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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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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.
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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.
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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
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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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3.1.2. Entry mode selection
Another fundamental decision is the entry mode selection, described by Pinho (2007) and Francioni, Musso, and
Vardiabasis (2013) as one of the most critical decisions in internationalisation strategies. Different entry modes
and strategies were described in the analysed articles. However, to better illustrate these modes the classification
of Root (1994) was used, with each mode requiring different levels of investment and commitment:
Export entry mode
exportation only
Contractual entry mode
transfer of technological or human skills
strategic alliances
subcontracting
Investment entry mode
joint-venture
sole venture
foreign direct investment
The main goal of this paper is not to describe these modes in detail, but rather identify those modes that have been
addressed by the SLR, and understand some important factors that have influence in these decisions. Therefore,
the entrepreneurial orientation of the decision-maker, as well as his/her networking capacity, were again some
factors that have a positive influence in first entry mode decisions of SMEs (Ibeh & Kasem, 2011; Kaur & Sandhu,
2013; Loane & Bell, 2006) and subsequent foreign entries are better explained by accumulated knowledge and
experience (Peng, Yang, & Liang, 2011). The study of Hessels and Terjesen (2010) also shows that the decision-
maker’s perception of favourable conditions for accessing knowledge, technology, production costs and capital in
the home market explain the choice of entry mode (in alignment with the resource dependency theory). For Kaur
and Sandhu (2013) entry mode decisions seems to be dependent on the nature and condition of the industry in
which the firm operates.
3.1.3. Foreign market selection
Another critical decision considered in the reviewed literature is the foreign market or host country selection
(Francioni et al., 2013; Ojala & Tyrväinen, 2008). Social and business relationships and network partners seem to
be the most important factors influencing market selection decisions (Aspelund & Butsko, 2010; Ibeh & Kasem,
2011; Loane & Bell, 2006). However, an exception is reported by Ojala (2009) who states that the decision of
Finnish software SMEs to enter the Japanese market was based on strategic reasons rather than simply following
network relationships. This happened due to the fact that their products were niche products, and to the existence
of numerous IT-based manufacturing and target customers in Japan. For example, one company developed
technology for videogames, and Japan was the first target since it represents the most advanced market in the field.
In a different direction, the empirical study of Francioni et al. (2013) presents cases when SMEs from the
mechanical sector decided to change markets or entry modes. The main result is that these changes do not only
come from social and business relationships, but also from proactive and reactive characteristics of the decision-
maker.
3.1.4. Collaboration decisions and commitment decisions
Two other types of decisions were identified concerning: (i) collaboration; and (ii) commitment. According to
Spence, Manning, and Crick (2008), firms decide to collaborate and choose vertical or horizontal collaboration
forms depending on the motives for establishing an alliance and on the network partners’ positions in the value
chain. On one hand, Castellacci (2014) found that SMEs could decide to engage in collaboration with foreign
partners to support their international activity. The relative sizes of the enterprise and of the foreign partner can
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influence the firm's decision to engage in international collaborations. On the other hand, Spence et al. (2008)
found out that when alliances occur, the strategic focus is on decisions for developing and managing these
collaborations rather than focusing on decisions about which market to enter.
In terms of commitment decisions, Camuffo, Furlan, Romano, and Vinelli (2007) are the only authors addressing
in detail this type of decisions. The authors conclude that the decision to commit further resources to foreign
operations, and the organisation of international business activities, are affected by market knowledge and by the
amount of resources already assigned to a specific country. Furthermore, they also found out that local business
networks have a clear influence on the decision of firms to make higher commitment decisions.
3.1.5. Decision mode
Child and Hsieh (2014) present a very detailed study on the different decision modes that managers may follow
when they internationalise. These authors define four main decision modes, ranging from a low to a high level of
planning and rationality: (i) reactivity, where decision-makers are more conservative and take decisions by
responding to immediate situational demands or environmental changes (Covin, 1991); (ii) incrementalism, often
mentioned as “muddling through” (Lindblom, 1959), where decision-makers make successive limited comparisons
of possible actions, or limited increments from existing conditions, to avoid negative consequences; (iii) bounded
rationality, as introduced by Simon (1955), where decision-makers are more rational and goal-directed but have
some limitations to secure and process relevant information; (iv) real options reasoning, where decision-makers
have a rational way of reducing risks associated with both incomplete information and uncertainty, making
comparisons between alternatives (Adner & Levinthal, 2004).
The decision mode to be adopted has implications in terms of the required information, and also the other way
around, i.e. reactivity and incrementalism modes may require uncodified and relatively narrow information while
more planned decision modes (bounded rationality and real options reasoning) may require more codified and
wide information. In addition these authors suggest that reactive or incremental decision modes are more related
with traditional SMEs whereas knowledge-base or knowledge intensive SMEs tend to adopt bounded rationality
and real options reasoning modes. However, in most of the cases it is not clear what specific decision modes were
adopted by SMEs’ decision-makers. So, for analysis purposes, a distinction was made between unplanned
decisions, related with reactivity and incrementalism, and planned decisions, related with bounded rationality and
real options reasoning (Table 3).
