Due to their inherent uncertainty, emerging high-tech business fields require a unique set of network management capabilities. Drawing from the dynamic capabilities literature and the networking capability literature, we develop a framework for network management in such environments. The framework consists of three interrelated capabilities – context handling, network construction, and network position consolidation. A longitudinal case study of a start-up company in the smart energy sector validates and provides an illustrative understanding of the three capabilities. The findings identify how they are enacted through a portfolio of activities, providing a microfoundational insight into how a focal actor in an entrepreneurial and explorative manner navigates and manages a business field in the making. Our research contributes a novel conceptualization of network management capabilities with an explicit focus on attracting, establishing and managing relationships in the complex and uncertain environment of emerging high-tech fields. In addition, our research offers guidance to managers with respect to the capabilities they need to galvanize and coalesce actors in an emerging business network.
Increasingly, success in high-tech industries is a function not just of how well one actor develops, manages and deploys its own resources for strategic advantage, but also how well the actor constructs and coordinates a network of partners and resources (e.g., Rampersad, Quester, & Troshani, 2010). The complexity of high-tech contexts implies that the resources and infrastructure are not controlled by any one company, but rather they are widely dispersed among various actors within the industry (Aarikka-Stenroos, Sandberg, & Lehtimäki, 2014; Möller & Svahn, 2009) as well as actors that are new to the industry. The development and commercialization of new and disruptive solutions thus require the co-creation of innovation and business development agendas in cooperation with a variety of actors (Möller & Svahn, 2009), and accordingly presume capabilities for network management both for gaining support and access to appropriate resources. Of special interest in this article are the network management capabilities companies require when new technological and scientific inventions are to be transformed into new business fields (cf. Geels, 2005). Such emerging business fields are characterized by a lack of clear market structures and by high uncertainty concerning both the technological solutions and the potential key actors, their resources and contributions (Knight, Pfeiffer, & Scott, 2015; Möller, 2010). However, very little research exists that examines directly the network management capabilities involved in the emergence of new-high-tech business fields (Partanen & Möller, 2012). An emerging body of research on various aspects of network management related to strategic networks and innovation networks exists, including: (1) conditions under which different types of purposefully created networks can be managed (e.g., Möller & Rajala, 2007; Möller & Svahn, 2003; Ritter, Wilkinson, & Johnston, 2004), (2) the roles of various actors in networked innovation (Aarikka-Stenroos et al., 2014), (3) the process through which such networks unfold (Medlin & Törnroos, 2014), (4) the capabilities involved when shifting from dyadic collaboration to networked radical innovation (AarikkaStenroos & Lehtimäki, 2014; Möller & Svahn, 2009), and (5) the role of managerial cognition and sensemaking for network management (Mouzas, Henneberg, & Naudé, 2008; Öberg, Henneberg, & Mouzas, 2012).