David Stokes, IBM's general manager of partner ecosystem for Europe, Middle East and Africa, discusses the changes happening to traditional technology partnerships and the new sources of value being created through ecosystems for companies undertaking technology-based transformations accelerated by the global pandemic.

How has the global pandemic changed the way businesses use digital technologies?

The rapid adoption of digital technologies since the pandemic began is well documented. We are now entering a new phase where enterprises – public, private and governmental–across the world are recognizing an opportunity to go beyond the immediate benefits of enabling new ways of working.

Organizations that are leveraging this momentum to take a more strategic approach to improve the competitiveness of their business models and infuse resilience into their business processes have already begun to outperform their peers by 6% in revenue growth.

Cloud, in particular hybrid cloud, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have emerged as the twin technologies that are driving this transformation. However, we are only at the very beginning of their adoption; we will see the scale and scope of use cases across industries and horizontal business processes accelerate as organizations realize the agility, efficiency and security benefits that these technologies enable.

How will this impact technology providers?

To deliver business outcomes at the speed at which organizations want to move will require a more collaborative and co-creative approach to working amongst technology companies. It will require greater flexibility to adopt and respect the different roles they play from one client situation to another.

In this context, ecosystems will become even more important and will no longer be hierarchical. Large technology companies will no longer own an ecosystem; they will instead play the role of enabler, catalyst, participant and provider – taking on multiple commercial "personas" depending on the client needs.

Artificial Intelligence
The Propelling Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Businesses Photo: Pixabay

How will businesses integrate their systems?

The organizations that were most successful during the pandemic leveraged their incumbent applications while also taking advantage of customer and employee-facing technologies. Those that had to deal with silos of applications and data, as well as the underlying complexity of their IT were, for example, less successful in scaling the use of AI across the business and dealing with new demands on the resiliency of their systems.

Here the technology platform is the key. It must facilitate the integration between the "old" and "new," while providing flexibility and choice. For this reason, future ecosystems will thrive where the technology at the core enables an open hybrid cloud approach.

How will this change the value chain for technology ecosystems?

Relationships in enterprise IT have traditionally been one dimensional, where large vendors established a set of partners who brought value through technical services, applications, market access and client knowledge. While some of those attributes still hold true, the speed at which the digital economy moves, and the rate at which new technologies are emerging, demands a different kind of ecosystem.

Value will be created through a deeper level of technical expertise, combined with industry experience and client familiarity, and most significantly by the ability of organizations to quickly connect with and collaborate with partners who have complementary skills. Doing so will require ecosystem members to respect and support individual partners' desire to play different roles depending on their business model, competitive strengths and specific clients' needs.

Ecosystem players of all sizes – and with expertise in different industries – will create value by selling technology, leveraging market reach and client knowledge; building repeatable solutions; or integrating different technologies as part of a bespoke solution for a client.

In terms of technology ecosystems, how important now is the creation of trust?

Trust is the cornerstone of any growing ecosystem but is now especially important as enterprises embrace hybrid cloud and AI deeper into their organizations. They want to work with partners they know they can trust with their most important assets – their data and their reputation. But trust has multiple dimensions and each needs to be nurtured.

First is cyber security; an ecosystem must demonstrate the commitment of its members to continuously invest in the technology and talent – and work together – to stay ahead of the increasing number of threats.

Then, there are the wider issues of digital sovereignty, industry regulation and the ethical use of technology, such as AI. Organizations need to be certain that the enterprises they engage with adhere to the legal requirements governing their collaboration as well as take a broad, long-term view of addressing the societal issues surrounding the technology they use.

Finally, all stakeholders must be conscious of the sustainability of the ecosystem in terms of how it continues to develop and evolve to bring value, as well as its broader impact on addressing environmental and societal change.

How will this all play out in the longer term?

The fundamentals of successful technology ecosystems will not change – those that create value for both end clients and partners through continuous innovation will continue to thrive.

The most valuable ecosystems, however, will be those that nurture and respect the different – and changing – roles that players bring to helping clients with their business transformations through the application of technology (both existing and new). These will take the form of interdependent fluid networks of partners – built on open, secure, and resilient technology – working to co-create solutions for their clients' immediate needs and – taking the lessons of the last 18 months – prepare them to respond with agility to the inevitable changes that the future brings.