Table 3 - Decision modes found in the SLR
Decision modes
References
Empirical findings
Unplanned
decisions
(Aspelund & Butsko, 2010)
(Andersson, 2011)
(Ibeh & Kasem, 2011)
(Hultman, Johnsen, Johnsen,
& Hertz, 2012)
(Schweizer, 2012)
SMEs may not follow a systematic and linear pattern for making
internationalisation decisions. Instead of making planned decisions,
SMEs prefer to trust in their knowledge and intuition (Andersson,
2011; Schweizer, 2012) or social and business relationships
(Aspelund & Butsko, 2010; Hultman et al., 2012; Ibeh & Kasem,
2011).
(Crick & Spence, 2005)
Some firms’ internationalisation takes place as a reaction to
opportunities provided by existing networks and serendipitous
encounters.
(Mockaitis, Vaiginienė, &
Giedraitis, 2006)
The decision of the analysed SMEs to internationalise into foreign
markets does not result from any strategic or planned activity.
(Spence et al., 2008)
Collaborations tend to be managed informally, without planning all
decisions but rather keeping the communication channels open at all
levels.
Planned
decisions
(Schweizer, 2012)
The increased experience and knowledge obtained through a learning
process lead to more rational and planned decision-making.
(Fletcher & Prashantham,
2011)
Knowledge is an important key to more formal decisions. Rapidly
internationalising SMEs adopted high levels of formality in
assimilating knowledge, mainly using formal planned events to share
knowledge and to codify tacit into explicit knowledge.
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(Rodriguez et al., 2010)
Risks in internationalisation can be avoided or reduced if a company
adopts more planned decision-making strategies with the
development of a set of standard guidelines, policies, procedures and
methodologies in each internationalisation project.
(Ojala, 2009)
When SMEs internationalise, they may not passively follow their
networks to foreign markets (reactive strategy). Instead, they may
consider the adoption of more active strategies to seek for
opportunities for going international, with the development of new
networks or using the existing ones.
3.2. Information management process
It is important to make a clear distinction between information and knowledge in this paper. Although they are
both critical in the SMEs’ internationalisation process, they influence it in distinct ways (Knight & Liesch, 2002).
Information is inextricably antecedent to knowledge (Dretske, 1981). In one way, information is defined as
structured and understandable data, organised in order to be a useful input to knowledge (Child & Hsieh, 2014).
Moreover, knowledge is created from information and is about beliefs and commitment, validated in a person’s
perception or expectation for taking actions (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). Grant (1991) considers that to ensure
information is useful, firms need to create models and standards of behaviour converting tacit organisational
knowledge into explicit knowledge.
3.2.1. Need for information
Many SMEs still face difficulties in internationalisation processes, and the lack of information has been identified
as one main obstacle in those processes (Hsu et al., 2013; London, 2010; Sommer & Haug, 2011). Decision-makers
need to search and acquire information, in order to identify market opportunities in foreign countries. For this
purpose, large amounts of information are required to compensate the lack of prior knowledge and experience, and
as a way to reduce internationalisation uncertainties (Xie & Amine, 2009). Therefore, due to the imperfect access
to information, entering foreign markets can represent a significant risk for SMEs, with extra costs for collecting
information and for seeking and evaluating partnerships (Hessels & Terjesen, 2010).
When SMEs move into new international markets, information processing increases and becomes more complex
(Hsu et al., 2013). Aspelund and Butsko (2010) found that some decision-makers used to randomly select foreign
market locations, due to a lack of experimental market knowledge on internationalisation, as well as a lack of
organisational capabilities to process information. SMEs in the study of Santos-Alvarez and García-Merino (2010)
although interested in internationalisation, did not allocate the right efforts to gather information, thus limiting
their internationalisation process. Another important issue raised by some of the analysed articles is the poor
development of suitable information technology tools, to predict and evaluate problems arising from specific
destination countries (Rodriguez et al., 2010).
3.2.2. Information sources, information sharing and information subjects
Different sources of information are used by SMEs in internationalisation processes, ranging from social and
business relations to previous international experiences (Santos-Alvarez & García-Merino, 2010). Xie and Amine
(2009) found that decision-makers typically choose their information sources as a function of their perceived
utility. Firms can use internal and external sources to develop new market-specific knowledge and learning
(Akerman, 2014): they can learn from internal sources through direct experience in their operations and using
internally stored information, and/or from external sources by using the experience of others and externally
available information.
The increasing availability and diversity of information sources, suggest that companies consider more rational
decision modes when comparing alternative strategies (Child & Hsieh, 2014). Additionally, based on previous
studies, Rodriguez et al. (2010) propose the use of formal (market research) and informal techniques (relying on
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gatekeepers) to gather information from different sources. However, the SLR suggests that SMEs tend to rely more
on their networks to gather and share information about foreign markets from several sources.
