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Networking as a Means to Strategy Change: The Case of Open Innovation in Mobile Telephony

Authors


Address correspondence to: Koen Dittrich, RSM Erasmus University, Department of Management of Technology and Innovation, P.O. Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Tel.: +31 10 4082597. Fax: +31 10 4089014. E-mail: KDittrich@rsm.nl.

Abstract

The purpose of this article is to investigate how innovation networks can be used to deal with a changing technological environment. This study combines different concepts related to research and development (R&D) collaboration strategies of large firms and applies these concepts to R&D alliance projects undertaken by Nokia Corporation in the period 1985–2002. The research methodology is a combination of in-depth semistructured interviews and a large-scale quantitative analysis of alliance agreements. For the empirical analysis a distinction is made between exploration and exploitation in innovation networks in terms of three different measures. As a first measure, the difference between exploration and exploitation strategies by means of the observed capabilities of the partners of the contracting firms is investigated. The second measure is related to partner turnover. The present article argues that in exploration networks partner turnover will be higher than in exploitation networks. As a third measure, the type of alliance contract will be taken; exploration networks will make use of flexible legal organizational structures, whereas exploitation alliances are associated with legal structures that enable long-term collaboration. The case of Nokia has illustrated the importance of strategic technology networks for strategic repositioning under conditions of change. Nokia followed an exploitation strategy in the development of the first two generations of mobile telephony and an exploration strategy in the development of technologies for the third generation. Such interfirm networks seem to offer flexibility, speed, innovation, and the ability to adjust smoothly to changing market conditions and new strategic opportunities. These two different strategies have led to distinctly different international innovation networks, have helped the company in becoming a world leader in the mobile phone industry, and have enabled it to sustain that position in a radically changed technological environment. This study also illustrates that Nokia effectively uses an open innovation strategy in the development of new products and services and in setting technology standards for current and future use of mobile communication applications. This article presents one of the first longitudinal studies, which describes the use of innovation networks as a means to adapt swiftly to changing market conditions and strategic change. This study contributes to the emerging, but still inconsistent, literature on explorative and exploitative learning by means of strategic technology networks.

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