The Role of Ecosystems in Driving Innovation

An ecosystem in nature is a biological community composed of groups of organisms together with the non-living elements they interact with; air, soil, water, and sunlight. These organisms depend on each other for their survival and development.

Ecosystems change with their environment. Nature is a natural innovator.

Software eco-systems have existed for some time. The technology industry thrives on them. Even large firms like Microsoft depend on partners to support them. Nor is Microsoft alone in sponsoring extensive partner ecosystems.

Smartphones are a classic example. Competition shifts back and forth from the phones themselves to the applications ecosystems that support them.

Windows Phone 7 has already 8,000 applications and 28,000 developers. Competition is being driven by partnerships and ecosystems beyond Microsoft.  The smartphone market is a universe of ecosystems competing with each other for market share.

In financial services ecosystems can play a crucial role in innovation.

There is a temptation to view innovation as one idea at a time - an application on a smartphone that converts a check into a deposit - a great innovation. But an alternative approach is to think about innovation as an ecosystem; a series of ideas that work together constantly to keep an organization moving forward as its environment changes.

One such eco system might be next generation risk management. One innovation might be streaming data. But streaming large amounts of data is self-defeating without reliable data sources and data visualization technologies. If we can't trust the data, absorb it and draw insight from it, increasing its speed has little value.

Plus risks are constantly changing so the eco-system must be able to adapt constantly.

Another eco system might be the branch of the future. Technologies like digital signature, digital signage, content management, user interfaces, communications and back office systems all have to work together for the concept to be successful. But they also need a vision of the future that is mutually compatible.

Developing an ecosystem is a big investment and time and effort, but it has the potential to add significant value. It also takes procurement and innovation to the next level - well beyond RFPs to thought leadership, inspiration and partnership.

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