Now that Gartner’s 2016 Hype Cycle report is out, those of you charged with developing a 2017 strategy for your business know generally what technology components are mature enough for you to consider using in your products and services design, delivery and pricing strategies.[1]

I believe that the following approach will now help you rapidly develop and implement strategies that will get your products and delivery systems (including parts of your supply chain) into the digital ecosystem.[2]

Start by asking these questions:

  1. How much have the markets which my products and services play in moved into the digital ecosystem? If you are in the media business, the answer is 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. That is a no-brainer. If you are in Healthcare, the HIPPA regulations of Electronic Health Records (EHR) may be so constraining, that even basic big data analytics implementation is not practically possible (See this article, for example, written by physicians on EHR describing how regulations constrain their ability to use digital technology to treat their patients). So you score may be 3 at most. You get the idea and accordingly should work on what is possible within the constraints that your market operates in.
  2. Where is my organization on the digital ecosystem adaptive scale? Now, this is a subjective assessment for each organization: how knowledgeable and comfortable are the people in the organization with the digital ecosystem? How enabling are the processes in your organization for working within it? And this assessment has to include all people, the sales and operations (and yes IT), as well as accounting and executives and the Board of Directors. Depending on how you answer this question, you will begin devising a practical strategy that fits your organization: at one end, it may be creation of a small cell that works independently of the current organization to build prototype products and services to take you into the digital ecosystem. At the other end, you may roll out budgeted implementation plans for specific digital products and services throughout your organization. And there is lots of in-between. It depends on what fits and works for your organization at this moment in time.

3. What is the current business cycle position and financial health of my organization? If your business is in a stagnant mode and the CFO is telling you there is not much cash to risk towards moves into digital ecosystem, perhaps 2017 is not the year you are going to do it. Having said that, it is only likely to get worse next year. But, hopefully you are in either growing or at least in stable markets and have some surplus cash in hand, so investing in products and services to move you further into the digital ecosystem is the smart and affordable thing to do.

Once you have figured out answers to the questions above, and they take you towards digital ecosystem projects, what criteria should you use to identify, design and implement those that will have direct rapid and positive impact? Here are three broad criteria I use to identify viable digital ecosystem projects:

  1. The project has to be able to show an order of magnitude decrease in current cost basis when operational.
  2. It has to deliver the ability to scale rapidly.
  3. Scaling should be at very low to zero marginal costs.

To sum up, there is a structured way in which you can develop a very high value-added and implementable project slate to move your products and services into the digital ecosystem as part of your 2017 strategy. How successful you are in developing and implementing this project slate (and more in each succeeding year) will likely determine viability of your enterprise by 2022.

Happy strategizing and implementing a niche for your business in the growing digital ecosystem!

[1] I am not talking about IT or CIO strategies: the question in that context should be whether your enterprise even needs a CIO or enterprise IT. You can download an entire e-book here on that topic, titled First, Break IT from MuleSoft. I am not in any way connected with MuleSoft.

[2] I am using the term digital ecosystem in the broadest sense of operational business architectures connecting many businesses to many customers using technology components of public cloud, big data analytics (with graphical databases and R programming for example), machine learning (including deep learning), Internet of Things and capability to access and deliver on multiple device types seamlessly. The term itself has been widely used and accepted by the technology innovation space, media and by the World Economic Forum. Wikipedia has a detailed entry describing the term, with the introduction as follows: A digital ecosystem is a distributed, adaptive, open socio-technical system with properties of self-organisation, scalability and sustainability inspired from natural ecosystems. Digital ecosystem models are informed by knowledge of natural ecosystems, especially for aspects related to competition and collaboration among diverse entities. The term is used in the computer industry, the entertainment industry, and the World Economic Forum.