Virtual enterprise in SME networks

Emilio Esposito, Pietro Evangelista, Vincenzo Lauro, Mario Raffa


Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) operating in industrial districts havehistorically provided an important alternative to the advantages achieved through alarger production scale in the context of the Italian industrial system. However, in recentdecades uniform growth in SME networks has come to an end. The industrial districtmodel has often proved to be rather a ‘stage’ in one of the possible different paths ofindustrialisation. In fact, small firms are evolving towards a scenario characterised byincreasing competition and massive introduction of ICT. These changes have acceleratedthe search for new organisational forms that allow SMEs facing the growing complexityof the business environment. Furthermore, it is of paramount importance to sustain local SME networks especially during period of economic crisis. One possible way may be tosupport the virtualisation potential of SME networks and encourage their rapid evolutiontoward the Virtual Enterprise (VE) model order to seize new development opportunities.Despite increasing academic interest toward the VE, there are a number of key issues notaddressed by the current literature such as the possible form VEs may assume and the lackof empirical investigations. This paper tries to fill these voids. Two are the main objectivesof this paper. Firstly, to analyse the possible models that VE may assume when participatedby SMEs and, secondly, to fill the existing empirical research gap in this field. In order toachieve the above objectives a comprehensive literature review on the subject has been firstcarried out. Subsequently, an exploratory questionnaire survey has been implemented ina SME network located in the eastern area of Naples city. The literature review allows theidentification of two extreme VE forms: the Hierarchical and the Holarchical models. Theresult of the questionnaire survey suggests that the network analysed may be a potentialpool of VEs in which temporary relationships oriented to specific projects are continuouslyformed and reformed. Finally, the comparison between literature review and surveyfindings allows establishing that VEs created in that network may assume a hybrid formbetween the two extreme models identified.


Virtual Enterprise; SME networks; Interfirm relationship; Knowledge management; High technology sectors; Questionnaire survey

Full Text:

PDF (Italiano)


Camarinha-Matos, L.; Afsarmanesh, M.H.; Osorio, A.L.; 2001 “Flexibility and safety in a web-base infrastructure for virtual enterprises”, International Journal of Computer Integrated Manufacturing, 14(1).

Chairvesio, M.; Di Maria, E.; Micelli, S.; 2004 “From local networks of SMEs to virtual districts? Evidence from recent trends in Italy”, Research Policy, 33, 1509-1528.

Choy, K.L.; Lee, W.B.; 2001 “Multi-agent based virtual enterprise supply chain network for order management”, PICMET ‘01 - Portland International Conference on Management of Engineering and Technology, 29 July-2 August, Portland, US.

European Commission (2005), The New SME Definition. User Guide and Model Declaration, Bruxelles, European Commission, DG Enterprise & Industry.

Fenga, D.Z.; Yamashiro, M.; 2006, “A pragmatic approach for optimal selection of plant-specific process plans in a virtual enterprise”, Journal of Materials Processing Technology, 173(2), 194-200.

Guerrieri, P.; Pietrobelli, C.; 2004 “Industrial districts’ evolution and technological regimes: Italy and Taiwan, Technovation, 24, 899-914.

Gunasekaran, A.; Lai, K.H.; Cheng, T.C.E.; 2008, “Responsive supply chain: a competitive strategy in a networked economy”, Omega - International Journal of Management Science, 36 (4), 549-564.

Hao, Q.; Shen, W.M.; Wang, L.H.; 2005, “Towards a cooperative distributed manufacturing management framework”, Computers in Industry, 56(1), 71-84.

Ip, W. H.; Min H.; Yung, K.L.; Dingwei W.; 2003, “Genetic algorithm solution for a risk-based partner selection problem in a virtual enterprise”, Computers & Operations Research, 30(2), 213-231.

Jagdev, H.S.; Browne J.; 1998, “The extended enterprise — a context for manufacturing”, Production Planning & Control, 9(3), 216–29.

Jagdev, H. S.; Thoben, K.D.; 2001, “Anatomy of enterprise collaborations”, Production Planning & Control, 12(5), 437-451.

Kim, T.Y.; Kim, K.; Kim, C.H.; Lee, S.; 2006 , “A modeling framework for agile and interoperable virtual enterprises”, Computers in Industry, 57(3), 204-217.

Lefebvre, L.A.; Lefebvre, E.; 2002, “E-commerce and virtual enterprises: issues and challenges for transition economies”, Technovation, 22(5), 313-323.

Martinez, M.T.; Fouletier, P.; Park, K. H.; Favrel, J.; 2001, “Virtual Enterprise-Organization, evolution and control”, International Journal of Production Economics, 74, 225-238.

Mezgar, I.; Kovacs, G.L.; Paganelli, P.; 2000, “Co-operative production planning for small- and medium-sized enterprises”, International Journal of Production Economics, 64(1-3), 37-48.

Mikhailov, L.; 2002, “Fuzzy analytical approach to partnership selection in formation of virtual enterprises”, Omega - International Journal of Management Science, 30(5), 393-401.

Park, K. H.; Favrel, J.; 1999, “Virtual enterprise - Information system and networking solution”, Computers & Industrial Engineering, 37(1-2), 441-444.

Presley, A.; Sarkis, J.; Barnett, W.; Liles, D.; 2001, “Engineering the virtual enterprise: an architecture-driven modeling approach”, International Journal of Flexible Manufacturing Systems, 13(2), 145-162.

Wu, N.Q.; Sun, J.; 2002, “Grouping the activities in virtual enterprise paradigm”, Production Planning & Control, 13(4), 407–15.

Zhang, Y. P.; Zhang, C.; Wang, H.P.; 2000, “An Internet based STEP data exchange framework for virtual enterprises”, Computers in Industry, 41 (1), 51-63.



  • There are currently no refbacks.