Investigating virtual enterprise models: literature review and empirical findings
Despite the increasing academic interest in the virtual enterprise (VE), there are still two main lacunae in our understanding: conceptualisation of VE models and empirical research investigating real VE cases. This paper seeks to address these two gaps. In relation to the first, the paper provides a systematic literature review, showing six shared issues in the VE research (which may be considered the common foundations of the theoretical concept of the VE) and five non-shared issues (which may be considered as a framework to identify different forms of VE). On the basis of shared and non-shared issues, two VE types are identified (the hierarchical and the holarchical). In the hierarchical VE, a leader company acts as a product integrator and is responsible for the final product/service. In the holarchical VE, partners act as a single business entity and the self-organisation approach is the main coordination mechanism. The second gap is addressed through a questionnaire survey to explore the virtualisation process in 18 Italian companies participating in a network of firms characterised by a set of temporary peer relationships oriented to specific projects in which collaborative relationships are continuously formed and dismantled. Comparing the literature and the empirical evidence, a hybrid VE model some way between the hierarchical and holarchical models is evident. The hybrid model shares the relationships among peers with the holarchical model, and the presence of a coordinating firm with the hierarchical model. Similarities and dissimilarities of the above models are discussed together and future research directions are noted.
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