Rapid Alignment of Resources and Capabilities in Time-bound Networks: The Case of Construction Projects in Dubai-UAE
Alabdul Razzak, Mousalam
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Researchers studying the alignment of business resources usually focus on business cases that inherently have a going-concern interaction built on long-term relationships at the firm level (e.g., Barney, 1991) dyadic level (e.g., Eisenhardt & Martin, 2000) or the broader network level (e.g., Dyer, 1996). Resource alignment is usually flexible in terms of the timeline for identifying and aligning resources and resource engagement. While contractual limitations can be applied to resource alignment, resource engagement holds a notion of persistent value adding relationship. However, there are multitudes of contexts where relationships are bounded by the limited life of a project and by the way where resources must be rapidly aligned and managed. Examples exist in sectors as diverse as construction, filmmaking, and oil exploration. The study examined theories and empirical studies of resource alignment ranging from resource-based views (e.g., Wernerfelt, 1984) to more complex network views of social organizational interactions (e.g., Gulati et al., 2000). The majority of these literatures treat the development of business relationships and the acquisition of resources as a phenomenon that occurs over an extended period. Time-bound transactions challenge these theoretical perspectives built around the longevity of inter-organizational relations. Thus, the key strategic management problem this research addresses is how resources and capabilities can be rapidly aligned and managed in a time-bound network to achieve sustainable competitive advantages (SCA) at the network level. The fieldwork was conducted on more than 20 construction projects in the United Arab Emirates. Using secondary source data, I mapped the projects’ networks and interviewed 45 industry experts about the resources and capabilities their firms bring to the network, and how quickly they can be aligned to achieve the objectives of the project. The interviews were conducted over 11 months between 2011 and 2012 and amounted to more than 20 hours of audio and hundreds of notes including network sketches. I also investigated the transfer of resources and capabilities that may help network members to increase their competitive advantage when bidding on future projects. The benefits of long-term relationships are evident in any business; however, firms in the project-based construction industry often cannot reap those benefits. This study built upon theories of network-based resource alignment in the extreme situation of time-bound projects. The two-phase qualitative research approach relied on intensive interviews with key decision makers. Template analysis was used as the primary method of data analysis. This research’s primary finding is that there is no evidence of the concept of sustainable competitive advantage at the network level, while it is evident at the firm level. Other findings confirm that the events of full replication and non-replication of networks after project completion do not exist nor do decision makers favour them. While these findings imply the lack of attention to the benefits of contributing to a network, the more apparent scenario is replication of parts of a network, which is a result of two factors: 1) capabilities developed at firm level, which in return develop resources, and other capabilities, 2) movement of resources across network entities. The results shed light on decision-making techniques for efficient management of resources in time-bound business transactions such as construction and other projects. However, they may also generalize to dynamic business situations such as the entry of a firm into a new market or the entrepreneurial start-up of a new company in which resources must also be quickly aligned.