Knowledge elicitation and mapping in the design of a decision support system for the evaluation of suppliers’ competencies

Date09 November 2015
Publication Date09 November 2015
AuthorLorella Cannavacciuolo,Luca Iandoli,Cristina Ponsiglione,Giuseppe Zollo
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Knowledge management,Knowledge management systems
Knowledge elicitation and
mapping in the design of a
decision support system for the
evaluation of suppliers’
Lorella Cannavacciuolo, Luca Iandoli, Cristina Ponsiglione and
Giuseppe Zollo
Department of Industrial Engineering, University of Naples Federico II,
Naples, Italy
Purpose – This paper aims to present a methodology for the mapping and evaluation of suppliers’
competencies and know-how. The authors operationalize the concept of organizational competence
and provide companies with a customized management tool to map suppliers’ critical competencies
for screening strategic from non-strategic suppliers and providing inputs for suppliers’
Design/methodology/approach Competencies assessment, carried out through a fuzzy
knowledge management system (VINCI), is performed through the aggregation of indicators
related to the control of critical resources, the degree of implementation of critical processes, the
competitive positioning and the nancial situation of a supplier. Competencies description and
operationalization are based on the bottom-up elicitation of the subjective knowledge managers
actually use to assess suppliers’ capability. Such subjective knowledge is then validated and
formalized through a top-down approach based on strategic literature.
Findings – The authors tested VINCI on a sample of 38 suppliers of a large company. The results show
that the methodology provides its users with a highly customizable knowledge map and its associated
decision support tool that keeps into account the peculiar strategic needs of the company in the
management of an existing portfolio of suppliers.
Practical implications – VINCI outcomes can be used to perform benchmarking analyses, dene
entry criteria and thresholds for suppliers’, identify improvement targets and service levels to be
considered in the denition of supply contracts, supporting the alignment of supplier’s management
with business strategy.
Originality/value The most important original contribution of this work resides in the
operationalization and measurements of rms’ competencies based on the elicitation of subjective
knowledge that managers use in the actual assessment. A further distinctive feature of this paper
is that the method is applied to small and medium companies, whereas large part of the literature
on core or organizational competencies assessment is focused on large companies.
Keywords Decision support, Capability maturity model, Knowledge mapping and elicitation,
Multi-attribute fuzzy decision-making, Organizational competence
Paper type Research paper
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 31 January 2015
Revised 1 July 2015
24 August 2015
Accepted 1 September 2015
Vol.45 No. 4, 2015
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/VINE-01-2015-0011
1. Introduction
Knowledge-based systems (KBS) have received considerable attention in the
development of decision support systems and knowledge management tools in several
elds. A KBS is dened as a computer system designed to emulate human
problem-solving via a combination of a domain knowledge base and an inference engine
able to perform context, data-driven, heuristic as well as logic reasoning (Chau and
Albermani, 2002).
In this work, we present a KBS to assess and manage organizational competencies of
suppliers for manufacturers of large integrated systems, such as companies operating in
the aerospace or railway industry. In particular, we propose a methodology for the
assessment of competencies based on the elicitation of the subjective knowledge that
managers use in suppliers’ assessment.
Although several theories based on core competencies or strategic capabilities have
made the concept inuential (see the broad literature inspired to the resource-based view
of the rm; Priem and Butler, 2001;Wernerfelt, 2006), less attention has been given to
operationalization of key concepts such as critical resources, organizational
competencies (Prahalad and Hamel, 1990) or dynamic capabilities (Teece et al., 1997).
The emphasis on the theoretical aspects has made the capability concept somewhat
obscure and has left practitioners without efcient and usable methods to identify and
measure capabilities that are specic and salient enough for their business practice. In
this work, we argue that a possible way to operationalize organizational competencies
and, at the same time, to make these constructs more relevant and actionable for
companies is a knowledge-based approach through which competencies models are
built from the bottom-up, i.e. starting from the subjective knowledge and theory in use
(Argyris and Schon, 1978) that managers and practitioners have developed, learned and
selected through daily practice and experience; the questions we intend to answer in this
paper are as follows:
Q1. How to elicit subjective knowledge that managers employ to describe
organizational competencies of a supplier?
Q2. How to map, validate and formalize this knowledge to dene objective ways to
describe and evaluate rms’ competencies?
To make our case more relevant for practitioners, we report an application of our
approach to suppliers’ screening. We focus on suppliers screening for the following
reasons. First, supplier selection is a task that is or should be strongly inuenced by the
buyer company’s strategy; as such, screening practices and tools reect industry- and
company-specic strategic and operational needs that can hardly be captured by the
standardized, general-purpose competencies assessment methods that are dominant in
the strategic literature. Second, the use of a portfolio of existing suppliers provided us
with a more controlled empirical setting in which it was easier to control for some key
variables (e.g. the buyer company strategy, the specic industry) as well as to get access
to abundant information and data regarding the companies to be assessed.
We nally matched the subjective knowledge elicited on the eld against the existing
management tools and theories. By following a strategic portfolio approach (Gelderman
and Weele, 2002), we combined the evaluation of nancial reliability and competitive
positioning with the assessment of suppliers’ competitiveness based on non-nancial
indicators related to suppliers’ organizational competencies (Grant, 2010;Lado et al.,
elicitation and

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