Digital Ecosystems: To Lead, Protect Or Serve?

Despite the fact that it was published in 1993, James Moore’s definition of a business ecosystem is still perfectly valid in today’s digital society: 

“An economic community supported by a foundation of interacting organizations and individuals–the organisms of the business world. This economic community produces goods and services of value to customers, who are themselves members of the ecosystem. The member organizations also include suppliers, lead producers, competitors, and other stakeholders. Over time, they co-evolve their capabilities and roles, and tend to align themselves with the directions set by one or more central companies. Those companies holding leadership roles may change over time, but the function of ecosystem leader is valued by the community because it enables members to move toward shared visions to align their investments and to find mutually supportive roles.”

J. F. Moore, Harvard Business Review (1993)

Today’s digital ecosystem leaders include Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook, also known as the Four Horsemen of the Mobility Revolution. They have built their ecosystem leadership roles in retail, devices, search, and social networking. They all go for a superior and stickier user experience by creating an engagement model that combines content, device and personalization in order to create a larger and long term share of the consumer wallet. They all want to become the primary engagement vehicle for the connected consumer.

But the consumer wallet can spend money only once and in their battle for market share and dominance ecosystem leaders sometimes forget that customers are part of the ecosystem too. Problems will occur when an ecosystem leader values ecosystem protection over and above serving the customer and the user experience.

A case in point is the recent Apple Maps debacle. Apple decided to replace Google Maps with an inferior Apple product. It forgot the superior and sticky user experience for a moment in order to protect ecosystem leadership. But customers rebelled, CEO Tim Cook publicly apologized, peace was restored, or was it?

As the battle for digital ecosystem leadership continues this year, expect digital ecosystem leaders to focus on protectionism, best of suite, and breadth, while customer focus, best of breed, and depth are out. Leaders might do well to remember though that customers are members of the ecosystem too.

True digital ecosystem leaders both protect AND serve the connected consumer.

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About Pim Bilderbeek