Fusion, fission, or something else?
Enter the business ecosystem
Investopedia defines a business ecosystem as a “network of organizations—including suppliers, distributors, customers, competitors, government agencies, and so on—involved in the delivery of a specific product or service through both competition and cooperation. The idea is that each entity in the ecosystem affects and is affected by the others, creating a constantly evolving relationship in which each entity must be flexible and adaptable in order to survive as in a biological ecosystem.”
Amazon and other large companies such as Alphabet and Apple, along with the Chinese behemoths Alibaba and Tencent, have adopted this model. It allows them to connect their vast internal organization with an equally vast, ever-growing external network of partners, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. This is often referred to as the “network effect.”
The good news is that by participating in a business ecosystem, even a small startup can play right alongside the global conglomerates, and, in some cases, beat them at their own game. It gives the small player the ability to engage the precise resources it needs when it needs them, without all of the extra baggage that comes when those resources are part of a huge, bureaucratic institution.
It may seem to be a gross oversimplification, but engaging in ecosystem-building pretty much boils down to finding out who has what you need and who needs what you have. Or better yet: Who knows what you need to know, and who needs to know what you know? The trick is finding the right match. And that’s where KM can play a key role.
If you’re interested in joining an ecosystem, or even starting one of your own, a great resource is Robert K. Wilson’s book, They Will Be Giants: 21st Century Entrepreneurs and the Purpose-Driven Business Ecosystem. The good news is you don’t need to start from scratch. An ecosystem design platform can help. For example, Tr3dent’s Transformation Accelerator comes pre-loaded with plenty of templates that you can build upon, along with a comprehensive checklist to guide you through the necessary steps.
However, the real power comes from the synergies that result from making as many new connections as possible. This can be either in response to a specific market need or in creating and introducing an entirely new disruptive innovation. This is what Wilson refers to in his book as being purpose-driven, where sustained growth and performance of the ecosystem as a whole and the market it serves become the primary goals.
Enabling and managing ecosystem knowledge flows
When it comes to applying KM, the key is identifying and connecting the dots in meaningful and synergistic ways. But bringing a wide range of intellectual assets together to solve new challenges can be daunting. And if you thought a large enterprise has a lot of moving parts, think again. A true business ecosystem has infinite complexity and, along with it, infinite possibilities.
KM can help prioritize and achieve alignment among the many potentially conflicting elements in ways that help ensure, rather than hinder, sustained success. These include matching skills, business models, and especially culture, a key determinant of success or failure. KM, aided by data analytics and AI, can not only find the best match for your needs and/or offerings but can also help you avoid potential conflicts of interest.
But KM’s greatest impact could be enabling a continuous cycle of rapid innovation and learning across the ecosystem. In fact, every aspect of the enterprise of the future that we have addressed in this column over the years—from forming a shared vision at the top to the underlying architectures (business, technical, security, information, and knowledge, etc.)—has a place in this new and exciting business model.
The world’s best-kept secret could very well be that we KMers already have a vast, vibrant, and global ecosystem in place. The question is: What are we waiting for? Let’s start using it, learning from it, and showing others how it’s done.