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Learning to work in asymmetric relationships: insights from the computer software industry

Lourdes Pérez (Toulouse University, Toulouse Business School, Barcelona, Spain)
Jesús Cambra-Fierro (University Pablo de Olavide, Sevilla, Spain)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 12 January 2015




This paper aims to provide guidance for managers so that they may develop advanced supply chain management (SCM) capabilities in the context of asymmetric alliances. These alliances, generally characterised by large dissimilarities between the partners, often facilitate value-creating opportunities.


Using case studies, the paper analyses similarities and differences in SCM between symmetric and asymmetric alliances within supply networks. It focusses on the key dimensions of complementarity, value distribution, relational management and specialisation.


It was found that the question of complementarity, although important, should not be equated to the need for symmetry but to the ability of the firms in the supply network to learn to work together. For small firms who seek co-creation with large partners, this means collaboration, specialisation through relation-specific investments, flexibility and understanding the overall value system in which their business relationships compete is important.

Practical implications

Small firms seeking to develop advanced SCM capabilities have to accept responsibility for selecting a reduced number of key partners and managing relationships. Firms should proactively use the contractual process to learn about partners' expectations and goals and to identify committed champions. These factors play an important role in developing communications and trust, as small firms do not have easy access to senior managers in large corporations.


This paper discovered a novel concept – dual value appropriation – where partners do not divide the total value generated as frequently proposed in the literature, but that it is fully appropriated, as it represents a different value proposition for each of them.



Jesús Cambra-Fierro expresses his gratitude for the financial support received from the Spanish Government CICYT (ECO 2011-23027) and from the Regional Government and FEDER’s funding (Generés S09).


Pérez, L. and Cambra-Fierro, J. (2015), "Learning to work in asymmetric relationships: insights from the computer software industry", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 1-10.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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