Undoubtedly, networks have been playing an important part in the decision-making processes (Aspelund &
Butsko, 2010; Cannone & Ughetto, 2014). Casillas et al. (2010) suggest that collective knowledge is more
important in internationalisation due to the individual difficulties of SMEs in searching information. Information
shared in networks also increases the commitment in foreign markets (Hultman et al., 2012) and reduces
information asymmetry (Child & Hsieh, 2014). Information is shared through firms’ networks, both at the social
and business level, which include customers, suppliers, competitors, family and friends (Chen, 2011; Ibeh &
Kasem, 2011; Peng et al., 2011; Xie & Amine, 2009). Moreover, Xie and Amine (2009) suggest that networks,
mainly social networks, must be properly recognized as primary sources of information, knowledge, and fast
learning.
Information sharing was found as being of great importance to the development of trust and synergy to sustain
collaboration relationships (Spence et al., 2008). Information can be used for evaluating with whom to contact,
who has what, and how much of it is relevant to decision-making (Child & Hsieh, 2014). Finally, Spence et al.
(2008) suggest that successful collaborative ventures require information sharing and not information control,
based on a collaboration-based mentality instead of a competition-based one.
The main subject that SMEs look for within their information sources was about foreign market conditions
(Cannone & Ughetto, 2014; Ibeh & Kasem, 2011). Other information subjects identified were the following:
attractiveness of specific locations and host countries (Aspelund & Butsko, 2010; Peng et al., 2011; Xie & Amine,
2009); internationalisation strategies and the internationalisation process itself (Peng et al., 2011; Santos-Alvarez
& García-Merino, 2010; Xie & Amine, 2009); obstacles faced in internationalisation processes (Santos-Alvarez
& García-Merino, 2010; Xie & Amine, 2009); support programmes for helping firms to internationalise (Santos-
Alvarez & García-Merino, 2010); experiences and knowledge about foreign industries (Chen, 2011; Peng et al.,
2011); and marketing opportunities (Xie & Amine, 2009).
3.2.3. Importance of decision-makers' characteristics in information management
The analysis of the literature shows that decision-makers have experiences, backgrounds, and personal
characteristics (Hsu et al., 2013) that form their cognitive perspectives influencing the way how they identify, seek
and process information. With this cognitive basis they influence decisions by directing their vision, filtering their
perceptions, and interpreting information. Table 4 show these characteristics and how they influence the decision-
makers access and use of information.
Table 4 - Decision-makers' characteristics that influence information management in internationalisation
Characteristics
References
Empirical findings
Age
(Hsu et al., 2013)
Age of decision-makers is linked to the capacity for processing and
analysing information.
Tenure
(Hsu et al., 2013)
Tenure is an indicator of a decision-maker’s ability to gather and
process information.
(Chen, 2011)
Long-tenured top-management-teams (TMTs) of firms can provide
competitive advantages in internationalisation due to their more
accurate shared cognitive structure about international environments,
their capacity of filtering and interpreting information more clearly,
and their better assessment of organisational resources and capabilities.
Information
processing
capability
(Hsu et al., 2013)
Information processing capabilities of decision-makers have positive
effects in the internationalisation performance. Decision-makers with
high information processing capabilities, perform better when doing
business in an international environment.
International
experience
(Cui, Li, & Li, 2013)
Managerial international experience enhances the ability of a SME to
process foreign market information.
10
(Child & Hsieh, 2014)
A larger international experience can improve the decision-makers’
capacity in using enhanced network information to adopt more rational
decision modes.
(Chen, 2011)
International experience facilitates the collection of information from
external relationships, thus reducing the anxiety of operating under
complex and ambiguous conditions.
Organisational
memory
(Cui et al., 2013)
Organisational memory related with international experience, kept in
the minds of decision-makers of an organisation, can be further
accessed to build knowledge structures, and to guide information
processing and decision-making for future entries into foreign markets.
3.3. Knowledge management process
Knowledge has been considered as a key resource for SMEs to pursue better internationalisation processes
(Fletcher & Prashantham, 2011). Several theories on internationalisation have emphasised the relevance of
knowledge, such as the Uppsala internationalisation model (Johanson & Vahlne, 1977), the upper echelons theory
(Hambrick & Mason, 1984), theories of international entrepreneurship (McDougall & Oviatt, 2000), and the
knowledge-based view (Grant, 1996). A detailed description of the role of knowledge in these theories is not within
the scope of this article.
3.3.1. Need for knowledge
Based on the analysed literature, knowledge in internationalisation can be understood as the interpretation of
information and beliefs, from different experiences (by individual managers, firms, and networks), thus creating a
learning process for making better decisions (Akerman, 2014; Casillas et al., 2010). In fact, previous works had
shown that internationalisation decisions are the result of a process of acquisition, assimilation, and interpretation
of knowledge about foreign markets and international strategies (Knight & Liesch, 2002). This learning process
through a knowledge base, allows SMEs to have favourable attitudes for internationalisation (Casillas et al., 2010),
to make more rational decisions (Schweizer, 2012), and to reduce uncertainty (Mockaitis et al., 2006). From a
different point of view, the results of Child, Duarte, Tanure, and Rodrigues (2012) show the critical role that
knowledge has in the decision of a company to retain or release executives after performing an international
acquisition. The retention seems to be mainly justified by the knowledge the firms own, in order to avoid losses
of critical knowledge that is useful for the business.
