Business Ecosystem, Innovation Ecosystem, Platform Ecosystem – How Many Ecosystem Terms Do We Really Need?

A large part of this blog is dedicated to the question of how today’s value creation is evolving away from a focus on individual companies towards collaborative value creation in ecosystems. One of the results of this development is that a lot of research is being conducted on ecosystems, which in turn is reflected in a multitude of ecosystem terms and definitions, such as digital business ecosystem or innovation ecosystem. This makes it difficult even for the interested reader to understand the research results presented. To what extent do these concepts really differ and can the findings of one field be applied to the other? I attempt answer this question in this blog post. First, for the sake of completeness, I provide an overview of the definition and components of an ecosystem from the perspective of the Competence Center Ecosystems and then use this definition to examine the differences from other ecosystem concepts and their relevance.

CC Ecosystems Definition of a Business Ecosystem

Business ecosystems are dynamically evolving communities of autonomous social and economic actors that interact through aligned technologies, norms, and rules to create mutual value in coupled business models (Burkhalter 2020). In other words, all actors in a business ecosystem are value co-creators (Valkokari 2015) and can take on different roles, such as consumer, orchestrator, provider, and contributor. The consumer uses the core service; the orchestrator coordinates services between participants by managing and regulating value flows; the provider delivers value in the form of products and services; and the contributor supports the other participants in the ecosystem with sub-services in using, delivering, and coordinating the core service (Burkhalter 2020). Together, they form new markets that can no longer be described by classic industry or sector concepts (Williamson and De Meyer 2019). These markets are served by a business ecosystem on a scale far beyond the capabilities of any single actor. Their collaborative value creation is aligned with an overarching mission. As an illustration, Uber’s mission is to make (passenger) transportation “as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone.” A business ecosystem is therefore formed around a core value proposition that can be fulfilled through specific services. The purpose represents the desired state that stakeholders collectively seek to achieve. Interaction and collaboration are based on both individual capabilities and needs of each actor, which must be orchestrated in the business ecosystem in a purposeful manner (Betz, Burkhalter, and Jung 2019). This is achieved, among other things, through the use of coordinated technologies, tools, and approaches. For the business ecosystem to function, each participating actor must make its contribution and also be able to derive its benefit from the ecosystem (Burkhalter 2020). The individual services of the actors complement each other, ultimately developing an offering in the business ecosystem that is greater than the sum of its parts (Jacobides, Cennamo, and Gawer 2018; Peltoniemi and Vuori 2004). Another example of an ecosystem is the TED conferences with the motto “Ideas worth spreading.”

Critical Reflection of Business Ecosystem Concepts in the Scientific Literature

The following section presents a selection of types of business ecosystems and shows how business ecosystems are defined or delimited on the basis of certain criteria. The individual approaches often illuminate similar aspects from different perspectives. For example, a more technically oriented perspective with a platform at the center can certainly help to understand value creation and interaction mechanisms. However, the perspective cannot provide comprehensive insight into the relationships between individual actors. Therefore, a combination of perspectives, depending on the object of analysis, often brings advantages.

A critical and practice-oriented reflection of the ecosystem types enables the derivation of the essential aspects of a business ecosystem, which is why the following business ecosystem types are now considered in more detail in Tab. 1: Customer-centric business ecosystem, digital business ecosystem, innovation ecosystem, IoT business ecosystem, knowledge ecosystem and platform ecosystem.

Table 1: Critical Reflection of Selected Business Ecosystem Types

Table 1 shows that business ecosystem concepts are not always clearly separable. A critical examination of the various business ecosystem types therefore allows for the following insights:

  1. The customer with his needs represents a central component and is addressed by a core value proposition.
  2. Value creation in a Business Ecosystem is based on the concept of co-creation of products and services involving all stakeholders.
  3. Business ecosystems usually use a platform as the central hub for overall collaboration.
  4. Technologies are seen as enablers to drive innovation. Therefore, digitalization is an essential component of a business ecosystem.

The blog post is an excerpt from the results of a scientific project. Other authors are Dr. Sara D’Onofrio, FMsquare Foundation (Lucerne); Ralph Hutter, Head Product Management Ecosystems, Finnova AG Bankware (Lenzburg); Prof. Dr. Edy Portmann, Swiss Post Professor, University of Fribourg.


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Stefanie Auge-Dickhut

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