The practice of working in ecosystems

By Cleo van Engelen

In blog 1, we elaborated on why it's essential to shift from thinking in silos to thinking in ecosystems. In blog 2, we explained five principles that make collaboration in ecosystems successful. In this third blog, we provide some examples of these five principles in practice. We'll give you the payoff in advance: Managing ecosystems starts with yourself!

Ecosystems, IT ecosystems, IT, Collaboration, Principles, value, management

A brief overview of the five principles of working in ecosystems:

  1. Every party in an ecosystem has its own value for the system's function.
  2. 'Bring the system in the room.'
  3. Allow collaboration the time it needs.
  4. Relationships (interpersonal and in data) sustain the system (functions are replaceable).
  5. Foster space for individual input and creativity.

‘Bring the system in the room’

Meeting each other in person, 'bringing the system in the room,' is a crucial principle for making horizontal cooperation work, even within your own organization. We encounter this in new development methods like 'design thinking,' 'DevOps,' and 'agile management.' For example, the bid manager of an IT service provider brought together the parties involved in the proposal at least twice. The first time was to explain the strategy and importance for the client and jointly outline the common thread for the proposal. The second time was to explain each party's contribution (expertise, costs, staffing, lead time). By questioning each other, it became clear how the implementation process would take shape, where overlaps and gaps were, and how the client would be affected. This resulted in a more consistent whole, both in cost structure and migration or transition plan, which came across to the client and led to a 100% success rate in proposals.

Each party knows its own value

Each party has its unique value for the system's function. It is crucial for an organization to specify its added value and how it realizes this value concretely. A platform aiming to connect ICT service providers and clients translates this into an algorithm where the service provider saying 'YES' to all questions ends up at the bottom of the list of the most suitable providers. Selecting and justifying the offer and how it will be realized increases the chance of a match and, consequently, the chances of outsourcing success.

The relationship sustains the system (functions are replaceable)

An educational institution used to custom develop applications for educational logistics, tailored to planners and teachers themselves. This went well for a long time until the increasing demand for data exchange from other educational institutions, politics, and students led to development bottlenecks. Specifications repeatedly fell short; user requests for necessary connections with market applications couldn't be processed because the data's basic structure couldn't handle it. 

The educational boards and the Board of Directors decided to broaden the horizon and map out the entire ecosystem of educational logistics for this institution. This process revealed data streams and dependencies they were not aware of. Subsequently, they translated the vision and strategy into guidelines and principles for the necessary systems and data flows. This provided enough guidance to explore the supplier market and ultimately select suitable systems and modules. 

Two-way traffic

The concept of 'two-way traffic' plays a role in all five principles of working in ecosystems. It's not that an organization, even if it's the initiator, controls the system. This raises important questions about management and, especially, 'letting go of management.' It's no coincidence that there is increasing attention for collective intelligence and how nature coordinates movements. Think of birds, ants, fish. Being aware of your organization's identity, its DNA, is an important starting point. What do we bring to the collaboration, such as culture (which we take for granted, but others don't...), core qualities (which we may not always be aware of but determine our contributions), business principles (which we know but others may not have sufficient knowledge of), management style (which may not be productive for the change we seek)? 

If we don't know what we bring about ourselves, how can we expect someone else to consider us? We also won't know when the collaboration still adds value for us and when we need to change course. Perhaps the most critical key to making an ecosystem successful is: Managing ecosystems starts with yourself! 

Want to know more?

Highberg has extensive experience in issues such as these. Therefore, please contact us with your questions about your digital challenges. We are happy to assist you.

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