Undoubtedly SMEs need knowledge to support their internationalisation processes and the lack of this important
element represents one of the main obstacles for SMEs wanting to go international (Hsu et al., 2013; Sommer &
Haug, 2011; Zucchella & Servais, 2012). Rodriguez et al. (2010) found that many SMEs were not capable of
neither predicting risks nor turning internationalisation into a sustainable competitive advantage, mainly due to the
lack of suitable tools for managing knowledge acquired from previous experiences. Židonis (2007) interviewed
some members of a Lithuanian company, and found that knowledge is used to create beliefs on markets, but
incomplete, fragmented or contradictory knowledge may result in a system of unrealistic assumptions about
international environments.
3.3.2. Knowledge nature and knowledge assimilation
Some studies show that knowledge assimilated by SMEs in internationalisation processes is both tacit and explicit
in nature (Child et al., 2012; Fletcher & Prashantham, 2011; Sommer & Haug, 2011). Tacit knowledge is subjective
and hard to formalise, being embedded in individuals and relationships, in the form of beliefs, perspectives and
ideals (Nonaka, 1994). In general this is quite valuable for firms, but this type of knowledge is obviously more
difficult to be measured and expressed (Child et al., 2012). On the contrary, explicit knowledge is more objective
information that can be easily stored, articulated and transferred, through formal and systematic procedures
(Nonaka, 1994). The study of Camuffo et al. (2007) shows that due to its high complexity and tacitness, the
knowledge involved in an internationalisation process negatively impacts the process of transferring it abroad.
This leads SMEs to opt for entry modes with low levels of investment and commitment, such as subcontracting.
Fletcher and Prashantham (2011) also identify difficulties for SMEs to assimilate tacit knowledge. Moreover,
Child et al. (2012) concludes that less codified knowledge (tacit knowledge) increases the probability of an acquirer
company to retain executives after the acquisition. The main justification is that when a new acquirer/owner
11
directly controls and manages the company, knowledge will be of a more tacit nature and less codified, and
therefore retaining executives because of their extensive tacit knowledge seems to be the best option.
The assimilation of knowledge is viewed as a key feature for SMEs wanting to internationalise (Fletcher &
Prashantham, 2011). Empirical results by Akerman (2014) confirm that the strategies on how to acquire knowledge
significantly influence the outcomes of the SMEs’ international operations. By accumulating knowledge, firms
can better understand foreign cultures, markets, and operations, thus improving the quality of decision-making
(Camuffo et al., 2007). For instance, Cui et al. (2013) concluded that the accumulation of knowledge about foreign
markets allows SMEs to reduce uncertainty and consequently increase the probability of future entries in similar
markets. Findings by Fletcher and Prashantham (2011) indicate that firms often adopt high levels of formality in
sharing and assimilating knowledge, such as formal planned events for sharing both explicit and tacit knowledge
and the codification of tacit to explicit knowledge. However, Židonis (2007) states that knowledge accumulation
is more complicated than expected, with a case studied showing that the accumulated knowledge was not relevant
for the internationalisation process.
3.3.3. Knowledge types
Distinct types of knowledge have been highlighted in the literature of firms’ internationalisation processes. In fact
different classifications have been applied to describe the type of knowledge used by SMEs in their studies.
However, in many cases, articles adopted different terms to describe similar types of knowledge. Based on these
references and on some other references (Fletcher & Harris, 2012; Mejri & Umemoto, 2010), a knowledge
classification was therefore established to create a more coherent structure for the analysis (Table 5):
Market knowledge: objective or explicit information about foreign markets, e.g. market size, labour costs
and skills, consumer behaviour, local competitors, payment conditions, regulations, language, norms
(Camuffo et al., 2007; Mejri & Umemoto, 2010). It is clear that market knowledge requires activity on
the market, but it can specifically be assimilated in an explicit form through cognitive learning (Basly,
2007). Barriers in languages, culture and business practices are overcome and the chance to
internationalise early is enhanced due to decision-makers with prior market knowledge (Cannone &
Ughetto, 2014).
Experiential: knowledge that can only be learned through personal experience (Mejri & Umemoto, 2010).
Experiential knowledge can come from direct involvement in internationalisation processes
(internationalisation knowledge) or from network partners (network knowledge), providing an input for
comparing previous international experiences with newly encountered ones (Child & Hsieh, 2014).
o Internationalisation knowledge: knowledge accumulated with international experience (Fletcher
& Harris, 2012) and knowledge of the existence of opportunities for exploitation (Mejri &
Umemoto, 2010). Internationalisation knowledge from international activities can be the
understanding about which knowledge is needed in specific situations in an international context
(Akerman, 2014).
o Network knowledge: knowledge obtained from social and business networks to facilitate
internationalisation (Mejri & Umemoto, 2010). Using network knowledge, firms gain access to
new resources and learn new skills with their network partners, this facilitating foreign market
entries without requiring many assets (Kaur & Sandhu, 2013).
