Spreading Bets or Going ‘All-In’? Navigating Consortia-led Digital Innovation Pathways
44 Pages Posted: 18 Dec 2020
Date Written: November 23, 2020
This paper explores the unique tensions and practical dynamics of pre-competitive consortia. As consortia can involve supply chain organizations, together with regulatory bodies and universities, participation is predicated by partners with markedly different outcome goals and risk dispositions. Some are willing to go ‘all-in’ for a long-term vision involving novel breakthroughs; others are focused on specific incremental gains. We draw from an eight-year dataset involving 98 entities, collaborating across five UK-based pharmaceutical sector consortia. We present case evidence from 14 projects where consortia are experimenting with a wide variety of digital initiatives, ranging from incremental to potentially game-changing (novel) innovations. A central issue here is the availability of alternative digital innovation pathways. So which pathway to take?
We follow an abductive approach to examine the nature of these pathways and how consortia are organizing efforts for specific innovation performance and allied risk outcomes. We find that sequential pathways are characterized by ‘tactical gains’. Here, ‘attractive’ cases determine the pathway choice, resulting in follow-on incremental activities. In contrast, simultaneous pathways require hypotheses development where immediate ROIs are not always apparent. Here, the consortium effect ‘de-risks risk conversations’, enabling partners to get internal buy-in. Navigating such pathways within consortia has theory and practice implications. For example, a surprising finding is the going ‘all-in’ approach, often seen as loaded with risk, can be appropriate from a risk mitigation perspective for novel projects. As is the case with emerging consortia-led Covid-19 vaccines, where steps that are normally taken sequentially are being carried out simultaneously.
Keywords: Consortia, Digitalization, Risk Mitigation, Project Management
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