Ecosystem Building: A Corporate Game Plan for Collaboration

According to an Accenture Study of 2017, more than 97% of major companies believe that future business models will be created within ecosystems — but only a small minority sees their company culture ready for collaboration in a more or less open space. Building ecosystems is a social and cultural challenge for many incumbent players — and it’s far more than meetups in stylish lofts, design thinking workshops, or simply bundling startups and business partners around a more or less proprietary platform.

Ecosystems emerge through cooperation of a wide range of different players — startups, companies, platforms, services providers, consultants, research hubs and more, to solve common problems.

Many larger corporations and industry sections have developed single elements of an ecosystem but lack the social and cultural fuel to innovate within a network: collaborative skills and instruments, creative freedom and vibrancy and a strategic perspective to build an innovative social environment with external players.

Ecosystem Building is the way to create a structured framework out of the noise and complexity of digital transformation. It is a process of social acceleration, designed to overcome organizational limitations in speed, expertise, talent, technology and flexibility. As a result, the whole aims to be greater than the sum of its parts.

This Game Plan combines a digital change framework with the logic of ecosystem building.

Ecosystem Building: Starting a social Innovation Journey

1. Getting Started: Assess your Company

Building an ecosystem culture or moving into existing ecosystem structures always starts with an assessment of a company’s firsthand innovation and development goals and existing own “social skills”, to direct a social innovation process:

Define your focus topics: Select future topics and upcoming specific challenges of your business.

Checklist: potential sources:

· The “-tech” version of a business, like fintech, insurtech, legaltech, healthtech, etc. Startups in those areas offer a mosaic of alternating, additional or competitive approaches — and manifold ways to create something new together.

· Future technologies, like blockchain, AI or IoT, providing alternate structures, processes, even business models.

· Additional services, products or business models. In the digital sphere, almost everything can be connected and recombined with everything — resulting in uncountable new business opportunities.

· Transformative technologies: In many cases future solutions are already at hands, like data management applications, or software-as-a-service.

Focus topics mark only a starting point for your social exploration in an ecosystem. They will evolve during the course of networking.

Set up a Pioneering Team: Pioneering teams work like a social “special force” to build cultural bridgeheads for corporate network connections. These pioneers combine social and business skills like:

· Profound understanding of cultural differences between business and startup working cultures and sensitivity for both spheres.

· Experimental mindset to explore ideas via testing, prototyping

· An agile work-style

· Sharing culture towards external partners and internal experts and teams

· Networking and story-telling power as speakers, dot connectors, intrapreneurs, innovators.

The pioneering team is also the company’s hub to permanent ecosystem building on operational and strategic level.

Assess Corporate Culture and Social Skills: In an ecosystem, the value of any business expertise depends on it’s connectivity. Social skills make expertise work as an ecosystem resource, like:

· Ability to collaborate and proactively share knowledge or resources

· A dose of entrepreneurial spirit, like test- and failure mentality

· Results- not only roles or compliance driven

· Open minded, curious and willing to experiment and learn

Especially the core teams of digital transformation like innovation, strategy, product development, IT, HR need such a skill-set to unleash their network opportunities.

Involve internal experts and ensure management support: Efficient ecosystem building needs a strong support by the top management and involvement of internal multipliers. An approved set of cooperation models before starting off and assured compliance will boost your flexibility and speed as an ecosystem networker.

Plan internal Communication: Building up networks and communities means creating viral effects outside and within organizations. In many cases, good internal communication will reveal hidden expertise or network talent under the surface of formal corporate structures.

2. Systemic Analysis of the Ecosystem Environment

Beyond corporate structures, every company is a social network. Your internal assessment might reveal quite a bunch of already existing ecosystem interactions and meeting points to various players to build on. Systemic ecosystem analysis is a structural frame for getting the internal and external dots together and enhance further development on a strategic level:

Identify ecosystem channels, hubs and interfaces: Ecosystem interfaces are the social fuel of collaboration, events or digital channels

Checklist for Channel research:

· meetups, talks or conferences

· startup pitch competitions

· Institutions like research bases, accelerators, startup programs, labs, etc.

