content of the paper reports the findings of the present study in a thematic way.
3. Findings
Findings were grouped into four categories, as a way to better understand the fundamentals of each process under
analysis and following the conceptualisation of Figure 1: (i) decision-making process; (ii) information
management process; (iii) knowledge management process; (iv) collaboration management process.
3.1. Decision-making process
Internationalisation is a complex process dealing with a large variety of decisions (Santos-Alvarez & García-
Merino, 2010). Andersson (2011) states that decision-making processes are complicated, involving interactions
with other entities, both inside and outside the firm. An internationalisation process is typically composed by four
key constructs (London, 2010): market selection, decision to enter, entry modes, and factors affecting entry modes.
Crick and Spence (2005) suggest that no single theory can fully explain decisions in internationalisation processes.
In fact the SLR performed in this work identified different types of decisions made in this context.
3.1.1. Decision to internationalise
As stated by Pinho (2007), different theories and conceptual frameworks have been used to explain the initial
decision to internationalise, such as the Uppsala internationalisation model (Johanson & Vahlne, 1977), the
resource-based view (Barney, 1991), the network approach to internationalisation (Coviello & Munro, 1997), and
the Dunning eclectic paradigm (Dunning, 1988). Findings from the analysed articles show that the decision to
internationalise can result from different internal and external factors, such as the entrepreneurial orientation of
the decision-maker (Kollmann & Christofor, 2014), the decision-maker’s proficiency in foreign languages
(Cannone & Ughetto, 2014), and the existing and new relational contacts, relationships, collaborations and
networks (Castellacci, 2014; Ibeh & Kasem, 2011; Xie & Amine, 2009). For instance, in a quantitative study with
871 Dutch SMEs, Hessels and Terjesen (2010) found that the decision-maker’s perception of the increased
international presence of their network members (competitors, customers and suppliers) explains the decision to
internationalise. Based on the research of Knight and Liesch (2002), Casillas, Acedo, and Barbero (2010) suggest
that SMEs need to own a good knowledge base from various sources (supra-organisational, organisational and
individual) in order to decide to go international, i.e. another decision must be made concerning the collection of
knowledge related to the start of the international activity.
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