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The dark side of supply chain digitalisation: supplier-perceived digital capability asymmetry, buyer opportunism and governance

Byung-Gak Son (The Business School (formerly Cass), City, University of London, London, UK)
Hyojin Kim (Dongwu Business School, Soochow University, Suzhou, China)
Daesik Hur (School of Business, Yonsei University, Seoul, Republic of Korea)
Nachiappan Subramanian (Department of Management, University of Sussex Business School, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 14 July 2021

Issue publication date: 8 September 2021




In this paper, the authors seek to contribute to the supply chain digitalisation literature by investigating a potential dark side of supply chain digitalisation from the viewpoint of the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) suppliers, namely digital capability asymmetry and the partner opportunism of more digitally capable large buyers against SME suppliers. The authors seek to contribute further to the governance literature by investigating the effectiveness of the governance mechanism (legal contracts and relational contracts) in suppressing partner opportunism of this nature.


Using survey data collected from 125 Korean SMEs, the authors employed a hierarchical regression method to test a set of hypotheses focussing on the dark side of supply chain digitalisation and the effectiveness of the governance mechanism.


The study’s findings suggest that supplier-perceived digital capability asymmetry, wherein a buyer has a superior digital capability than its SME supplier, increases the SME supplier's dependence on the more digitally capable buyer, with the result that it is more exposed to buyer opportunism. Moreover, the results suggest that only relational governance is effective in protecting SME suppliers from buyer opportunism of this nature.


So far, the overwhelming majority of supply chain digitalisation research has debated its “bright side”. On the contrary, from the resource dependence theory perspective, this paper explains its dark side by providing empirical evidence on (1) the links between supplier-perceived digital capability asymmetry and a buyer's opportunism through an increased supplier's dependence and (2) the effectiveness of different types of governance in opportunism suppression.



The authors are grateful for the valuable comments and suggestions provided by two anonymous reviewers and the special issue editor. The third author was supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2020S1A5A2A01047603). The fourth author would like to especially thank the British Council for awarding the project “Education Partnership for Promoting High Value Manufacturing Supply Chain Systems (EPPHVMSCS)” under the scheme UK-China-BRI Countries Education Partnership Initiative.


Son, B.-G., Kim, H., Hur, D. and Subramanian, N. (2021), "The dark side of supply chain digitalisation: supplier-perceived digital capability asymmetry, buyer opportunism and governance", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 41 No. 7, pp. 1220-1247.



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