What is a digital ecosystem?

by Julian Downs on 14/08/2013 10:22

Digital Ecosystem shown in Google TrendsThe world is becoming digital and this digitisation is leading to greater connectivity and interaction that easily crosses the old traditional boundaries (such as the boundary of your organisation). Digitisation is resulting in the reality that we operate within a larger digital ecosystem, a complex environment that we cannot control, where different organisations and people with different objectives participate.

The concept of digital ecosystem is relatively new, as presented in the above graph from the Google Trends tool which shows the sudden growth in search interest for the term ‘digital ecosystem’ from 2009.

Equinox IT is the only New Zealand owned IT consultancy to sponsor the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) and the CISR have been researching digital ecosystems. In their April 2013 research briefing The Next Generation Enterprise: Thriving in an Increasingly Digital Ecosystem they define a business ecosystem as “a coordinated network of enterprises, devices and consumers that create value”. They then overlay this definition with a digital perspective “enabled by digital channels”.

Wikipedia describes a digital ecosystem as “a distributed, adaptive, open socio-technical system with properties of self-organisation, scalability and sustainability inspired from natural ecosystems.”

Equinox IT explores digital ecosystems

At Equinox IT we have been further exploring the concept of digital ecosystems. A recent Chatter feed (think internal version of Twitter) with contribution from many of our consultants explored the concept from different perspectives. Here are some excerpts from that chain of discussion:

“A digital ecosystem is as a complex value chain of distributed suppliers, with contributors specializing in providing either the creative content (or collaborating to create it), or the platform for distribution of that content. Amazon and Apple are great examples of platform suppliers.”

Digital ecosystems use “a metaphor based on the biological ecosystems which have organisms and flows of energy and nutrients between the organisms, I see it as a matter of equating the elements in the metaphor with the human digital environment”. “The combination of B2B and B2C process interactions viewed from the perspective of an entity or entities. The ecosystem boundary defined by degrees of separation from original entities.”

“At a high level an ecosystem moves from us from a B2B and a B2C to BwithB and even a BwithC paradigm.” “The first big boost for the nascent digital ecosystem in Wellington was the initiation of widespread decent connectivity, i.e. CityLink, ... Connectivity is much more fundamental than any layer above.”

“The comment of ‘no one is an island’ springs to mind. When thinking about an ecosystem it is about the connections, collaboration, dependencies and relationships that exist both explicitly and implicitly.”

“In the digital ecosystem, the ecological participants who are in the symbiotic, predatory and tenuous coexistence relationships are consumers, businesses, governments and criminals. The cute little iPhones and cloud accounting systems are just the tools, habitats and excreta of the consumers, businesses, governments and criminals. Because of the human agents, compared to the Pony Express the digital ecosystem can deliver more information further and faster, but a lower proportion of the service provided has real value and the system overall is much less trustworthy.”

Digitisation strategies in local and central government

Local and central government are responding to the need for digitisation and digital ecosystems, as shown in their strategies:

Hear MIT’s Dr Peter Weill present on digital ecosystems

On 23 August Dr Weill will present ‘Creating a Vibrant Digital Ecosystem’ in an event hosted by Equinox IT together with the Wellington City Council. The presentation is targeted at business and IT professionals and will be based on MIT CISR digital ecosystems research with reference to Wellington's digital ecosystem context.

Your views

There is most likely no one correct definition of a digital ecosystem. We all participate in ecosystems and the experience is different for everyone. What are your views on digital ecosystems? How would you answer the question ‘what is a digital ecosystem?’


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