Supply chain integration within the context of a supplier association : case studies of four supplier associations
The last three decades have seen a continuous interest from academics and practitioners in the development of theory and best practice methods in the field of supply chain management. Most of the evidence gathered within this management research area has been biased towards the role of the assembler/buyer in leading and integrating the supply chain. The role of the supplier has been of a passive recipient of the buyer's development plans and actions. Another additional bias in researching supply chain exchanges has been the single end approach of the investigations. Access difficulties have limited researchers to interviewing only one end of the buyer-supplier exchange. The purpose of this study was to overcome the aforementioned research biases and therefore, contribute to the understanding of the supply chain integration process from both a buyer's and supplier's perspective in the same exchange. The forum which was selected to conduct this research was that of the supplier association. The supplier association being defined as a group of a company's most important suppliers brought together on a regular basis for the purpose of co-ordination and development. Development through the deployment of best practice techniques in an open and co-operative environment. Against this open environment access was gained to both ends of the same exchange. Within this context a grounded, theorygenerating approach was applied to the data collected in four supplier association case studies. Through constant comparison and coding of data from multiple buyer-supplier exchanges within the same context several findings were made. The fmdings of the research are expressed as a series of propositions, tentative theoretical frameworks and a series of enabler/inhibitor factors to integration. The propositions relate supply chain improvements to the roles performed by the participants of the exchange in the context of a supplier association and the assembler's competitive environment. The tentative models depict the six stages in the organisational development of a supplier association, the trajectory of best practice knowledge within a supply chain exchange and the strategies employed by suppliers to manage their buyer's improvement intentions. Finally the enablers and inhibitors grounded from the case studies provide a guide to the relational factors which can influence the integration of a companies supply chain.