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GloNet aims at designing, developing, and deploying an agile virtual enterprise environment for networks of SMEs involved in highly customized and service-enhanced products through end-to-end collaboration with customers and local suppliers (co-creation). GloNet implements the glocal enterprise notion with value creation from global networked operations and invol­ving global supply chain management, product-service linkage, and management of distributed manufacturing units.

There is a growing trend in manufacturing to move towards highly customized products, ultimately one-of-a-kind, which is reflected in the term mass customization. In fact, mass customization refers to a customer co-design process of products and services which meet the needs/choices of each individual customer with regard to the variety of different product features. Important challenges in such manufacturing contexts can be elicited from the requirements of complex technical infrastructures, like security infrastructures, alternative energy, or illumination systems in large public buildings or urban equipments, but also in more traditional complex products such as customized kitchens:

  • These products typically require a variety of competencies and resources, hardly available in a single enterprise, which calls for collaboration among several companies and individuals.
  • In many cases operations are performed within a fixed solution space, characterized by stable but still flexible and responsive processes, which can highly benefit from ICT support. As a result, the costs associated with customization allow for a price level that does not imply a switch in an upper market segment.
  • A complex multi-supplier product with a high degree of customization would benefit from associated services (e.g. maintenance support, assistance wizard, etc.), which are more difficult to plan and arrange than with standardized mass products.
  • Customization demands that the recipients of the customized goods transfer their specific needs and desires into a concrete product specification. This calls for customers’ integration into value creation to detailed defining, configuring, matching, and/or modifying an individual solution. Different from a do-it-yourself setting (i.e. autonomous creation activities by consumers), this is done in close interaction with the customer, who will contribute to co-creating the product/service with the manufacturer (or provider) responsible for providing the customized solution.

From a strategic management perspective, mass customization is a differentiated strategy. Customers gain from the customization of the increment of utility and variation of a good that better fits to their needs than the best standard product attainable. The larger the heterogeneity of all customers' preferences, the larger is this gain in utility and variation. From a managerial point of view, customization can be carried out with regard to fit, style, functionality, etc. Matching the level of customization offered by a manufacturer with the customers' needs becomes a major success factor. Providing European SMEs with adequate ICT support environments for mass customization therefore gives them a leading edge over other competitors from others regions that are more competitive in mass production of standardized products.

Overcoming the economic crisis requires companies to focus on exporting, namely to act in emerging markets such as the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), which is difficult for SMEs to compete in, if working alone. In this context, many enterprises are struggling to survive in the currently turbulent markets, whilst some become leaders in gain­ing new markets and effectiveness by targeting their future in terms of new products and services, or some other emerging technologies,  having their focus already on technical innovation and strong customer-orientation. When focusing on customizable complex products, a domain where European companies might have an opportunity, it is important to be aware of the socio-economic, traditional, cultural, and perhaps even religious context surrounding the customer. A collaborative network involving not only a network of European manufacturers, but also the customer and some local suppliers is thus beneficial and necessary. Since the main customers of complex products and technical infrastructures are public entities, it is even frequently the case that the collaboration with local suppliers is a contractual requirement. Development of the required support platforms interlinked with the development of adequate organizational and governance models to facilitate the rapid formation and effective operation of such partnerships as planned by GloNet will give European SMEs a high competitive advantage.

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