· Social intersections like coworking spaces or research parks

· Social collaboration platforms, messaging services or like slack, telegram, reddit groups, blogger networks or social media streams & groups

Create your Ecosystem Map: A systemic Ecosystem Map is a visualization of the roles, positions and interactions of the different players and participants, referring to the defined areas of interest. It can be used as a qualitative working model for corporate relationship building. The Map defines:

· Needs, roles and potentials of the players

· Social starting points for your pioneer team

· Opportunities for interconnection and exploration

· Your company’s current and desired position

Define your Contribution to the network: Your own ecosystem positioning is built upon the benefits others receive through your participation. Companies can promote ecosystem building via:

· Shared knowledge & Insights

· Challenges and Incentives

· Expertise in collaboration, like ideation coaching, mentoring etc.

· Locations or meeting space

· Development resources, like acceleration processes etc.

· Sponsoring of collective events

· VC

· Access to data or insights

· API-Access

· Fun & entertainment: Don’t forget: A party is also a meeting point

– And of course, there are unlimited opportunities to create individual contributions.

Establish Monitoring and ongoing Analytics: An ecosystem is a journey, not a club and requires ongoing reflections and measurement according to initial goals.

Define your Roadmap: Ecosystem building is a social career path for any participant. Your own ecosystem career path starts with participation, learning and getting familiar with the culture of discourse and collaboration. The Social skills, culture, team, relations and business results should always be balanced and help each other grow:

3. Ecosystem Building: Start your Journey

Learning by doing is the founding principle of any ecosystem. The different players learn about each other, about collective windows of opportunity, effective ways to collaborate and about their own specific benefits within a network of innovators. In the initial stage of ecosystem relationship building, pioneer teams should:

· Introduce themselves, their skills and goals and become visual

· Start offering ecosystem contributions — whatever is at hands or needed

· Get familiar with resources players and cultural specifics

· Join events and discussions

· Build trust in their expertise by participating and acting

· Learn about opportunities for fellow experts and teams in their company

· Explore ways to get a more active role within the community

· Start promoting ecosystem activities in internal company communication and offer ways to participate

The starting point of journey depends on the network and skills you bring in and varies from player to player.

Network: In ecosystems ‘social’ is capital and the quality of your network and collaborative skills determines your business revenue. Building up your ecosystem relations means creating a market of people, ideas, — and it means managing diversity and complexity instead of following rules:

· Scan talent, knowledge, approaches and complementary business models

· Identify links and references towards own business models

· Develop individual offers to players of key interest

· Connect the dots between company experts and ecosystem players

· Assess collaboration skills of your internal experts

Collaborate: Establish working relationships according to your ecosystem map, via sharing, collaboration, partnering or investment:

· Together with teams and departments: Define business goals to be reached through collaboration

· Expand the pioneer team, add selected company experts

· Set up acceleration programs, hackathons or design thinking workshops with colleagues and ecosystem partners

· Empower colleagues via coaching and mentoring, lead by role models

· Introduce own channels and hubs for your efforts

· Scale and diversify the scope of your ecosystem relations: add new players with additional technologies, offers, services and topics (f.e. cross industry cooperations).


· Develop new collaborative business models, product- and service lines with ecosystem partners

· Complete missing links in your customer journey with external resources

· Experiment: Use diversity of skills and mind-sets to discover opportunities, you could not think of on your own

· Feedback working results into your company

Change: Ecosystem Building is an essential pillar of digital transformation. It is always linked with a redefinition of inside-out relationship of a company and cultural change:

· Connect or adjust internal processes towards collaboration and working on shared prototypes

· Create buzz around successful ecosystem projects and offer hints for colleagues

· Start internal pilot projects on intrapreneurship

· Initiate cross technology / cross industry projects

· Refine and readjust your initial assumptions and get started for the next level.

There’s no fixed masterplan for building network relationships. Starting the ecosystem journey means ongoing traveling, not reaching a final goal. This KIT is a starter to build a company-specific ecosystem strategy. Good luck for your travel — and feel free to connect in case of further interest.

Sources & Recommended Read:

Management’s next Frontier: Making the most of the Ecosystem Economy, by @McKinsey

Corporate Banking and the Ecosystems of the Future, by Oliver Bussmann

70% of Value in Tech is Driven by Network Effects, by @Nfa , Seed and series A /venture firm

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