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Original Research

Information and knowledge sharing trends of small and medium-sized enterprises in the Western Cape, South Africa

Faeda Mohsam, Pieter A. Van Brakel

SA Journal of Information Management; Vol 13, No 1 (2011), 10 pages. doi: 10.4102/sajim.v13i1.462

Submitted: 25 November 2010
Published:  29 November 2011

Abstract

Background: Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), especially in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, are currently facing various financial and other obstacles, which may threaten their survival. Globalisation, the lowering of trade barriers and the reduction of import tariffs have resulted in increased international competition. Businesses are thus forced to undertake continuous improvements and innovation in order to survive, to keep abreast of change and to excel.

Objectives: Effective knowledge sharing and consequent knowledge management (KM) have been identified as definite approaches to enhancing competitive advantage. The research therefore aimed to establish to what extent small enterprises embrace their knowledge sharing activities and whether their knowledge sharing activities are managed at all. Furthermore, it examined how their knowledge sharing can contribute to their competitive advantage.

Method: A case study approach was followed for this research. Selected SMEs from the engineering sector were the subject of the case study and SME owners, directors and managers of consulting civil engineering firms were interviewed to determine whether there are mechanisms in place to ensure better knowledge sharing within SMEs.

Results: In general, respondents had stated that they possessed special factors that set them above their competitors:

• The company strategy and good reputation of completing projects within the required timeframe. In other words, they were well known for their track record in terms of service delivery.
• Their specialty in terms of different focus areas, namely structural and civil engineering, water supply and storm water design, transportation, sewer design and storm water traffic.
• The fact that they operated in silos. This means that the specialists in their specific fields operated independently in groups, separately from everyone else in the company.
• Their good relationship with local authorities and other companies in the field.
• Their multidisciplinary approach in incorporating all spheres of civil engineering, which gave them a niche in the market.
• The vast knowledge and experience of the owners and directors.

Conclusion: Each of the companies interviewed had unique skills that they can apply to their advantage. They were also found to be implementing KM processes such as sharing, creating and leveraging of information and knowledge, albeit in the absence of formal policies. It was therefore deduced that SME successes depend on how well they share their tacit and explicit knowledge; this will determine whether they would excel above their competitors.


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Author affiliations

Faeda Mohsam, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa
Pieter A. Van Brakel, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa

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