The Implementation of Joint Projects
As the study shows, COs from the ICT sector were also unable to initiate such cooperation within the value chain, which would integrate selected members around a common product (though some attempts to this end have been made). However, in the ICT sector, cooperation in the value chain has been made harder - the industry is very broad and the name ICT is an umbrella term for diverse and specialized companies, for which it is hard to find points of convergence as the basis of a common product. Building long-term cooperation around common products was not made easier due to the specific nature of ties in the ICT sector: companies would often combine or take on new structures (thus changing the configuration of their cooperative relationships), which did not benefit the permanence of their mutual market relations.
Cooperation based on project was a natural and therefore the most popular form of cooperation in the ICT sector. For this reason, the main objective of COs operating in this industry was to initiate and implement projects with the participation of selected cluster members (see Tab. 5.15, quotation 5). The studied COs from the ICT sector established both project groups (responsible for creating topics and looking for funding possibilities), as well as project consortia (established to implement specific projects). In this case, the objectives of the project (divided into smaller elements) were achieved together by the cluster members belonging to the project team. Each of the team members was responsible for the implementation of partial products within the project (indicated in the labor division structure), which - following their combination - enabled the team to deliver the expected result to the ordering party.
The relationships made in the course of the project would sometimes turn into long-term cooperation (understood as common participation in further projects), provided that there was trust among the partners, which - thanks to constant experience from cooperation - could have been verified on an ongoing basis. In the case of long-term cooperation, relationships were of much bigger importance than in the case of shortterm cooperation, in which the selection was primarily driven by economic factors.
As the study has shown, both in the value chain, as well as in the course of implementing joint projects, another success factor for cooperation rested in the skilled selection of partners, which granted companies access to complementary resources. In accordance with the concept of a cluster, this could lead companies to achieve the expected synergy (see Tab. 5.15, quotations 3-4). In effect, despite members of project groups functioning in the same sector of the economy, it was advisable for them to have different skillsets, albeit close enough to be able to compose a cohesive and complementary whole. The creation of heterogeneous groups based on the principle of the complementarity of the members raised the possibility of achieving the objectives set at the stage of project definition (the specialization of the participant could have possibly influenced the quality of both the partial and the final results of the project) and facilitated project management (clear division of tasks among the participants reduces the “no man’s land effect” and allows for the better enforcement of responsibility in the group). It was much harder to manage a homogeneous group comprised of competing companies with similar (often overlapping) skillsets. Competition was one of the most harmful barriers to cooperation - at times, it stopped the initiation of a given project or threatened its implementation at a later stage, sometimes negating the efforts made and counteracting the invested resources. Cooperation was based on the pooling of resources among the partnered companies, which in turn required the companies to display a certain degree of trust and openness, which was much harder to do in homogeneous groups than in groups with diverse skillsets.
Competing companies approached one another as potential threats, and the fear of strengthening the position of a rival hardened their distrust and alertness, making them gravitate toward protecting their own resources rather than being open to cooperation. In groups comprised competitors, particular objectives at moments overshadowed the higher goals of cooperation, as each of the participants attempted to secure their own interests without taking heed of the group interest. For the same reason, it was harder to divide the end results achieved thanks to cooperation. Each of the participants wanted the largest possible share of the benefits, especially since that would automatically translate to narrowing the pool of benefits for their competitors. In other words, the study has demonstrated that at level IV, the essence of which was the creation of common, added value on the basis of resource pooling among member companies, COs should avoid partnering members with converging skillsets and instead promote synergistic projects rooted in complementarity, which would further allow companies to avoid doubling their efforts.
Among the remaining forms of cooperation characteristic of level IV, we can mention the creation of joint start-ups and spin-offs, the incubation of innovative projects (e.g. on the basis of cooperation with business environment institutions: business incubators, technology parks) (see Tab. 5.15, quotation 7). However, these counted among the least popular initiatives among the studied COs.
