We firmly believe that building an innovation ecosystem is the best way to increase a company’s innovative power and efficiency. The many new possibilities and interfaces created will fundamentally change the way companies interact with their environment. The company promises to open up, establish closer relationships internally and externally, promote collaboration and implement a new corporate culture.
The question now is: which connections should be promoted and put into action first? What do we mean by an ecosystem for innovation? And what challenges can be solved with it?
Innovation Ecosystems - a Definition
Let’s start with the central question. What is an innovation ecosystem anyway? Here is a definitive approximation:
An innovation ecosystem is a collaborative network that connects organizations, stakeholders, users, and other relevant target groups. It extends across all phases of the value chain to drive innovation for the benefit of all involved through a targeted flow of information, ideas, data, and knowledge.
Therefore, an innovation ecosystem is largely based on the principle of permeability. This means that ideas and solutions can move freely between the different parts of the company and its network. For example, concepts that result from working with customers can be continued directly as innovation projects with suppliers. In the best case, the ecosystem ultimately covers the entire value chain and integrates stakeholders in innovation initiatives previously outside their sphere of action.
The idea of an innovation ecosystem thus also implies that the concept of strictly separate units along the value chain blocks the development of innovative solutions. The great achievement of an ecosystem lies in bridging precisely these blockages and unleashing new potential. Innovation should, therefore, always be a joint effort of all actors along the value chain – regardless of how big their contribution is and whether they play a role at the beginning or only towards the end.
This is where a second fundamental principle comes into play, which we support with our technology. Namely, the determination that every person, regardless of their position and role, can have good ideas, valuable knowledge, or skills to solve a specific problem. Of course, the collaboration of directly neighboring actors along the value chain is the first logical step. However, the flow of relevant information and data should be possible across all interfaces in the long term.
For example, the development of a new electric car – the classic separation of functions positions automobile manufacturers between suppliers and customers. Even if the suppliers contribute important technological advances such as long-life batteries or light materials, they rarely have direct contact with the end-users during their development process.
Interactions between suppliers and their network take place according to the same logic. For example, the manufacturers of raw materials for these batteries or relevant research organizations are often isolated from the subsequent units along the value chain.
If an ecosystem now exists that connects all the players, the battery suppliers can interact directly with the customers of the car manufacturer to better understand their needs. Analogously, researchers working for a raw material manufacturer can help solve the automobile manufacturer’s challenges. Ideally, such interactions relate not only to technical or product-related questions but also to other areas such as business models or process innovations.
Benefits of Building an Innovation Ecosystem
If you had to summarize all the challenges that companies face due to the digital transformation with one word, this would be complexity. Almost without exception, products, services, or the processes by which they are marketed are more complex than just a few years ago. Not only from a technical point of view but also in terms of how they influence and depend on each other. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult, time-consuming, and cost-consuming to develop all the necessary skills within the company itself.
The pursuit of internal answers and competencies is not only an avoidable bottleneck but also carries a considerable risk in an environment in which fast and unpredictable changes can occur at any time. Overcoming this challenge and shifting the company’s role from a reactive element to a driving force in competition requires, above all, a change of perspective. Wouldn’t it be easier to open up your company boundaries and bundle existing potential in the network? Wouldn’t it be easier to work with external experts and specialists than being under constant pressure to keep up with the latest developments?
We firmly believe that overcoming complexity is not a question of internal competencies but is crucially dependent on an ecosystem’s extensive and strategic use. All of them can positively contribute to increasing innovative strength with specific knowledge or skills. The change, as mentioned earlier, of perspective consequently favors the self-image of companies as a central, closely connected hub within a large network of stakeholders.
Essential Actors for the Ecosystem
Customers, suppliers, and employees are the most obvious stakeholders that should be involved in a powerful innovation ecosystem. Apart from these three main groups, however, there are many other stakeholders and sources of information – often even beyond the organization’s current reach and possible contact points. Researchers at universities or other institutions come to mind. Startups in relevant areas can also provide the missing impetus for urgently needed innovations. The same applies to existing online communities of experts or thought leaders.
But it doesn’t always have to be specific target groups – it can also be data. For example, databases on patents or trends. Because they are equally part of an innovation ecosystem, integrating and analyzing the right sources of information can make all the difference in the struggle for competitive advantages – and ultimately even help expand the network by identifying the sources behind relevant content and then becoming part of the ecosystem.
And that brings us back to the original idea of an innovation ecosystem. Searching, finding, and networking relevant information, people, and skills. What distinguishes innovative companies from their competitors here is that their ecosystem draws their attention to changes and proactively develops solutions for new products, services, or business models to quickly succeed on the market.