Find Your Place in a Digital Ecosystem

Companies must explore whether they will lead or partner in digital ecosystems.

Ecosystems have the potential to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges and that means that companies need to be thinking about what role they will take and the potential value ecosystems will create.

“Every company will compete as a business ecosystem,” said Daryl Plummer, managing vice president, chief of Research and chief Gartner Fellow, in the opening keynote at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2016 in Orlando. “Avoiding participation in ecosystems is not an option.”

Consider the potential for ecosystems for agricultural industries. The larger agricultural ecosystem breaks down to three smaller ecosystems that come together to create a multi-industry network. The first ecosystem includes companies selling connected tractors and dealers and maintenance companies that provide connected services. The second ecosystem has seed and fertilizer suppliers, with satellite services, analytics and weather information for increased sophistication in seed planting. Together these two ecosystems offer the potential for autonomous tractors to plant the right seed in the right place at the right depth. The third ecosystem, made up of financial commodities futures company, offers the farmer crop prices so he can decide when and what mix of crops to plant.

Gartner analyst Hung LeHong shares an example of agricultural ecosystems.
Gartner analyst Hung LeHong describes how companies will participate in ecosystems in the opening keynote at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2016.

Lead, partner, or both

These opportunities will create urgency for companies, but before jumping in, CIOs and IT leaders must consider the role their companies will act in the ecosystem and if the organization should lead, partner, or both.

For some companies, it makes more sense to lead the ecosystem. The port of Hamburg chose to lead the SmartPort project, which will bring together waterway, rail, and roadway partners and add hundreds of sensors, video, and data feeds for intelligent management of traffic.

Avoiding participation in ecosystems is not an option.

For industries such as healthcare, it may make more sense to partner. In future eldercare, hospitals could partner with mobile device companies to deliver healthcare wherever an elder may be located. Autonomous vehicles, operated by companies such as Ford and BMW, would allow elderly people to be more mobile thus creating another ecosystem. In this case, Ford both leads and partners in the ecosystem.

“It’s happening everywhere, in every industry, every enterprise, large and small,” said co-presenter Hung LeHong, VP and Gartner Fellow in Gartner Research.

Embrace Your Frenemies

Competition, however, can make some partnerships more difficult.

“A partner-based ecosystem requires collaboration,” said Mr. Plummer. “It requires your enterprise to be friends with your enemies.”

For example, R3CEV, a banking consortia of over fifty of the world’s largest banks, works together on ways to efficiently employ blockchain. By working together as partners, the banks are moving towards a more efficient, regulator-pleasing system.

What does the ecosystem future look like?

According the Mr. LeHong, “Our business lives will be ecosystem-driven, crowd funded, socially agreed, 3D printed, drone inspected, sharing economy provided, usage metered, predictively maintained and blockchain assured.”

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A video replay of this session will be available on Gartner Events on Demand.
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