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Roth, Steffen
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Papers and Preprints of the Department of Innovation Research and Sustainable Resource Management 1/2006
The continuous transformation of the industrial society into a service and knowledge society is accompanied by profound change of demand: Customer requests will increasingly focus on individual products, shorter delivery times and appropriate prices. To encounter these challenges under the conditions of dynamic global markets and inter-regional competition, the CRC 457 Non-Hierarchical Regional Production-Networks at the Chemnitz University of Technology focuses on SME and investigates ways to implement customer-oriented, temporary networking of smallest, autonomous units (competence cells) in the region of South-West-Saxony. As a partial result of this research we are able to present a model of competence cell based networking distinguishing between three levels of networking, each with its own logic of reproduction (cp. Figure 1): 1) According to a most general concept, networks can be seen as given in any social context. Regarding a specific region, one has to assume that there is a broad array of infra-structural, mental and communicative relations; that as a whole we call the Regional Network. This level can be seen as basic level of competence cell based networking, specific elements (competence cells) of this network can be seen as necessary resources of the following level. 2) The second level of networking we call Competence Network. The first continuous problem of this network is to select competence cells according to relevant parameters that may be defined by customer orders or, in view of new market entry, be generated by the Competence Network itself. The second problem is to arrange these cells along a product specific value chain and, by this means, to create temporary production networks. Concerning both of the problems, the third is to find a non-hierarchical mode of negotiation. 3) On the third level temporary alliances of basically autonomous competence cells can be observed. After executing their order, these Production Networks dissolve and the constituent cells reenter the second or even the first level of networking. Generalising our observation we now assume that every phenomena labelled as regional or industrial network or district should be investigated in view of (these) different levels of networking, especially if we are interested in dealing more efficiently with the problems of network management. Hence, we suggest to first answer the question Which (of these) networks are we to manage? before asking how. Concerning the latter, a synopsis on the discourse on managing networks shows three major approaches: 1) Networks are assumed to be uncontrollable (cp. e.g. Castells 2001), as they are self-organised systems selecting external control impulses only by their own criterias of relevance, so we have either to adapt the logic of the target system (which implies self-adaption) or to take the risk of being totally ignored. With this in mind we can't speak of control in terms of causal logic. 2) Networks are assumed to be cultivable: According to Wenger and Snyder (2000) for example networks are uncontrollable, but - like a gardener - we are able to set adequate general conditions for their growth and continuity. 3) Networks are assumed to be controllable: For authors like Sydow (2000) networks are to be seen as hybrid forms of coordination recombining aspects of market and hierarchy. Thus, recombining the classical means of control will finally lead to the ability to manage networks. It will be to show that each of these approaches focuses on specific aspects of networking, thus, each of them is creating a self-contained concept of networks: Castells refers to networks as a basal nexus of (global) interconnectedness that, like the Regional Network in our case, obviously can't be managed. Wenger and Snyder are interested in network-organisations that (like Competence Networks) also can't be controlled but can be implemented by and embedded in other social systems (cp. Grabher 1993). Sydow finally observes networks of more or less autonomous organisations corresponding to our Production Networks, which are in deed more or less controllable. Not least because of their different theoretical assumptions, all these concepts seemed to be not only incommensurable but incompatible so far. Nonetheless, during our work in CRC 457 we were to manage all these concepts while approaching to one single objective of research. Therefore, we had to ask, how many perspectives on network are we to manage? The answer is: at least three. Integrating these, we generated a holistic life-cycle model of network, which we like to present as starting point for further research in the field network management.
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