Strict cooperation among select cluster members has led to the emergence within COs of separate entities, which followed their own principles in their pursuit of discrete objectives. The entities which participated in their actions had access to the benefits derived from achieving the common end results. The added value (for instance, created in the course of projects) was divided among the group participants and implemented in their economic activity, thus raising their competitive advantage and innovativeness. In the studied COs from the ICT sector, cooperation within the CO was markedly separate from cooperation in projects initiated within the CO - some of the entities defined their participation in the CO only through the lens of the projects undertaken therein, excluding other forms of cooperation (identified at the previous levels of cooperation). The opportunities available at the first three levels of cooperation were much less meaningful for this segment (or altogether irrelevant) in comparison to the benefits derived from project-related cooperation. For this reason, the main factor motivating these entities to associate themselves with the CO was the opportunity to participate in project groups (consortia) and the implementation of joint projects, which generated a particular package of benefits. Membership in the established groups was not only decided on the basis of the commitment displayed on the part of the cluster members (which was sufficient at the previous levels). The respondents’ answers demonstrate that despite the seeming openness of subgroups created within COs, not all members were permitted to participate therein. Barriers to entrance were primarily the result of the complexity of the matters at hand, which required the participants to display a high level of competence. In the case of some project, an important criterion in this regard were the relationships among members of the studied COs, although - judging by the respondents’ answers - they were the result of positive experiences with cooperation (understood as the companies fulfilling their part of the workload). The close ties which developed among the partners encouraged them to undertake subsequent attempts to cooperate. Upon further verification, successful attempts built a capital of relationships within the CO.
The trust established in the course of cooperation was essential to fulfill the first objective defined for this level: providing access to knowledge and information reserved for trusted partners (see Tab. 5.15, quotations 1-2). Knowledge was decisive in terms of competitive advantage (especially in the case of knowledge-centered industries, such as the ICT sector). For this reason, cluster members - driven by the justified concern to maintain their market position - tried to secure their position from the other participants. Trust among partners (built at previous levels of cooperation in the CO and strengthened in the course of cooperation at level IV) could partly nullify the barrier of openness and reduce the risk of sharing knowledge. The reluctance of the participants to share knowledge among the group was also counteracted by the vision of achieving synergistic effects, provided that the added value (including new knowledge) created in result of implementing the project would be divided in accordance with the contributions made by particular partners.
The division of knowledge is a mutual process based on reciprocity. The companies participating in projects could simultaneously act in the roles of the providers and the receivers of knowledge, which meant that they were able to equally share knowledge with and gain knowledge from the remaining participants. Mutual learning (e.g. within joint projects) should be considered to be one of the more important benefits resulting from the CO (and strictly speaking, select its members) achieving level IV of cooperation. The mutual creation and exchange of knowledge within the studied COs were mostly located at the level of project groups. The process was even more intensive at the level of project consortia. Each of the entities engaged in the implementation of joint projects contributed a certain pool of knowledge to the group, in the expectation that the remaining participants will reciprocate. The sum of the knowledge available to the project group, consisting of individual packets of knowledge belonging to individual participants, in the course of work on the project generated new packets, which were then divided among the group members.
Furthermore, cooperation in subgroups (e.g. project consortia) was seen as the most important form of commitment from the perspective of the development of innovations - primarily product innovations (understood as the implementation of brand new products or the modification of existing products) or process innovations (tied to technological development). This pertained not only to mutual inspiration (which was often the result of cognitive dissonance in culturally diverse groups) and the exchange of knowledge and information in the group (essential to ensure the proper course of work in the project), but also to the possibilities of the group members adapting solutions derived in the course of project implementation. In effect, the above form of cooperation primarily existed among companies with large reserves of resources, focused on ongoing development and innovation. Institutions from the R&D sector were also a key partner in this regard, as they contributed knowledge - the main resource from the perspective of innovative processes.
While COs could to a larger degree focus on creating opportunities for their members (at cooperation levels I—III, the focus was on a somewhat different set of opportunities), groups built at cooperation level IV with a view to strengthening cooperation in principle were meant to generate tangible benefits. From the perspective of companies set on maximizing their profit margins, these benefits (to use terms used by the studied entities “specific” or “practical”) were a much more valuable acquisition resulting from their participation in the CO than opportunities themselves, which in the moment of acquisition did not translate to any financial benefits, and their use in business operation required further commitment on the part of the company.