This article is the first of a three part series on the analysis of ecosystems.
We define innovation ecosystems as complex structures formed by the interaction of the participating community within an environment. A healthy ecosystem is one, which participants can thrive and grow, it self-regulates and adapts as the market needs evolve.
The community consists of industry participants, start-ups, collaboration institutions, technical and business services. The environment is core markets where the community coexist and the adjacent markets from which know-how is shared. The structures are the linkages within communities and environments.
The goal of the ecosystem analysis should be to find discontinuities in the communities, the environment and the structure. The analysis allows the firm to make strategic decisions on business planning, product strategy, R&D exploitation and technology acquisition.
Communities can be visualized in an ecosystem value chain by mapping the participants and the dynamics between them. Understanding the interaction dynamics between players allows the firm to visualize industry structures.
The figure below provides a simplified view of the wind industry ecosystem. We identify value chain and each of its linkages. We start with materials, processes, tooling, then we move into components and system manufacturing, with the last link being the installation and maintenance of the products. Technical and business services along with collaboration institutions support all these linkages though out the commercialization of the product.
The value chain map varies dramatically from industry to industry. Some are very linear and uncomplicated. Others are very complex, with multiple intermediaries and many low value added steps in the value chain creating market discontinuities and gaps. Innovative companies can take advantage of these gaps to grow or disrupt their space while other companies wait for the market to mature.
Then we need to understand the environment. The core market is the market we play at. The adjacent markets are the ones where technology and know-how transfer occurs. The transfer technology supports the innovation and development of new products, processes or services on both markets. The adjacent markets could be as important as core markets even if the firm does not participate of them.
Following the wind industry theme, there are three adjacent markets the wind community has have benefited dramatically, these are automotive, aerospace and defense. A few years ago wind software tools were extremely antiquated, simplistic and cumbersome to use. With the increasing presence of automotive and aerospace firms in the wind industry, they have brought this know-how and toolset to the wind industry. Now these tools are in demand and specialty companies are investing on bringing new software products and suites based on aerospace composites or automotive virtual testing.
A similar case can be said for process companies both in the auto and defense industries that are leveraging their manufacturing process capabilities to customize automation systems to the wind manufacturer needs. Automation companies have developed composite automatic tape laying (ATL) for military/aerospace applications they are currently modifying the equipment to manufacture wind blades, similarly others are using automotive robotic painting and non-destructive testing equipment to manufacture blades.
While the ecosystem map identifies communities and needs, the environment allows us to match needs with users in the core market. Furthermore, the firm can look for enabling technologies or know-how to fulfill the market needs in adjacent markets, where better or more efficient technologies might exist.
The linkages within communities and environments form and define the ecosystem structure. The more dynamic the ecosystem structure if the higher level of innovation the more value is generated.
As we identify the wind market structure, we can see little or no connection between the financial sector, private financing or government incentives, and materials or manufacturing process firms. In this case when an automation systems company would like to develop new equipment to support new blade design, it would encounter difficulties to find financing, and research partner for the project. On the other hand a blade company would have fewer barriers to innovate and secure capital for the same project, yet in general term, they would not have the expertise to deliver that project.
Including the companies participating in each of the different areas, further details the Ecosystem map. This level of detail provides better understanding of competition, gaps and opportunities to disrupt the space with new technology or a new approach to the market place. The more detailed the ecosystem map is, the better competitive intelligence for the firm, which in turn will help guide the firm innovation strategy.
On the next sections of this article we will descrive how to develop and analyze technology road maps and value chains (part 2), and finally, identify innovation hubs (part 3).
About the Author
Pedro Guillen is the managing partner at the Detroit office and founding member of Kinetik Partners. Pedro specialized in corporate innovation strategy and new technology commercialization.
Pedro received his MBA from the Ross Business School, University of Michigan, and holds a Master of Engineering in Manufacturing from the University of Michigan. He also received dual B.S. degrees from Columbia University with concentrations in Mechanical Engineering and Liberal Arts.
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