Anna Wulf


Today’s challenges presented by a rapidly changing business environment can be met by collaborative relationships between businesses. Businesses can exchange or share key resources that companies are unable to develop alone. Knowledge is one of the most important organisational resources and one which businesses can share in order to increase their competitive advantages, under the right circumstances. Networks are one form of collaborative relationship being already well known and widely researched. Business ecosystems are an even broader conception of inter-company relationships. The two research streams, network theory and business ecosystem theory, complement each other. Whilst network theory focuses on structures, business ecosystem theory introduces the potential of different roles played by individual businesses in these networks and describes collaborative relationships as comprising of Keystones, Dominators, Hub-Landlords and Niche players. However, so far no comprehensive approach has been developed to describe the different business ecosystem roles, their influences and their strategies in distinct collaborative relationships. The aim of this research is to create a more detailed approach to the study of business ecosystems, focusing in particular on one role, the Keystone, operating in collaborative network relationships. In this study a literature review was first conducted, resulting in the development of a conceptual model. Expert interviews were used to enable the development of detailed multiple case studies, focusing on the Keystone role in distinctive collaborative relationships. The research offers a structured and detailed analysis of the Keystone role, its characteristics, strategies and knowledge sharing activities in different industrial sectors. Findings show that Keystones in both formally structured and more informally structured networks of collaborative relationships, behaved in similar ways. Only some minor differences were identified between the investigated Keystones. The research identified specific Keystone characteristics and their actions, used to fulfil their role and their organisational and interorganisational strategies. This thesis contributes to a greater understanding on the actions, characteristics and roles of different organisations operating within business networks and within a broader business ecosystem. Focusing on the essential role of the Keystone, the research provides a better understanding of network roles and dynamics and will facilitate improved strategic decision making for any organisation seeking to take advantage of collaborative relationships.

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