Technological knowledge: knowledge that provides specific advantages to firms, such as innovative and
unique products or services, which are transferable across borders (Fletcher & Harris, 2012). To run
foreign operations successfully, firms must transfer some technological knowledge (techniques, methods
and designs) from home to the host country (Camuffo et al., 2007).
Table 5 - Knowledge types found in the SLR
Knowledge types
References
Empirical findings
Market knowledge
(Aspelund & Butsko,
2010)
Decision-makers randomly select locations to internationalise due to
lack of market knowledge, as well as lack of organisational
capabilities to process such information.
(Akerman, 2014)
Case studies show that the assimilation of market knowledge paves
the way for additional sales in foreign markets and for the acquisition
of new customers.
12
(Pinho, 2007)
Market knowledge, together with the SMEs’ international experience,
innovation capacity, and market potential for growth are seen as key
predictors for choosing an equity-entry mode.
(Mockaitis et al., 2006)
Most of the SMEs do not consider market knowledge as important,
mainly because of foreign orders fulfilment in their home markets.
Consequently, investments to learn about foreign markets are not
viewed as necessary.
Internationalisation
knowledge
(Camuffo et al., 2007)
Experiential knowledge, mainly internationalisation knowledge, plays
a critical role in the incremental process of supplier and production
network internationalisation.
(Cui et al., 2013)
Managers’ decisions on new foreign direct investments are strongly
based on knowledge obtained from the firm's prior
internationalisation knowledge.
(Basly, 2007)
Although finding that internationalisation knowledge has a positive
influence in the internationalisation degree of the firm, the
conservatism of the family SME (firm’s type) analysed does not show
significant influence on the level of internationalisation knowledge.
The only influence of conservatism on internationalisation knowledge
is on the decisional dimension of independence orientation (a
consequence of the family long-term commitment to the business).
(Židonis, 2007)
The lack of knowledge is not an obstacle for the internationalisation
process of the firm due to its trial-and-error international behaviour.
Network
knowledge
(Andersson, 2011)
Network knowledge is important for fast international expansion and
growth.
(Casillas et al., 2010)
Knowledge originated from the experiences of other businesses is the
one with stronger influence on the intention of SMEs to export.
Therefore, collective knowledge has a more intense influence than the
individual knowledge, as a motivation for starting internationalisation
processes.
(Peng et al., 2011)
Knowledge sharing in networks provides firms with necessary
country-specific experience, facilitating decision-making of initial and
subsequent investments in host countries.
(Loane & Bell, 2006)
A large proportion of the firms studied actively uses networks to
develop their knowledge about foreign markets and improve
international competitiveness. Such network knowledge influences
market selection and entry decisions, overcoming resource and
knowledge deficiencies.
Technological
knowledge
(Hessels & Terjesen,
2010)
SMEs are more likely to export using direct modes if located in home
markets with favourable conditions to access to technological
knowledge.
(Camuffo et al., 2007)
Decisions on the internationalisation of supplier and production
networks are mainly influenced by the nature of the technological
knowledge involved.
(Sedoglavich, 2012)
Results suggest that international activities are mainly based on firms’
technological capabilities and technological knowledge. However,
this technological knowledge may also constrain the development of
future international strategies if the firms’ technology is not affected
by their foreign strategies.
3.3.4. Knowledge-intensive firms
SMEs can also be classified according to the role of knowledge in their internationalisation activities (Child &
Hsieh, 2014). The most common terms applied in the analysed articles are knowledge-intensive or knowledge-
based firms. These cases are mainly SMEs from the software industry, with all authors agreeing that knowledge-
intensive firms tend to differ from more traditional firms. Decisions to internationalise are largely dependent on
networks and collaboration to improve foreign market entries (Torkkeli, Puumalainen, Saarenketo, & Kuivalainen,
2012). Ojala and Tyrväinen (2008) add that successful knowledge-intensive SMEs develop their network
relationships and focus their resources, in order to enter the leading markets for their products. Despite of this,
Ibeh and Kasem (2011) found a lack of studies in the literature on the internationalisation of knowledge-based or
knowledge-intensive SMEs from developing countries.
13
3.4. Other aspects of the collaboration management process
Many aspects of the collaboration management process in internationalisation have already been described along
the previous sections, such as collaboration decisions (Section 3.1.4), decision modes (Section 3.1.5) and the
process of information sharing in collaborations (Section 3.2.2). This section briefly presents some other important
issues to consider in this process.
There is growing evidence in the analysed literature that SMEs need to collaborate with other entities to gain
competitive advantage in internationalisation. As stated by Ibeh and Kasem (2011), companies are not isolated
entities but rather actors in markets, depicted as social and business relationships systems. Loane and Bell (2006)
reinforce this idea, suggesting that SMEs must prioritise the development of networks and collaborations and adopt
assiduous and strategic ways of pursuing such opportunities. Castellacci (2014) points out that international
collaboration in services firms is an important factor to foster decisions to enter foreign markets.
