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Unlocking success in digital ecosystems

Transcript

Intro

The true appeal of an ecosystem lies in the extensive reach of its participant base.

What factors contribute to the success of digital ecosystems?

Creating value, incentives and motivation is particularly important in digital ecosystems because they operate differently from traditional business models and rely on multi-sided markets. A prime example of such a market is provided by Airbnb. Here we have Airbnb, the company itself, but there are also those who offer private accommodations, and then, on another side, there are the consumers, the travelers who use these accommodations.

All participants interact on this ecosystem voluntarily; no one is coerced. And that’s why, of course, you have to create incentives to entice as many people or organizations as possible to participate in the ecosystem. The true appeal of an ecosystem lies in the extensive reach of its participant base.

Could legal mandates compel actors to participate?

Mandating certain actors to participate in a digital ecosystem is definitely not a good idea. In scenarios where participation is compulsory, as is the case with other business models, individuals often find ways to participate only superficially or, in a worst-case scenario, disrupt the operation of the digital ecosystem.

Successful digital ecosystems have thrived by providing ample incentives to attract participants willingly. When participants engage of their own accord and see the value in their participation, that’s when the ecosystem truly flourishes.

How can we harmonize the diverse interests of all participants?

While the national health platform primarily serves patients, it also benefits from the involvement of other groups. Of course, conflicts of interest may arise from time to time. That’s why resolving such conflicts among all participant groups is absolutely critical to the holistic design of a digital ecosystem and thus of the national health platform. This ensures that patients’ goals are actually met while safeguarding the interests of other participant groups.

What does a holistic design process entail?

The holistic design of digital ecosystems involves assessing the consequences of every decision made during the design process on all participant groups. This assessment encompasses three viewpoints: the business implications, the technical implications and the legal implications.

Success here depends on ensuring that representatives from all participant groups are involved in the process from the very beginning.  To ensure clear communication with these representatives, we use concrete scenarios, prototypes and real-world examples for illustration purposes. This helps us find the right language in our communication with each target group. The challenge lies in managing the design of the entire system across various levels of abstraction while preserving a comprehensive overview that can be aptly conveyed to all participant groups.

Content

Expert

Dr. Marcus Trapp, co-founder of Full Flamingo, an eco-tech startup, aims to leverage the power of the platform economy for the greatest possible impact on sustainability. Before 2022, he held a senior executive position at Fraunhofer IESE, where he played a pivotal role in developing and overseeing the field of “Digital Ecosystems and the Platform Economy.”

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    Benefit model for a national health platform

    A key success factor for digital platforms lies in the benefits they generate both for participating providers and consumers. Working jointly with the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering (IESE) and the Bittner & Thranberend concept agency, we have developed a benefit model for the national health platform that provides advantages to all participating stakeholders.

    Digital platforms can give providers of goods and services access to a large customer base, while customers in turn can find a broad selection of offers and services there (see Ecosystem design: benefits-for-all). Consequently, the task of a national health platform would be to serve as an intermediary between providers and potential users of health-related information and services.

    But why should information and software providers subject themselves to the rules and quality requirements of such a platform? What factors would motivate established stakeholders in the healthcare system to actively participate in such an ecosystem? And why should patients choose to use a health platform in the first place?

    The answer is simple: Everyone involved should gain real, measurable advantages. The starting point for any discussion of the national health platform must be its core objective: making the exchange of health information and meaningful digital services smoother through a platform approach, and bundle quality-assured offerings (see Discover more, search less). The challenge of benefit modeling is then to generate the greatest possible benefit for as many actors as possible, while avoiding or compensating disadvantages for third parties.

    Stakeholder analysis and benefit modeling

    For the benefit model outlined here, workshop groups formulated specific use cases from the patient’s point of view, and analyzed the associated information and support needs. These case studies were then used to identify groups of supplier-side stakeholders that, in conjunction with users, will also be important for the platform’s success. These stakeholders include providers of health information and digital services, for example. In addition, traditional stakeholders in the healthcare and education sectors, municipalities, and many other entities could also play a part in the digital ecosystem, all contributing to a rich and high-quality information offering.

