Background to the research project: Business ecosystems and digital platforms

The collaboration of different companies in cooperative value chains has been part of everyday business life for quite some time. Significant productivity advantages and mutual learning effects can be achieved through a high degree of specialization. Science is concerned with the targeted design of the cooperation of closely linked companies, which contribute a significant part to value creation, from the perspective of so-called business ecosystems. The central component of business ecosystems are digital platforms that generate high sales potential by combining and integrating numerous services from different participants. Until now, the advantages of such platforms were reserved for large software companies. For example, operational application software offers the possibility to develop extensions for offered software or to improve the basic functionality by external developers. SAP, Salesforce and Microsoft, for example, offer the possibility of adding software functions by means of applications (apps), which can be obtained via the digital platform and integrated into the basic system.

Advantages of a digital platform and its players

Compared to the separate provision of separate products and services, a business ecosystem benefits from the combination of services from different companies and their synergy effects. Participation in established digital platforms results in increased sales potential and is often characterized by the positive effect of network effects. This affects both the providing company and the individual contributing entities. The enormous economic success as well as the opportunities for influence are usually reserved for the operator. Platform owners provide a platform for users and developers as an intermediary tool. Developers extend and improve the functionalities of the base product and receive pro-rata payment for this. Users obtain the product, including additional extensions, directly from the platform and inform the developers about bugs and desired functions.

Research objective

The object of the research project is to transfer the concept of business ecosystems and digital platforms to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) so that they can also benefit from the effects. The aim of the project is to develop an ecosystem navigator that makes it easier for SMEs to deal with the topic, shows them alternative courses of action and supports them in setting up ecosystems. On the basis of the findings, SMEs should be enabled to make targeted strategic decisions with regard to digital platforms and associated ecosystems and to proactively steer corresponding developments.

The SME navigator as a decision-making tool

SMEs are very well suited for the use of digital platforms and can benefit significantly through increased structuring and better networking. The SME navigator, implemented as a stand-alone application, collects situational characteristics and objectives and evaluates different action alternatives based on the research results. It provides support in determining whether a product and the associated services are suitable for value creation in an ecosystem. In addition, the SME Navigator helps to decide whether a new ecosystem should be established or the company should join an existing ecosystem/digital platform.

Project partners, funding and data

The AIF-funded research project is a collaboration between the Chair of Information Systems, Processes and Systems at the University of Potsdam and the Hahn-Schickard-Gesellschaft für angewandte Forschung e.V. research association.
Funding: 2019 - 2021