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The Dynamics of the Outsourcing Relationship

The Future Of Global Organizing

ISBN: 978-1-78560-423-2, eISBN: 978-1-78560-422-5

Publication date: 14 October 2015



To provide a theoretical explanation of why outsourcing relationships are inherently dynamic, in that the dependence of each party upon the other inevitably changes over time and thus so too will the power asymmetries between the parties.


Our approach is theoretical and draws upon insights from resource dependence theory, transaction cost economics, and the resource-based view of the firm, to focus on the power asymmetries between the focal firm undertaking the outsourcing and its suppliers. We illustrate our arguments using a longitudinal case study of the evolving relationship between Apple and the Foxconn Technology Group.

Practical implications

For supplier firms, the message is to upgrade, develop distinctive resources and capabilities, and diversify the customer base. Otherwise, suppliers will forever be condemned to low operating margins and the threat of being replaced by cheaper, more agile rivals. For focal firms, the message is not to rest on your laurels. The potency of isolating mechanisms may well dissipate, suppliers will no doubt strive to lessen their positions of dependence and competitors will inevitably emerge, with the result that once-profitable outsourcing arrangements may quickly erode.


We highlight the crucial role played by isolating mechanisms to underpin power asymmetries in outsourcing relationships, and thus enable focal firms to appropriate the rents from externalized value chain activities. We argue that the efficacy of many isolating mechanisms will tend to dissipate over time as competitors emerge to imitate successful strategies and products, and as resource and capability asymmetries erode.



Denicolai, S., Strange, R. and Zucchella, A. (2015), "The Dynamics of the Outsourcing Relationship", The Future Of Global Organizing (Progress in International Business Research, Vol. 10), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 341-364.



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