    An stakeholder analysis was used to identify and classify the interests, needs and potential concerns of the identified groups. With the aim of developing the most balanced benefit model possible, relationships and interactions among these stakeholders were also taken into account. To this end, publications and press reports were evaluated and background discussions and interviews with representatives of the relevant institutions were conducted. Based on these analyses and additional expert assessments, the team then formulated potential benefits for each individual group and compiled these in a preliminary benefits catalog.

    The benefit model

    Ideally, the digital ecosystem and national health platform would be capable of generating multifaceted benefits for all stakeholders, although these would likely vary from stakeholder to stakeholder. Nevertheless, overarching value-adds can be identified that would benefit all stakeholders involved, and which derive from the triangular relationship formed by the providers, the users and the platform operator.

     

    Positioning in the platform market

    Traditional healthcare-system actors do not think or act like multinational platform operators, as they perform completely different roles and tasks. Presumably, none of these players would alone be able to establish an offering likely to survive in the new meta-platform marketplace. The digital ecosystem would provide them with the strategic option of positioning themselves collaboratively in the new healthcare platform market using an existing technical infrastructure.

    Access to data

    Thanks to the size of the community and the large number of interfaces with other platforms, the ecosystem could also generate a unique corpus of data extending beyond the private personal patient data. Participating entities could use this data for various purposes, for instance for the further development of their own (information) services, for healthcare research or to help guide therapeutic activities. The interplay of data from many different sources would offer a particularly interesting opportunity to generate new knowledge and to use it for a demand-driven further development of our health system.

    Professional information management

    The process-based information paths (see Discover more, search less), the high degree of personalization and the direct links to the various healthcare system entities would give rise to a new information and communication architecture that would create structure and help orient users. This in turn would provide healthcare professionals with significant benefits, as the platform would offer an opportunity to optimize information and communication management, while increasing the quality and efficiency of information handling. In addition, it is possible to link the care process with digital information and support services in a targeted manner.

    One-stop shop

    With the explosion of digitally available health information, patients are experiencing increasing difficulties in finding the information they need. The metaphor of the needle in the haystack aptly describes the average information seeker’s morass of detours and wrong turns. With its market-based and inclusive brokering approach (see The state as a provider of information), the national health platform has the potential to become the hub of the healthcare system’s information architecture, bringing together all key offerings in one place. This approach is inspired by the “one-stop shop” idea, which adds considerable value by helping users find their way through the maze of digital information and service offerings.

    Verified providers

    Numerous studies have shown that in this era of disinformation and conspiracy theories, people are finding it increasingly difficult to assess the truth of information or the credibility of sources. The concept for the national health platform thus includes strict access rules for providers which would act as a kind of filter. Providers would be required to obtain an audit-based certification at regular intervals to prove that they met certain quality standards (see InfoQ: Making quality visible). This would keep questionable providers out of the ecosystem. This quality-based selection of providers represents a key benefit for patients, and creates the basis for a priceless asset: trust.

    Focus on the essential

    One useful strategy in dealing with the daily flood of information is to filter it, focusing attention on what is most essential. “Essential” information can be described as that which is relevant to a person’s individual context and meets their situational information needs. With the help of algorithmic systems, content and service offers on the national health platform can be personalised and context sensitive. The resulting individually tailored selection and presentation of information and digital services would be of significant help to patients, saving them time and relieving them of cognitive burdens.

    Alongside these more generic advantages, many other benefits can be identified both for individuals and groups of actors. For example, well-informed patients take more responsibility for their own health, adhere more closely to treatment plans, are able to navigate the healthcare system more confidently, and make healthier choices in everyday life. Health care researchers could benefit from new insights and options of analysis. Information providers and other services would have the opportunity to distinguish themselves through their presence on the platform with high-quality offerings, while additionally targeting their outreach efforts more efficiently and lowering transaction costs.

    Another aspect of benefit modeling is ensuring that stakeholders do not suffer any disadvantages due to their participation in the ecosystem. Our concept for a national health platform therefore envisages that the platform operator will not offer any information or health services of its own, restricting itself strictly to the role of intermediary. The platform must not undermine the offerings provided by participating companies and organizations, or have any negative influence on their user traffic figures. Thus, as a rule, information and services would not be offered on the platform itself. Instead, users would visit the providers’ external sites (see Discover more, search less). The relationship between the platform operator and the providers should be based on clear access criteria and principles of fairness and transparency, thus creating a network of benefits and added value for all participating stakeholders.

