Conference Paper

KIBS, Pilot-Customers And Lead-Users As Knowledge Bridges And Innovation Triggers In The Digital Transformation And Industry 4.0 Scenario

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Literature has recently reminded the importance of Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS) as knowledge intermediators and innovators facilitators (Shearmur and Doloreux, 2018), renovating a school of thought that has gained a acknowledged positioning in the KIBS literature. It's equally recent the profound change facing manufacturing companies: they are being involved in a digital innovation process that is transforming their organizations and business models, where-especially for small-and medium-sized firms-the worst scenario is represented by strategic disruption (Paiola, 2017). Notwithstanding the stakes, manufacturing firms-even minor ones-are not alone in this risky transformation: our research shows that in confronting with pervasive digital technologies (IOT, Cloud platforms, smart products and services) manufacturing firms always can count on local KIBS firms, that advice, assist and help them to approach this complex transitional phase. For SMEs, Kibs firms frequently represent also a knowledge bridge with global suppliers of platforms and layer technologies otherwise out of reach. This paper is aimed at exploring the role of KIBS firms-with special attention to technology-based firms (T-KIBS)-as knowledge intermediator and innovation triggers in medium-sized Italian manufacturing companies' digital transformation processes. The topic is quite recent, and to our best knowledge, little research has been devoted to this specific perspective. Thus, the paper adopts a quantitative method, describing and discussing information coming from a number of personal face-to-face in-depth semi-structured interviews with acknowledgeable respondents in selected firms. Interviews have been done in the second half of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. Our research reveals that Kibs may act as facilitators of business model innovation in medium-sized manufacturing firms involved in digital transformation and servitization processes, but that the role of lead users demand is crucial in determining the commitment of the manufacturing firms to the transformation, that in turn becomes a pilot customer for the KIBS firm. We envisioned a circular process of evolution of the offerings of the involved firms, in which tasks, activities and knowledge management capabilities change depending on the step, involving both dyadic and network relations, crafting business ecosystems where small and medium technology and consulting firms, system integrators with specific knowledge on applications and customer needs interact with international technology MNEs.

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