Contemporary E-Commerce solutions are often developed and delivered in inter-firm setups with various business partners involved. Furthermore, E-Commerce projects are often characterised by innovative, ill-structured tasks that depend on new technologies to develop new business concepts. Management of E-Commerce projects and the subsequently resulting relationships with business partners thus is challenging and demanding. Surprisingly, project and partner management issues in E-Commerce have been largely unaddressed so far. Based on case study research, this paper takes an inter-firm perspective of E-Commerce and addresses characteristic features of multi partner E-Commerce projects. We argue that management in complex inter-firm relationships must to a significant extent rely on informal and social mechanisms of coordination due to the non-contractible nature of ill-structured tasks. Social capital theory referring to the value of social relationships and networks is used to guide this research. Based on our case study analysis, we are able to distinguish different types and life-cycle phases of E-Commerce relationships and subsequently to identify different roles of social capital. By applying social capital theory we are not only able to point out management implications, but also to enrich the general discussion of social aspects in inter-firm relationships which to date is largely dominated by concepts like trust and culture.
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