The Construction of Knowledge Transfer Amongst Dispersed Corporate Spaces (Knowledge Integration and Differentiation in Offshore Platform Design)



This presentation is concerned with the construction of knowledge transfer in the context of large, geographically dispersed corporate contexts. As far as firms are concerned, I illustrate that knowledge transfer has less to do with the movement of abstract, basic knowledge, and has more to do with the orchestration of existing capabilities that are already inscribed in the firms geographically differentiated structure and are already adjusted to the logic characteristic of a particular context of activity, business logic or profession. The proposed approach, however, is not intended to support only a firm-centred view of knowledge transfer. Without liquefying the organizational structures aimed at integrating knowledge, I explored how coordination, division of labour, and technological product interfaces may be patterned according to existing, global, and multiple structures of practices, which are generated by structuring conditions that extend far beyond the boundaries of every project and that condition specialists working around analogous innovative solutions. I argue that the firms or projects embeddness within infrastructures of technological and scientific knowledge defines opportunities and limitations associated with knowledge transfer amongst dispersed corporate spaces.

I contrast a firm-centred with a community of practitioners approach to the nature and locus of engineering knowledge by examining a project concerned with the development of an offshore platform for ultra-deep sea oil exploration, Octabuoy. The development of Octabuoy took place within a relationship between two geographically separate units which until recently belonged to two separate firms. The project's organisation mirrored the decomposable architecture of the platform and relied on the definition of clear technical and organisational interfaces between the two units. As the project got under way, the initial assumptions concerning the architecture of Octabuoy and project organisation proved unworkable. My explanation of the reasons why this happened sheds further light on how the opportunities and limitations of transferring technological practices are configured through mechanisms that are internal to the evolution and structure of scientific and technological practices. Information: Ir.dr. J.C.M. van den Ende, e-mail:, Tel. 010-4082299