Rather than only focusing on networks to share information and knowledge, Spence et al. (2008) present a different
level of collaboration, namely “collaborative ventures. This type of collaboration is established between firms, to
complement core competencies, thus providing complementary and attractive products or services to markets, and
increasing competitive advantages to internationalise. Collaborative ventures establish what is considered in other
research areas as collaborative networks (Camarinha-Matos & Afsarmanesh, 2005), forming vertical alliances
(alliances with upstream and downstream partners), horizontal alliances (relationships with competitors), or even
collaboration forms with firms from different sectors (Spence et al., 2008). Based on the analysed articles, and
depending on the situations, different intermediaries can be used to form collaborations (see Table 6).
Table 6 - Intermediaries to form collaborations in internationalisation
Knowledge types
References
Local partners (distributors, subcontractors and
customers)
(Cannone & Ughetto, 2014; Hultman et al., 2012)
Competitors
(Casillas et al., 2010; Malik, 2012)
Managers’ contacts from previous jobs or
experiences
(Andersson, 2011; Zucchella & Servais, 2012)
External parties
(Aspelund & Butsko, 2010; Peng et al., 2011)
Foreign firms
(Castellacci, 2014; Ibeh & Kasem, 2011)
Institutional agencies and government bodies
(Child & Hsieh, 2014; Santos-Alvarez & García-Merino, 2010)
Personal contacts, relatives and friends
(Kaur & Sandhu, 2013; Kollmann & Christofor, 2014)
Strategic allies and affiliated companies
(Peng et al., 2011; Torkkeli et al., 2012)
The success of collaborative ventures and alliances is highly dependent on creating value for all the parties, and it
can be measured as a function of choosing the right partners, managing the partner relationship and accumulating
relational capital (Townsend, 2003). So, in addition to collaborative strategic decisions that need to be made in
collaboration, partner selection is another important decision. Spence et al. (2008) found that this choice is crucial
for the success of the partnership, and some of the main partner selection criteria are international leverage,
knowledge and access to foreign markets, and technology expertise.
4. Discussion and research agenda
This paper presents a SLR using articles about the roles of information, knowledge and collaboration in the process
of decision-making in the internationalisation of SMEs. Some important issues that have emerged from this review
are discussed in this section. In addition, it was possible to identify a number of gaps in existing empirical
knowledge, thus providing suggestions and directions for future research. The discussion will follow the
conceptualisation described in Figure 1.
First, in what concerns a SME decision-making process, the following types of decisions were identified: (i)
decision to internationalise; (ii) entry mode selection; (iii) foreign market selection; (iv) decision to change markets
or entry modes; (v) strategic collaboration decisions; (vi) partner selection for collaboration; (vii) commitment
decisions. The decision of a SME to start an internationalisation process is influenced by both internal
(entrepreneurial orientation of the decision-maker and foreign language proficiency) and external factors
(networks and relationships). A good knowledge base is crucial for making better internationalisation decisions
and, as suggested by Casillas et al. (2010), SMEs need first to decide on how to seek information and learn from
diverse sources (supra-organisational, organisational and individual) to start to internationalise. Entry mode
14
selection and foreign market selection were identified as the most critical decisions for SMEs to internationalise.
Although influenced by both internal and external factors, it seems that the decision of choosing the right entry
mode is more dependent on the decision-maker capacity and the internal knowledge base possessed by a firm,
while deciding on the foreign market to enter was mainly based on information and experiential knowledge from
others (social and business relationships).
In addition, Francioni et al. (2013) were the only authors to analyse when do SMEs decide to change an entry
mode or a foreign market, showing that these changes may occur not only due to social and business relationships,
but also from proactive and reactive factors of decision-makers. In spite of their importance, there has been in fact
little attention to these decisions, mainly because research is more focused on decisions in the first stages of the
internationalisation process rather than the subsequent ones. This topic remains therefore open for additional
research in the future.
The other three types of decisions (strategic collaboration decisions, partner selection for collaborations, and
commitment decisions) were the ones less addressed in the articles of the SLR. It was clear the importance given
to decisions about entry modes and market selection, and the factors that influence them. Although having a
growing evidence in the literature on the importance of SMEs to establish collaborations with others to gain
competitive advantage in internationalisation, there is a lack of comprehensive and systematic studies addressing
how SMEs can access, organise and use the information generated in a collaborative network context, and how
they can collaboratively convert this information into knowledge to support decision-making in
internationalisation processes. This represents also one of the main suggestions for future research.
As previously stated, in addition to making collaborative strategic decisions, SMEs in collaborative networks need
to select suitable partners for satisfying their needs of internationalisation (Spence et al., 2008). These partnerships
can be done in a vertical way, with complementary companies or in a horizontal way with companies acting on
their same competence area. According to Spence et al. (2008), an emerging trend is collaboration between SMEs
and large firms to respond to the globalisation. Therefore, the development of collaborative decision-making
models and approaches, based on a multiple criteria setting for relationship establishment, seems to make sense,
and can represent another direction to be followed in future studies.
