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Communications of the ACM

Economic and business dimensions

Visualization to Understand Ecosystems

Visualization to Understand Ecosystems, illustration

Credit: Sumkinn

Companies can no longer rely on just their internal competencies. They must complement their own competencies with those of other firms through alliances, partnerships, and digital relationships. Google, by opening its mobile Android platform to manufacturers and developers, has become the leading apps provider in the mobile space. These multifaceted interdependencies create complex connections, or ecosystems, that affect and are affected by multiple stakeholders such as suppliers, distributors, outsourcing firms, makers of related products or services, and technology providers.3 Competition today is between ecosystems. Understanding ecosystems can then help managers improve strategic decisions and reshape the boundaries of their industries. Interpreting this network of interactions, however, can be difficult. For example, a nascent ecosystem like the Internet of Things (IoT) has no dominant player and is increasing in scale, scope, and complexity.4 Under these circumstances, companies can have difficulty determining the most effective business opportunities.

We describe a graph theoretic visualization method to help companies map relationships between ecosystem stakeholders. To visualize ecosystems effectively, many entities, activities, and tools are required. Capturing, generating, and interpreting ecosystems requires a sponsor who wants to learn more about a company, a technology, or an industry, data scientists to collect salient data and prepare it for analysis, visualization tools, and a domain expert to interpret the visuals and make recommendations. Finally, companies must manage the data, visuals tools, and lessons learned in order to be effective.


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