Rik Vera: The Ecosystem Economy

Jun 17, 2022

Rik Vera Billtrust Insight 2022

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The future of organizations and businesses will be decided by the ability to embrace and build ecosystems. In his keynote at this year’s Billtrust Insight Rik Vera talked about this decade as The Twilight Twenties and all the challenges that come with it. The old normal is fading out quickly and the new normal is under construction as we speak. How can companies cope with this new reality, asks Rik Vera. How can they still be relevant in 2035?

People’s lives have changed a lot. We live, play, work and communicate in a different way than 10-15 years ago. We came to realize that endless growth on a limited planet is not a good idea. We started questioning a lot of things. How can we deal with global supply chain issues? How can we rethink our food and water use? What about energy and mobility?

As Klaus Schwab from the World Economic Forum puts it: “The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world”. And there is no other option, argues Rik Vera. We have to reimagine how we consume, re-imagine society. And if society changes, the business environment changes, so businesses need to change.

A company needs to learn to connect to many individuals, engage these individuals and become the platform on which people can communicate. Companies have to re-imagine their business models, combining building blocks from the past with the dynamics of this new technology driven world.

That means forgetting about the old economy. B2B or B2C will be transformed into P2P, or People to Platform and Platform to Platform. The new economy will be a platform-run economy. 

The solution, says Rik Vera, is to start embracing and building ecosystems. These ecosystems have the shape of humans: with a body, a central brain, senses, actions and a nervous system. For companies these five body parts translate into infrastructure, a platform with data enabled software, sensors or data entry points, applications and a two-directional network that connects all the dots.

The infrastructure is the hardware and speaks for itself. The platform is the place where data is transformed into actionable insights and where knowledge is being built up. Sensors or data entry points allow companies to capture the interaction with the outside world into data. Applications are a result of the gathered information and create the interaction with customers (B2B and B2C). The apps are products and services that connect your company with people. The two-directional network ties everything together.

But it all starts and ends with people, demonstrates Rik. The Guiding star throughout this Transition Twenties is the customer and companies have no other choice than to be customer centric and reverse inside-out into outside-in thinking.  Companies need to understand the customers, now and in the future.

In people companies find the building blocks and dynamics needed to build the right ecosystem. And that means collecting and processing customer data through these data entry points. In collecting customer data it is not about owning the data, Rik points out, but about interacting with customers and using data in the transaction and turning those into insights almost in real time… like good old human interactions.

These actionable insights lead to products, services and even more interactions. And new interactions lead to more data, better insights, better interactions and so on.

One condition is to make sure people can contribute to your ecosystem and are willing to share data with you. Another one is fast two-way communication. Only then can you create a platform. But the platform is not where you make money. The platform is where you turn data into actionable insights and information. The platform is the centerpiece of the ecosystem. 

It’s the apps where the money is. If everybody contributes to the platform, then the platform turns that data into information. When that information is fed back to all the participants, then all participants possess enriched information. The customer becomes a real person, because you have collected more data. This in turn allows you to better predict what that person will need in the future and how you can influence that person.

With an ecosystem at full speed you create a double flywheel, says Rik. Once an ecosystem is up and running, it’s exponential. The more data, the better the data. The smarter the platform, the bigger the data. The better the platform, the better the applications. 

What’s more, the very survival of the ecosystem is hidden in the ecosystem itself. Because it’s an agile and adaptive system that’s built to last and tune in with people and the planet.

Take the first steps now

For businesses to start embracing an ecosystem Rik Vera presents us with his formula for change:

Compelling reason to change x Vision x First Steps > Resistance to change

Every company has the building blocks it takes to become an ecosystem. One just has to find and develop them. In his keynote Rik briefly sums up the First Steps steps you can take as a company:

  1. Ask the right question. What would people miss if the ecosystem would no longer be there?
  2. Treat people like people. Maximize wellbeing for people now and in the future.
  3. Engage and involve people. What are people looking for? If you do that, people will do the marketing for you, give you their data and time, energy and money.
  4. Never fall in love with your solution. Fall in love with the problem. If you develop an application, always make sure that it’s fast, easy, accessible, simple and tempting (FEAST).
  5. Be technology enabled. Not driven. Digital icing on an old cake won’t be enough. Think about Augmented Intelligence, where human intellect and computer power is combined.
  6. Collect, process and activate data like crazy. Think about all the communication points that your business is not turning into data. 
  7. Re-use building blocks. You already have data, infrastructure, you know the business/customer, you have the people and the apps.
  8. Be a surfer and adapt your mindset. Execute and ideation at the same time.
  9. Start today. And have a kickstart.
  10. Watch the culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Don’t be rigid. Don’t assume. Combine focus with curiosity. 

If you want to deepdive into Rik’s ecosystems, he has written a book about it, called “The Guide to the Ecosystem Economy”. There he talks more about how to find the basic principles and ingredients for setting up your organization to stay relevant in the future.

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