Lack of information and insufficient knowledge was identified as the main obstacles for firms to internationalise
(Hsu et al., 2013; Sommer & Haug, 2011). The lack of suitable tools, methods and practices for managing
information and knowledge, both from previous experiences and from collaborations with other firms, is another
hindrance in the internationalisation processes (Rodriguez et al., 2010). Internationalisation requires accessing,
processing and organising large amounts of information (Xie & Amine, 2009), so better information and
knowledge management in collaboration, maybe through collaborative platforms, is likely to contribute
substantially to improve the effectiveness of these processes. However, it is rather surprising the lack of
exploratory studies on how state-of-the-art information management models and technologies can be used to
significantly improve collaborative decision-making in the internationalisation of SMEs. Moreover, there is no
evidence that networking and collaboration are systematically explored in the benefit of more effective
internationalisation outcomes.
Important insights about the way information is accessed, processed and used by the decision-makers in
internationalisation processes were analysed in this review: age, tenure, information processing capability,
international experience and organisational memory are the ones to highlight. Again, this is a relevant topic posing
interesting research challenges: do decision-makers have the right skills to cope with the increasing amount and
diversity of information potentially useful to internationalisation decisions?
Additionally, general information subjects were identified, with the information about foreign markets conditions
being recognised as the most relevant. Yet, there is no detailed systematic analysis on the specific content and
subject of the information needed for making decisions in internationalisation. This, together with the previous
point, set an important path for further research in information management for internationalisation processes. In
fact, only a few pieces of research address explicitly the influence of information management in the
internationalisation process of SMEs (Casillas et al., 2010; Child & Hsieh, 2014; Dutot et al., 2014; Rodriguez et
al., 2010; Santos-Alvarez & García-Merino, 2010; Xie & Amine, 2009). As previously shown, the topics addressed
are limited to the identification of informational needs, general information subjects (e.g. attractiveness of host
countries, internationalisation strategies, obstacles and support programmes), decision-makers information
capabilities, and considerations about information sharing. Therefore, there is a lot to explore regarding
information organisation, information life-cycle, informational behaviour of the decision-makers, design of
15
information models supporting internationalisation processes, and the design of IT platforms, necessarily
collaborative, to support all the above.
In terms of knowledge management, it became clear that the knowledge assimilated by SMEs in
internationalisation processes could be tacit and/or explicit in nature. In most of the situations, SMEs have more
difficulties with tacit knowledge because it is subjective and hard to formalise (Camuffo et al., 2007; Fletcher &
Prashantham, 2011). Different types of knowledge are used, such as market knowledge, internationalisation
knowledge, network knowledge, and technological knowledge. One can conclude that there is no specific rule
about the use of certain types of knowledge. Instead, SMEs search and assimilate one or more types of knowledge
from different sources, according to their specific needs and internationalisation strategies, entry modes or foreign
markets to enter. For example, Akerman (2014) shows that the assimilation of market knowledge is essential for
SMEs to obtain additional sales in foreign markets and to acquire new customers. In another direction, Mockaitis
et al. (2006) found that most of the SMEs do not consider market knowledge as an important asset. Both studies
analyse manufacturing firms, without focusing on “special” institutional contexts, such as start-ups, born global
firms, or knowledge-intensive firms. The only difference is in the geographic context, i.e. the study of Akerman
(2014) is on SMEs from a developed country, while Mockaitis et al. (2006) analyse SMEs from an emerging
country. However, no specific conclusions can be drawn from these studies due to the lack of a more representative
number of situations and data for supporting this finding. This is also an issue to be added to a possible research
agenda, together with another suggestion by Akerman (2014) to study how the role of knowledge varies in the
different stages of an internationalisation process.
In fact, the different contexts where SMEs are embedded have been pointed out by many researchers as an
important aspect that needs to be studied. From the research directions of the literature, it seems to be a need to
explore how different SMEs’ contexts would result in different information and knowledge needs to
internationalise. Kaur and Sandhu (2013) suggest that decisions (mainly concerning the entry mode selection)
seem to be influenced by the nature and condition of the industrial sector in which the firm operates. In a later
study, Dutot et al. (2014) also consider that the industry/sector type is an important context to analyse since SMEs
operating in sectors with more uncertain environments might have larger information requirements than other
SMEs operating with less amounts of uncertainty. According to Fletcher and Harris (2012) the sources of
information and knowledge used by firms are clearly affected by their geographic context, this leading them to
identify the need for research exploring how the geographic context would result in different knowledge needs,
types and sources. These authors recognize that those sources are also significantly affected by the particular
institutional contexts of firms. Finally, Child and Hsieh (2014) suggest that the decision mode to follow has
implications for the information required and vice-versa. These different contexts, as described in the literature,
were not addressed in this work, this representing an important direction for further research.