    Recommended articles

    Discover more, search less – prototype of a national health platform

    The core service of the national health platform outlined here is to provide personalized information pathways that adapt to changing information needs and have the capacity to facilitate the handling of health-related information. To illustrate our concept, we have developed a prototypical design that shows what this platform might look like one day. Increasingly, patients are using the internet to gather information from sources beyond the traditional healthcare system. Currently, they rely primarily on major search engines for this task.

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      Ecosystem design: Benefits for all

      Dr. Marcus Trapp
      Dr. Matthias Naab

      To thrive in today’s market, digital platform operators need to consider the interests of all ecosystem participants. By delivering benefits and creating advantages for everyone involved, they can unlock the potential of network effects and scalability. This principle holds true even for a non-profit national health platform.

      In successful systems, the user journey or customer journey is designed to ensure optimal satisfaction at every interaction. Each touchpoint is intentionally crafted to meet users’ needs as much as possible. It’s no surprise, then, that successful providers tend to prioritize user and customer orientation when developing a new system or service.

      When examining new digital business models that operate on platform-economy principles, determining the precise identity of can be challenging. Digital ecosystems like Airbnb, Uber and Schüttflix serve as virtual marketplaces that facilitate the exchange of various “assets” such as overnight accommodations, transport and bulk goods by ecosystem operators. More often than not, these platforms function as multi-sided marketplaces, commonly comprising two sides and occasionally incorporating three or more.

      In each digital ecosystem, some ecosystem partners (providers) offer products and services (assets), while others consume these assets (consumers). For example, Airbnb brokers the exchange of overnight accommodations (asset) between private hosts (providers) and travelers (consumers), while Uber brokers transportation services (assets) between private drivers (providers) and passengers (consumers). The vision of a national health platform presented here follows a similar principle, enabling the brokerage of digital information and services between providers and patients.

      For ecosystem designers, the diversity of participants and multi-sided marketplaces involved in such an environment can have far-reaching implications. It’s easy to focus solely on the consumer journey, but they would do well to pay just as much attention to providers as to consumers and equally prioritize their respective needs. The very thing that attracts consumers to a digital ecosystem is its large number of providers; conversely, an ecosystem’s attractiveness for providers will also grow as the number of consumers increases.

      Balancing participants' interests

      Patients take center stage in the national health platform presented here. In other words, benefits for patients will always be the highest priority. Through the curation and consolidation of information and services, the platform seeks to foster health literacy, streamline information management and empower patients to actively engage in their treatment journeys.

      However, the only way to actually achieve these vital patient-centric benefits is to make certain that providers of healthcare information and digital services also actively participate in the ecosystem.  Consequently, ecosystem operators must ensure an optimal provider journey, one that is as seamless and beneficial as possible. This inclusive approach treats all partners equally, fostering incentives for every participant within the ecosystem.

      Voluntary, not coerced participation

      The importance of generating benefits for all participants within an ecosystem stems from the fact that participation is voluntary and no one can be forced to join. Even if it were possible to enforce participation, such as through government authority, experience has shown that this approach is generally ineffective. Those individuals and/or entities forced to participate often find ways to delay processes or obstruct them in some other manner. Conversely, when all participants derive benefits from their participation, this usually leads to good outcomes.

      The benefits gained from the ecosystem need not be solely monetary in nature. Other advantages, such as access to a larger market, increased visibility of products and services, and access to key data and analytics, can sometimes be more valuable to participants than short-term financial gains. In a best-case scenario, the advantages accrued by one participant would lead to further benefits for patients. For example, healthcare service providers would greatly benefit from accessing contextual information, enabling them to customize their services to better meet the needs of their target groups.

      Holistic digital ecosystem design

      When digital ecosystems emerge, they typically don’t introduce entirely new services, but rather utilize their own digital ecosystem service to offer a vastly improved experience in ways that revolutionize entire industries. They usually achieve this improvement by cleverly exploiting digital opportunities in ways never seen before in that sector.

      For instance, digital platforms for booking accommodations existed prior to Airbnb’s launch, and transportation services were already being organized before Uber was founded. However, Airbnb and Uber have offered participants so many advantages and so much added value that they have both significantly transformed their respective markets.

