Moving beyond one-off procurement innovation; an ambidexterity perspective

Publication Date18 Nov 2019
AuthorHenrico Plantinga,Hans Voordijk,André Dorée
SubjectPublic policy & environmental management,Politics,Public adminstration & management,Government,Economics,Public finance/economics,Taxation/public revenue
Moving beyond one-o
procurement innovation; an
ambidexterity perspective
Henrico Plantinga
Department of Procurement, ProRail, Utrecht, The Netherlands, and
Hans Voordijk and André Dorée
Department of Construction Management and Engineering,
University of Twente Faculty of Engineering Technology,
Enschede, The Netherlands
Purpose The development of innovative procurementinstruments can be costly and risky. To capitalize
on successful innovativeinstruments, it is essential that these are reused. However, reuse can be problematic
in project-basedpublic client organizations. This paper aims to applythe ambidexterity concept of integration
mechanismsto examine how such reuse can be facilitated.
Design/methodology/approach An initial frameworkis developed to conceptualize and contextualize
the ambidexterity integration mechanism for the procurement function of a multi-project public client.
Concluding that, in this situation, an organizational procedure is an appropriate interpretation of the
integrationmechanism, a design science project is carriedout to develop and implement a procedure in a real-
life setting.
Findings Reconstructed reuse patterns conrm the need to have an actionable integration mechanism
implemented. Integration, in the sense of drawing benets from successful one-off innovative procurement
instruments, may fail unnoticedif not organized and deliberately managed. The procedure developed in the
design scienceproject demonstrates how such integrationcan be achieved.
Originality/value Although researchon ambidexterity has grown exponentially inthe past decade, it is
yet to be applied in the eldof public procurement. Furthermore, the applicationof design science research is
novel in this eld of literature. The paper illustrates how both can help solve a relevant organizational
Keywords Ambidexterity, Design science, Innovation, Organizational design
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Public clients not only use existing procurement instruments but also develop new ones. New
procurement instruments, that may include contracts, contract award criteria or performance
measurement systems, are needed when an instruments environment is subject to change.
Thischangemaybecausedbymanyfactors,including the introduction of new products,
services and supply markets (Dobbs et al., 2015), the inclusion of new socioeconomic goals in
procurement strategies (Brammer and Walker, 2011;Glas et al., 2017;Obwegeser and Müller,
2018) or reforms in public procurement legislation (Arrowsmith, 2012;European_Commission,
2016). Instrument development is key to appropriately adapting to these changes.
The authors wish to thank ProRail, which manages The Netherlands rail infrastructure, for enabling
and nancing this research.
Received20 August 2019
Revised30 September 2019
Accepted15 October 2019
Journalof Public Procurement
Vol.20 No. 1, 2020
pp. 1-19
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JOPP-08-2019-0052
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Procurement instrument development can be both costly and risky. Not only does the
development processitself consume scarce resources, the application of the newly developed
instrument in a real-lifesourcing situation may also prove to be unsuccessful.Therefore, it is
crucial that successful new procurement instruments do not remain one-off trials but are
reused and furtherimproved after their rst application in a sourcing project.
Although reuse is benecial,it is not self-evident that such reuse occurs. In particular,for
public clients operating in a multi-project environment (Aritua et al.,2009), reuse can be
problematic. For such clients, reuse requires learning from projects, which is known to be
notoriously difcult in project-based organizations (Bartsch et al.,2013;Chronéer and
Backlund, 2015;Hartmannand Dorée, 2015).
When it comes to procurement instruments, defectivelearning can lead to inefciencies.
Instead of further improving on an instruments performance, the same mistakes can be
made again by another sourcing team in another project. Instruments may even be
reinvented, and this can go unnoticed. Clearly, to avoid such inefciencies, project-based
public clients need to nd ways to effectively reuse successful innovative procurement
This paper examines the idea that effective reuse can be managed through the
application of appropriate integration mechanisms.This idea is based on general
ambidexterity theory, which identies integration mechanisms as means to stimulate
knowledge ow betweenexploration and exploitation units or activities (Raisch et al.,2009).
In general, ambidexterity has been dened as the ability of an organization to
simultaneously pursue both explorative (discontinuous) and exploitative (incremental)
innovation (Junni et al., 2013). As the use and development of procurement instruments by
public clients can be considered as exploitation and exploration activities, ambidexterity
may offer a valuable theoretical lens for investigating how to manage the effectivereuse of
innovative procurementinstruments.
Assuming that it is indeed key to apply appropriate integration mechanisms, the main
question is how this notion can be operationalized. This paper sets out to address this
question by drawing from a design science project (Wieringa,2014) in which an integration
mechanism is developed and implemented in the empirical context of a public clients
procurement department. In this project, the integration mechanism is interpreted in the
form of an organizational procedure. The purpose of this procedure is to enable further
exploitation of successful one-off procurement instrument innovations. The goal of the
design science project was to nd out what operationalprocedure design would be workable
in such an empirical setting.
Organizational ambidexterity (OA) is not a common concept in the public procurement
literature. Its applicability in examining public procurement issues may even be disputed.
Therefore, this paper starts by explaining what OA entails, why it is applicable in the
present context and how, in this study, its main concepts of exploitation, exploration and
integration mechanisms are transposed. This leads to the presentation of an initial
conceptual framework that formed the basis for the conceptual approach in the design
science project. The mainbody of the paper presents the procedures content, and how it was
developed and implemented.The discussion section not only reects on the projects results
but also proposes an extension to the initialconceptual framework.
2. Conceptualizing the integration mechanism
2.1 General ambidexterity theory
The role and functioning of the integration mechanism needs to be understood from the
background of general OA theory. Ambidexterity refers to an organizations capacityto do

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