Digital Transformation and Organizational Networks: A Multi-Level Network Perspective

Mylène Struijk, Spyros Angelopoulos, Carol Ou


To remain competitive, organizations in all industries need to keep up with emerging digital technologies. Such technologies can drastically change the way organizations function, by providing stakeholders with new and improved ways to communicate and interact. As a result, digital technologies play an increasingly crucial role in the value chain, which posits opportunities—such as better communication and, hence, alignment between products or services and consumer demands—as well as threats, due to the increased complexity of the interaction and communication networks. It becomes, thus, crucial to understand how and when the deployment of digital technologies influences the complexity of organizational networks in their multiple levels of interaction and communication, and vice versa. In this paper, we explore how organizational networks evolve over time during digital transformation projects, and how the organizational network affects—and is affected by—the initiation, process, and outcome of digital transformation. We conduct a longitudinal study at a multinational military command (AirTrans), which coordinates the air operations of 7 European nations and has initiated a digital transformation project. AirTrans handles the air transport missions of the 7 participating nations, including cargo and human transport, air-to-air refueling, and aeromedical evacuations; it operates 24/7/365 from 13 bases in the participating nations, performs an average of 60 missions per day, and manages 60% of all military air transport assets in Europe. Apart from the 7 participating nations, the stakeholders of AirTrans include military broker agencies, hospitals, regulatory agencies such as the NATO, and humanitarian agencies. We explore the inter-personal and inter-organizational networks between the various stakeholders using multi-level social network analysis at the beginning, the duration, and at the end of the digital transformation project, to understand how the organizational network evolves at the various levels over time, and how it affects the processes of digital transformation. As the aim of AirTrans is to synthesize knowledge from the participating nations in a way that brings value to these nations through its operations, its operational performance largely depends on the ability to collect information, transform it into knowledge, and share it with the stakeholders. Hence, we incorporate a Knowledge-Based View of the organization, which considers knowledge as the most important resource of organizations. We use Network Canvas to construct the longitudinal inter-personal network through a series of semi-structured interviews at AirTrans, the participating nations, and the other stakeholders during the initiation, process, and end of the digital transformation project. Our findings contribute to theory by shedding light onto the relation among the various levels of organizational networks and the process of digital transformation. Finally, our work can provide insights on how organizational networks affect the process and outcome of digital transformation and vice versa, enabling the design of digital transformation strategies by incorporating social network interventions.

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