Forget platforms: Business ecosystems are the future

Digital Perspectives

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November 24, 2017
Forget platforms: Business ecosystems are the future
By: Zahra Bahrololoumi

Business platforms hold the key to success in the new digital era. Right? That’s certainly what we’ve been told day in day out over the past year or two. Indeed, research we carried out last year backed this contention up, with 93 percent of the CEOs saying that their survival depends on them becoming platform businesses. However, I suspect that the platform business is in fact a stepping stone to something much more rewarding: Business ecosystems.

Why were platforms "in?"

The idea was sound. Moving beyond unsophisticated approaches to competition, platform businesses created a flatter, collaborative model where the focus is on enabling customer-centricity. And if this means teaming up with competitors to offer a more expansive service, then so much the better.

The platform business kings, the likes of Uber, Amazon, Airbnb, Salesforce, Facebook and the rest, earned their success by leveraging existing social and economic relations and feeding them into technology and novelty. But I’d argue one thing they didn’t do is truly understand their services. Take Facebook: It knows a heck of a lot about data, but a great deal less about friendships.

Enter business ecosystems

However, if platforms have been important - and they have - their real value lies in their extension to the broader idea of business ecosystems. This is a future where businesses address the risks of disruption by building their own platforms and placing themselves at the heart of highly effective and innovative digital ecosystems, based on services they truly understand. These ecosystems will enable next-generation value chains and new sources of innovation, while driving demand for new skillsets.

GM’s business ecosystem

The power of business ecosystems is plain to see in the example of GM. The legendary car manufacturer realised that the automotive industry is going through a prolonged period of wholesale disruption, and has built its ecosystem accordingly. First, it launched a bold partnership with ride-share platform Lyft, which has provided GM with access to a pool of well-off consumers who have the added attraction of not owning a car - consumers, that’s to say, who could register for a quality GM car immediately.

But GM also realised that the idea of car ownership is changing. The company therefore went on a spending spree, shelling out around $1 billion acquiring the autonomous vehicle software company Cruise Automation, and another $1bn building on an autonomous vehicle testing facility in Detroit. All this because GM has seen that in the future most cars will be self-driving. Thanks to its ecosystem approach, it’s now likely that many of these self-driving cars will bear a GM badge.

Light at the end of the tunnel

For me, the rise of business ecosystems suggest that the future is positive for businesses that are willing to do things differently. Over the past five years enterprises have spent a great deal of time dealing in fear, uncertainty and dread; scared to death that the "geeks" will inherit the world thanks to their digital innovations.

Today, I think, we’re all beginning to realise that digital technology offers us more-than-enough opportunities to compensate for any of the downsides. The ecosystems that this technology enables secures the future for enterprises; building a web of expertise, skills and services that puts enterprises back at the heart of innovation. All you have to do is grab the opportunity with both hands.

Accenture is offering businesses the chance to immerse themselves in its own business ecosystem and to learn how they can build their own. Accenture’s Kaleidoscope event is being held today, 27th November at the Tate Modern. Follow the action on social media #Kaleidoscope2017 #AdaptYourLens.

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