Partners’ selection: Fostering flexibility in partnering processes

The match between partner companies holds the key to predicting the cluster performance, inasmuch as this match defines the initial conditions of the cluster and also affects the evolution of the cluster conditions over time.
This is without a doubt the most delicate and important issue the CM (with the due support of the CFT) will have to deal with at the very beginning of the formation stage. We should recall that although the CADIC Cluster Management Cycle places the partners’ selection ‘second’ – after the topic has been mostly rounded – these two stages are in fact tightly engaged. They are mutually shaped until they reach certain threshold of stability that allows the cluster to initiate and commit to real activity.
Planning should be the first step of any collaboration initiation process and particularly when it comes to partners’ selection. Only when an organisation is clear about why they wish to form a CADIC cluster, what type of collaboration suits their needs best, and what organisation profile and requirements profile they wish to base the sourcing and selection should they progress to source in a potential partner.

The selection of partners depends not only on the expected future situation, but also on the existing partnerships of the catalyst company driving the cluster set up. Very broadly, the selection could be based on:
Their functional competences that is how they could effectively support the lifecycle of the products/services the network is aiming at.
Partners’ ability to enter into and participate in networks. Two basic elements are the partners’ ability to manage and implement clusters/network arrangements and to display ‘cluster’ spirit and behaviour.
ICT maturity of the potential partner. Important issues are whether the potential partner is willing to share the level and type of information the catalyst/other partners want to access and their degree of familiarity with social media technologies.
Critical about new, unknown partners are considerations about the potential partners’ values and beliefs, attitudes, language, etc.

The dilemma ‘collaboration x competition’ should also be considered. The catalyst should consider pouring into the cluster an adequate degree of competition. Too little competition will deter the cluster’s innovation capacity; too much, will destroy it (Martins et al, 2012).
The catalyst CM – or the cluster CMs if the cluster is already active – should review once and again and as a whole the candidates for the cluster. In effect, the final integration of the cluster should be viewed through the ‘cluster-lens’, allowing the space for particular (i.e. firm-specific) considerations as long as they are seen as a potential threat for the continuity and mid-term performance of the cluster.
Strictly from the point of view of the CADIC methodologies and tools available this previous point reinforces the idea that no one methodology or tool can be clearly and undoubtedly preferred above all others. More than substitutes, they make up a portfolio of complements through which the user could discover and give response to different sides of a problem and at different stages of the cluster lifecycle.
Multinationals should not be discarded a priori. They could play an important role, particularly in facilitating market access to the SMEs and as fertilizers of ideas generation and innovation. Notwithstanding, caution should be raised that they will not neutralise or hamper the IC growth and innovation potential of the SMEs.
Before going to the selected methodologies and tools of this section, a consideration should be made about the IC-Benchmarking System (ICBS) as a supportive tool of the partners’ selection process. The ICBS, whether carried at the company-or-cluster level and as long as it makes apparent the common IC weaknesses of the cluster companies (or the cluster’s), represents a valuable alternative and possibly a more focused one to start looking for new partners. Specifically, it is the direct way to determining the level of IC complementarity and/or supplementary fit acknowledged to in the Partners’ Assessment Grid. It has only not been included as part of the offline services portfolio because of CADIC original products and services division – which recognizes these are offline services; website and online services; and the ICBS.

For further information see:
The Partners’ Assessment Grid
Fitness Check for Cluster Candidates

Each section is headed by a few lines on some key features as to what it is about, its main objectives and a suggestion about how to better make use of it.

Martins, B, Meyer, C. and Solé, F. (2012), “Accounting for coopetition in bottom-up SME clusters: How good a strategy?”, EIASM 5th Workshop on Coopetition, Katowice, Poland, Sep. 13-14