Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to analyse intellectual capital (IC) in SMEs. In particular two research questions are posed: how SMEs acquire or develop knowledge and intangible resources; and how they manage and exploit IC. Design/methodology/approach – An in-depth case study of an Italian SME operating in the automobile industry is carried out in order to answer the two research questions. Findings – The case study evidences the impossibility to sharply divide all of the knowledge-related elements of a firm into the three generally accepted categories of human, organisational (structural) and relational capital. The analysis of IC as a set of stock of resources is important but really partial due to the fact that IC and knowledge continuously change. In this light, the focus on activities and processes help in understating how the firm manages IC. In the studied SME, formal and informal knowledge coexist but in different areas of the firm. Again, the relationships with external stakeholders, suppliers and clients especially, are the source for improving IC. The case study also supports the important role that dialogue and familiarity play in knowledge management. However the focus of management is not knowledge per se, but the solution to problems the firm must deal with, IC and knowledge being just one of the issues to be considered in order to solve problems. Research limitations/implications – The paper is useful since it addresses the management of IC in SMEs which is a topic under-researched with respect to the economic importance of SMEs. The conclusions of the work, emerging from an individual case study analysis, cannot be generalised. However, they offer support for other studies findings and highlight some specificities of the way SMEs manage IC. Practical implications – The paper explores the characteristics of IC management in SME in order to contribute towards the differentiation of the view of IC in relation to the “size” of the firm. Approaches originally developed for larger firms fail to consider SMEs characteristics, which indeed are not smaller large firms; therefore, it is in general impossible to think of SME management systems as simpler or smaller than those adopted by large firms. The key point is in fact that SMEs (at least the one here analysed) have management systems which are ontologically different. Originality/value – Besides the relevant role of SMEs in economy, very few papers have been published on the way IC is developed and managed in SMEs. A gap therefore exists between the economic importance of SME and the attention IC research has given to them, which calls for more research on this area. The paper is a step forward on the way of reducing that gap, since it provides a case study on knowledge and IC management within an Italian SME. Finally, the analysis reinforces similar results of other studies adopting a dynamic perspective for the analysis of IC, which found IC management in SMEs to be more based on informal systems.

Exploring intellectual capital management in SMEs: an in-depth Italian case study

MARZO, Giuseppe
;
SCARPINO, Elena
2016

Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to analyse intellectual capital (IC) in SMEs. In particular two research questions are posed: how SMEs acquire or develop knowledge and intangible resources; and how they manage and exploit IC. Design/methodology/approach – An in-depth case study of an Italian SME operating in the automobile industry is carried out in order to answer the two research questions. Findings – The case study evidences the impossibility to sharply divide all of the knowledge-related elements of a firm into the three generally accepted categories of human, organisational (structural) and relational capital. The analysis of IC as a set of stock of resources is important but really partial due to the fact that IC and knowledge continuously change. In this light, the focus on activities and processes help in understating how the firm manages IC. In the studied SME, formal and informal knowledge coexist but in different areas of the firm. Again, the relationships with external stakeholders, suppliers and clients especially, are the source for improving IC. The case study also supports the important role that dialogue and familiarity play in knowledge management. However the focus of management is not knowledge per se, but the solution to problems the firm must deal with, IC and knowledge being just one of the issues to be considered in order to solve problems. Research limitations/implications – The paper is useful since it addresses the management of IC in SMEs which is a topic under-researched with respect to the economic importance of SMEs. The conclusions of the work, emerging from an individual case study analysis, cannot be generalised. However, they offer support for other studies findings and highlight some specificities of the way SMEs manage IC. Practical implications – The paper explores the characteristics of IC management in SME in order to contribute towards the differentiation of the view of IC in relation to the “size” of the firm. Approaches originally developed for larger firms fail to consider SMEs characteristics, which indeed are not smaller large firms; therefore, it is in general impossible to think of SME management systems as simpler or smaller than those adopted by large firms. The key point is in fact that SMEs (at least the one here analysed) have management systems which are ontologically different. Originality/value – Besides the relevant role of SMEs in economy, very few papers have been published on the way IC is developed and managed in SMEs. A gap therefore exists between the economic importance of SME and the attention IC research has given to them, which calls for more research on this area. The paper is a step forward on the way of reducing that gap, since it provides a case study on knowledge and IC management within an Italian SME. Finally, the analysis reinforces similar results of other studies adopting a dynamic perspective for the analysis of IC, which found IC management in SMEs to be more based on informal systems.
2016
Marzo, Giuseppe; Scarpino, Elena
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11392/2347124
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