When you type “Ecosystems” in a Google search, the first page will be a page filled with articles directing you to nature’s form of ecosystems. However, if you look at recent marketing expressions of companies in business and alliance management, you might get the impression that an ecosystem is a new name for two or more organizations working together. 

According to Wikipedia: “An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system.” When you read that in the light of a business ecosystem, you will see that there are multiple parties working together as a system and it can even have multiple constellations. The best example I am aware of is the ecosystem around Signify’s Philips Hue lighting system. This ecosystem consists of multiple layers:

  1. Joint propositions built on bi-lateral alliances to ensure that the solution offered worked seamless as one system
  2. Participation in industry standards, where multiple partners work together to set a communication standard to assure interoperability
  3. A community where 3rd party developers can tune their solution for maximum interoperability with the Hue system 

Together these three layers interact as a system: A business ecosystem. 

With the rise of the importance of data in product offerings, more and more organizations will have to work together in different ways. Collaborations will become multi-facetted and more agile, which will bring different dynamics. Where multiple companies are working in different constellations, ecosystems will emerge. Today’s competitors can become tomorrow’s partners and vice versa. Ecosystems require an adjusted form of alliance management to be successful.  

Ecosystems are on the rise, that’s a fact. But be aware, when companies use the term ecosystem loosely as a new name for alliances, they just seem to be trying to ride the wave of a hype.