Conceiving and Marketing Products in the Networking Age
7. 7.1 Virtual knowledge brokers INTRODUCTION While ﬁrms can beneﬁt greatly from engaging directly with customers and communities of customers in virtual environments (VEs), our premise in this book is that direct engagement is not enough. To fully leverage the power of virtual environments, we propose that ﬁrms need to combine direct channels of customer connection with mediated channels that include virtual knowledge brokers (VKBs). These actors manage their own virtual environments and provide these environments as a service to ﬁrms. In doing so, they extend a ﬁrm’s scope of interaction to include knowledge that comes from diverse and previously disconnected sources (Verona et al., 2006). VKBs are the virtual manifestation of knowledge brokers (KBs) – third parties who connect, recombine and transfer knowledge to companies in order to facilitate innovation (Hargadon and Sutton, 2000). In the physical world, KBs have traditionally taken the form of innovation and design consulting ﬁrms (Sutton, 2002; Hargadon, 2003). However, in the virtual world, VKBs take the form of information intermediaries who leverage the unique capabilities of the Internet to absorb valuable market knowledge for innovation. VKBs’ activities can be more diverse, their reach is broader, and their inﬂuence on the innovation process is qualitatively diﬀerent. Table 7.1 provides a comparison of operators who use diﬀerent mechanisms to facilitate innovation. In physical environments, ﬁrms can autonomously innovate or they can involve KBs like the design ﬁrms IDEO and Design Continuum to support their innovation activity and obtain speciﬁc design solutions....
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