Changing the game with digital ecosystems

(Second of two parts)

To create long-term value and secure a competitive advantage, it is imperative for companies to undergo digital transformation and address rapidly-evolving consumer expectations as many economies begin preparing to reopen and start the period of recovery. Consumers today expect responsiveness and a variety of channels to access with a hyper-personalized experience. The need for digital interaction, online consumerism characterized by expectations of high responsiveness and extensive personalization, and new technology platforms were further accelerated by the pandemic. Companies forced to innovate and enhance business models through technology have blurred the boundaries between industries, leading to the emergence of what we call digital ecosystems.

Digital ecosystems are defined in a new EY study, Building successful digital ecosystems in Southeast Asia, as competitive game-changers. Formed through a combination of strategic partnerships and platforms, digital ecosystems deliver value to consumers through personalized products and services that cut across numerous channels. By presenting an interconnected set of offerings composed of businesses across various sectors, a digital ecosystem can fulfill consumer needs in one integrated experience.

To create an effective digital ecosystem roadmap and strategy, the EY study highlights three things companies must take into account before embarking on their digital ecosystem journey. In the first part of this article last week, we discussed the first two: evaluating the digital ecosystem maturity of the organization and defining the business model. In the second part of this article, we continue by discussing implementing and mobilizing the ecosystem.

Once organizations identify a digital ecosystem opportunity, they need to follow certain steps to design an ecosystem. The first step consists of identifying the most suitable role for organizations to undertake: digital ecosystem partner, enabler, or orchestrator. Once their role is identified, organizations need to determine their business model based on digital and platform maturity and partnership ecosystem. Additional significant aspects that will need to be addressed include assessing and determining the nature of the ecosystem, product market fit for integrated solutions, and the monetization model to generate value from the ecosystem.

Moreover, to further sustain and scale the reach and capabilities of the ecosystem, organizations need to identify the key enablers of the digital ecosystem. These include organization structure and culture, talent pool, the technology stack and external resources that will need to be progressively developed to create a sustainable digital ecosystem.

Lastly, critical to building a successful digital ecosystem is understanding and creating the digital ecosystem evolution roadmap. This involves mapping maturity of the business within the ecosystem, building and growing partnerships, identifying the potential pitfalls of the digital ecosystem and designing a risk mitigation plan.

The ultimate aim for organizations should be to assume the role of an ecosystem orchestrator who defines the reference architecture of the ecosystem. Of the three roles in an ecosystem — orchestrator, partner and enabler — orchestrators are pivotal players in any ecosystem, often outperforming other entities in terms of revenue and profit. With the larger control they hold over ecosystem dynamics, they are also subject to being more exposed to the gains and losses of the ecosystem.

Whether the orchestrator is an incumbent or an innovator, a business can mobilize a digital ecosystem in multiple ways: the build, buy and partner approach.

The build approach has the orchestrator begin with its own platform before organically involving and adding industry partners to expand. This includes ride-sharing apps that built the platform organically and were later joined by drivers and partners.

The buy approach is where the orchestrator strategically invests in platform-based businesses through mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and investments to add upon their existing capabilities and customers. The investment made can be for small, strategic investments to get partners on board, or a majority stake.

The partner approach leverages joint ventures, strategic contracts and alliances to develop a customized, platform-based offering that connects stakeholders and customers across different industries. These can also involve data-sharing or licensing arrangements between partners.

Though digital ecosystems were originally believed to be relevant only to selected industries and regions, recent times have seen dominant ecosystem players accelerate their activities worldwide. This is only expected to intensify with the world continuing to prioritize digital interactions in the wake of the pandemic.

The complex structure of digital ecosystems requires enterprises to define the right approach to maximize the value they can gain. It will be essential for businesses to assess how they create value to align their digital ecosystem strategy with the overall strategic vision of the company. They will need to assess market trends and identify the specific fit for their organization within the ecosystem.

Questions that businesses must ask themselves include what opportunities to capitalize on the enterprise digital spend, how to build integrated, future-ready IT and data architecture, and how to digitally enable their workforce to drive transformation. After determining the maturity of the platform opportunity in their sector, the incumbents and disruptors in the current landscape, and whether their business model is best suited for the role of orchestrator or participant, businesses will need to assess and lock in quality partners through strong value propositions and develop one-stop solutions to commercialize the value chain end-to-end.

By identifying the key objectives they need to achieve, be it core business growth, entry into new market segments or optimization within their operations, businesses will be able to more effectively map out their roles within an ecosystem and secure long-term value.

This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.


Marie Stephanie C. Tan-Hamed is a Strategy and Transactions Partner of SGV & Co.