      The art of creating a digital ecosystem lies in implementing a holistic design that takes into account the interests of everyone involved. As these ecosystems usually enter an already established market in its respective business domain, it is important to carefully consider which benefits can be created for all relevant participants so that they are sufficiently motivated to participate in the ecosystem. This step is critically important when considering the design of a national health platform, especially given the partially regulated nature of the healthcare market and the presence of strong, established players.

      The introduction of a new ecosystem will undoubtedly transform existing healthcare structures and processes. It’s important to acknowledge that not all changes will be universally beneficial, and some market participants may perceive them as disadvantages. Additionally, there is a risk that the governing organization may exploit its position of power, seeking exclusive benefits from the platform. Such a scenario would undermine the motivation of all other participants and thus endanger the platform’s success.

      Ecosystem design in practise

      In developing the vision for the digital ecosystem presented here, we adopted a methodological framework that ensures a holistic design and integrates the interests and needs of all participants. In order to gain an overview of the status quo, our first step was to assemble and prioritize the actors relevant to the ecosystem. After that, we conducted anonymous interviews with representatives of these participants. We also reviewed publications and analyses and obtained expert assessments, all in an effort to gain a better understanding of the needs, issues and challenges facing individual actors.

      In order to ensure that the ecosystem outlined here generates sufficient benefits to motivate potential participants to actively engage with the system, we created a so-called Motivation Matrix (Nass, Trapp, Villela 2018).  (Nass, Trapp, Villela 2018). Our first step was to examine what benefits each individual actor would garner from the introduction of the national health platform, but also to determine how they could contribute and/or what role they could play in the ecosystem. In addition to benefits and incentives, we also discussed the possible disadvantages that individual actors might encounter as a result of the implementation of the ecosystem and its platform, including disadvantages both real and imagined.

      As mentioned above, a benefit analysis highlights more than just monetary gains, chiefly because the idea of benefits can take on so many forms. By drawing on the Motivation Matrix throughout the entire concept-development process, we were able to determine the extent to which the anticipated expectations of various actors interested in participating in the ecosystem could be fulfilled. If and when the expectations of key actors were not met, we redesigned the ecosystem accordingly in an iterative process. The result is a benefit model associated with the national health platform presented here. This model makes one thing quite clear: even in a healthcare system characterized by diverse authorities, significant diversity and special interests, it is possible to craft a vision that generates added value for all participants while also creating tangible benefits and generating welfare effects

      Tangible Ecosystem Design (TED) method

      Digital ecosystems are significantly more complex than software systems operating under the control of a single company. The implications stemming from technology, business, and legal aspects are notably harder to anticipate when designing products and services that will be exchanged across multiple companies and sectors

      The multitude of diverse participant categories results in complex relationships, making it challenging to assess the impact of even the slightest change on the entire ecosystem. This is what makes it so challenging – especially in the design phase – to get a “big-picture” overview of the ecosystem. The big picture, however, is the most important tool when communicating with potential participants about diverse aspects (business, technology, legal) and seeking to form a common understanding as quickly as possible.

      The “Tangible Ecosystem Design” method takes on precisely these challenges and encourages cooperation in the process of defining, designing and analyzing a digital ecosystem. Participants take part in workshops where they model a digital ecosystem using Playmobil® toys and other templates, all of which serve to make the concept more tangible and provide hands-on experience in the true sense of the word.

      Bibliography

      Nass, C, Trapp, M, Villela, K (2018). Tangible design for software ecosystem with Playmobil®. NordiCHI ’18: Proceedings of the 10th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction. September 2018. 856–861.

      Koch, M, Krohmer, D, Naab, M, Rost, D, Trapp, M (2022). A matter of definition: Criteria for digital ecosystems. Digital Business 2, 100027.

      Authors

      Dr. Marcus Trapp and Dr. Matthias Naab, co-founders of Full Flamingo, an eco-tech startup, aim to leverage the power of the platform economy for the greatest possible impact on sustainability. Before 2022, they held senior executive positions at Fraunhofer IESE, where they played a pivotal role in developing and overseeing the field of “Digital Ecosystems and the Platform Economy.”

      Your feedback is important to us

      To contact our project team, please use our form. We look forward to your message and will get back to you as soon as possible.