Understanding interface dynamic: Lessons from boundary-spanners in inter-organizational alliances in service innovation,


  • Fabbe-Costes Nathalie
  • Kin Vichara


  • Inter-organizational interface
  • Service innovation
  • Inter-organizational alliances
  • Conceptualization
  • Characteristics and properties of interface

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Service innovation is a key issue for companies and a service research priority. Since nowadays most services are complex, service innovation calls for multiple competences. Thus forming alliances can provide a suitable solution to succeed in innovation. Making an alliance to innovate in services leads to decompose the innovation process, creating inter-organizational interfaces that can be a source of richness but also a source of problems and risks. Considering the “inherent complexity” of alliance management, in particular for innovation in services, inter-organizational interface management is thus a research topic with managerial relevance. However, the literature dedicated to inter-organizational interface management is scarce and, surprisingly, does not provide any in-depth study of what an interface is. While literature in service innovation calls for a better understanding of the roles and interrelationships in service-process, there is a lack of research on inter-organizational interfaces as such. The purpose of our research is therefore to open the interface black box and characterize interfaces to better understand interface dynamic (i.e. how partners interact in practice). Thus our research question investigates a fundamental complex issue: how to characterize an interface? In line with the conceptual and theoretical literature review done, the research is based on an exploratory empirical approach of interface in service innovation, adopting an interpretive perspective. To reveal the dimensions of interface, analyzing the boundary-spanners activities, experience and perception seemed appropriate. Nine alliances managers accepted to be interviewed and to give access to qualitative data about a successful innovation project and the alliance strategy, resulting in nine cases. Adopting a systematic combing approach, the nine cases provided us with an in-depth understanding of the dynamics involved in managing inter-organizational interfaces in innovation alliance in services. The research permitted to identify four dimensions and 20 detailed sub-dimensions, forming a conceptual framework that can be useful to deepen the study of inter-organizational interfaces. This framework can allow companies involved in an alliance to identify which dimensions they should consider to improve their interactions. Developing knowledge about what interfaces are could help improving the understanding of inter-organizational structure or governance as well as day-to-day interdependencies in the service innovation process.

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