Flexible Specialisation, Competitive Advantage and Business Structuring in the UK Computer Industry (CBR project)


The computer industry, which includes the production of computer hardware, software and services, was one of the UK’s most important ‘high-technology’ industries, employing 220,000 workers in 1995. Yet during the 1990s, UK computer firms were faced with intense competitive pressures and rapidly changing technology and market demand. Within this context, this project investigated the impact of changing technology, market demand and globalisation of production on business organisation, performance and location within this important industry. The research covered both computer hardware manufacturing, dominated by foreign direct investment and large companies, and computer software and services, both of which have experienced a considerable growth of smaller indigenous UK companies.

Some of the questions which the research sought to investigate includes the following:

  • How and why do ownership patterns by sector within the industry differ between hardware and software/services producers, and how important is technological convergence in explaining these patterns?
  • What is the relative role of FDI and acquisition, on the one hand, and indigenous company formation and ownership, on the other, in the different sub-sectors of the UK computer industry, and what factors explain observed differences?
  • How does company performance vary within the industry, and what factors appear to be associated with, if not explain, performance variations?
  • How innovative are UK computer firms in the different sub-sectors, and what factors appear to be associated with greater or lesser innovativeness?

Principal investigators

  • David Keeble
  • Suma Athreye


83 face-to-face interviews of hardware, software and services firms in the computer industry were conducted in the South East England and Northern Britain (North West England and Scotland). The interviews covered questions on the following topics: product range, origins and entrepreneurship, ownership, firm development and markets, competition and growth, inter-firm relations, technology and innovation, and investment and finance.

Dates of survey: The survey was carried out from 1996 to 1997.

Number of responses: The dataset consists of replies from 83 respondents.

Dataset: Computer Survey Dataset, 1990-1995 (SN4500)


Working papers

Athreye, S.S. (1999) The Determinants of Firm Innovative Behaviour: the Roles of Rivalry and Persistence, CBR Working Paper, No 131, Cambridge.

Journal articles

Athreye, S.S. and Keeble, D. (2000): ‘Technological convergence, globalisation and patterns of ownership in the UK Computer Sector’; Technovation, Vol.20 (5): 227-245.

Athreye, S.S. and Keeble, D. (2001)’Competition, Rivalry and Innovative Behaviour’. Economics of Innovation and New Technology, Vol. 10(1) .

Book chapters

Athreye, S.S. (2000) ‘Technology Policy and Innovation: The role of competition between firms’ in Conceicao, P., Gibson, D.V., Heitor, M. Gann, and Shariq, S. (eds.) Science Technology and Innovation Policy: opportunities and challenges for the knowledge economy. Quorum Books. Connecticut, USA.

Athreye, S.S. (2002) ‘The evolution of the UK software market: demand and the role of competencies’ in Metcalfe, S. and Warde, A. (eds.) Markets as instituted socio-economic processes. Manchester University Press, in press and to be published in 2002. ( Also available as Open University Discussion papers in Economics, No. 31. Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)

Other survey findings

The CBR has produced a number of surveys.

View our survey output