Another relevant theme that was not covered by this work is the broad list of different theories and conceptual
frameworks that support the analysed articles: the Uppsala internationalisation model, the innovation-related
internationalisation model, the network approach to internationalisation, theories of international entrepreneurship,
the resource-based view, the knowledge-based view, the Dunning's eclectic paradigm, the upper echelons theory,
the effectuation theory, the agency theory, the institutional theory, the theory of organisational learning, the theory
of planned behaviour, and the Lindblom's muddling-through concept. Without getting into too much detail, it
seems that, as suggested by Crick and Spence (2005), no single theory could fully explain decisions in
internationalisation.
To close this discussion and research agenda section, one should mention the importance that governments and
institutional supporting agencies, as well as some other public and private initiatives, may have in the
internationalisation processes of SMEs. Several authors have recognised such importance (Table 7).
Table 7 - Importance of governments and institutional supporting agencies, and other public and private initiatives
References
Findings and suggestions
(Casillas et al., 2010)
One company has frequently contacted public agencies for export activities to request
information on markets abroad.
(Fletcher & Prashantham, 2011)
Firms acquire tacit knowledge from different externals sources, including consultants,
overseas government agencies and domestic support agencies.
(Loane & Bell, 2006)
Support agencies, instead of only providing objective knowledge, should also shift
their focus to supporting experiential learning and network development of SMEs.
Firms should therefore recognise the importance of government support agencies as an
integral part of their knowledge development networks.
16
(Child & Hsieh, 2014)
Advice and internationalisation programs of government support agencies should be
adapted to individual firm needs, through the improvement of their links to networks
and channels for other SMEs, in order to obtain the required assistance and to develop
key network relationships.
(Crick & Spence, 2005)
The role of advisors and policy makers should not be overlooked due to the number of
private and public initiatives that have been developed to support SMEs in
internationalisation. Some examples are activities organised by trade associations to
facilitate contacts between domestic and foreign business executives, as well as
subsidised government programmes for SMEs that encourage the establishment of
networks, resulting in knowledge sharing and joint activities.
(Hessels & Terjesen, 2010)
In order to help SMEs to internationalise, governments should develop efforts to: (i)
improve access to knowledge and technology; (ii) decrease production costs in the
home market; (iii) facilitate favourable investor access in the home market.
(Kaur & Sandhu, 2013)
Existing assistance programmes are not capable to reach firms with efficiency or are
not useful enough for driving early internationalisation. Therefore, public policy
makers should work on the implementation of improved and more tailored public
support programmes, as well as on the promotion of the use of available support
programmes.
5. Limitations
This work has some natural limitations, and researchers in the area should be aware of those limitations when
interpreting the material presented here. The SLR was based on journal articles of only two bibliographic
databases: Web of Science and Scopus. Although covering a wide range of articles and journals in different areas,
some other databases (e.g. EBSCO) may also present valuable research articles that could have been missed in this
review. In fact, some other relevant articles from the analysed bibliographic databases may have been excluded
due to the subjective first analysis, or even due to the choice of search strings. The review is only focused on SMEs
but some findings obtained by studies focusing on MNEs may also be relevant in the context of SMEs.
Different internationalisation theories, conceptual frameworks and other specific theories support the analysed
works. However, a detailed analysis to know those that better explain internationalisation behaviours and decisions
was not performed. In addition, a thorough analysis about the different contexts (geographic, institutional,
industry/sector) that may impact information and knowledge management needs of SMEs was not accomplished.
The CIMO-logic described in Denyer, Tranfield, and van Aken (2008) can be a useful tool to describe the different
contexts-interventions-mechanisms-outcomes of the areas considered in this paper. This might be an interesting
topic for future research. However, one should note that this paper has already made a first contribution in this
direction, presenting results for interventions (I) and outcomes (O) of the CIMO-logic, and that there is a need for
exploring the contexts (C) and mechanisms (M). Therefore, this literature review may not be very comprehensive
but it provides new insights complementing knowledge generated by previous studies, and it may help to stimulate
further relevant research.
6. Conclusion
Based on empirical findings from previous studies, the objective of this work was to analyse, synthesise and present
a comprehensive SLR on the role of information, knowledge and collaboration in decision-making for
internationalisation processes of SMEs. The SLR methodology proved to be a useful tool for moving away from
descriptive reviews of the literature, with contributions including the synthesis of main findings of the literature,
the identification of gaps, and the establishment of a basis for future research.
One can hope that the results of this study will assist both academics and professionals to develop new tools and
methodologies, based on state-of-the-art technologies. Additionally the development of collaborative decision-
making models and approaches seems to be an important requirement of SMEs to manage collaboration in
international strategies, mainly for partner selection. Governments and institutional supporting agencies are likely
to play an interesting role in practically supporting international strategies of SMEs, mainly through experiential
learning and network development.
17
Acknowledgements
This research was partially funded by the North Portugal Regional Operational Programme (ON.2O Novo
Norte), under the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF), through the European Regional Development
Fund (ERDF), and by national funds, through the Portuguese funding agency, Fundação para a Ciência e a
Tecnologia (FCT), within the project NORTE-07-0124-FEDER-000057. The first author was also funded by the
Ph.D. Studentship SFRH/BD/110131/2015 from FCT.
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