Open digital ecosystems: The turn of the state

Platform thinking can help create impact at a scale. Open digital ecosystems can form the foundation for all stakeholders to ignite large-scale change

Piyush Sharma
Updated: Sep 11, 2020 02:04:44 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Technology does not disrupt, innovation models do.

In an age of ubiquitous digital networks, businesses harnessing the power of the platform win. Platforms connect diverse affinity groups. Platform partnerships can expand demand-supply ecosystems. Platforms irrevocably alter the lives of millions today.

There are important learnings to be taken from massive market-based-thinking successes. One can use the understanding and deep insights derived out of disruptive global success case studies of cutting-edge businesses built on platforms. This can be used to pursue an opportunity to re-imagine the exciting transformation of society and ignite new thinking for global policy issues, facilitating social innovation projects.

The social and development sector worldwide has stayed clear of these massive developments continuing to focus its energies on the conventional models of sustenance. Business model innovation backed by lessons from market-based thinking can lead to value creation, capture, extraction and sustenance for the social entrepreneurial ventures through the intervention of technology. Example: Food offers opportunities for digital intervention; the creation of a suitable digital platform which enables bridging the gap between food surplus and food wastage when hunger is known to be a bigger killer than any other cause.

Platform thinking can help create impact at a scale of influencing global policy issues. The developed world typically matches resources to problems. The same luxury does not exist in most places in third-world countries. To be able to deliver more with less, with innovation and ingenuity, with the use of technology, is what platform thinking can help deliver.

The challenges before the world today are dynamically complex and diverse and need addressing through open, technology-enabled digital ecosystems. There are multiple players involved—the individual, the media, the civil society, the state and the market structures—and there is a case for all the actors to come together and collaborate on a new way of thinking.

What does it take to identify large problems and set audacious goals, to imagine large-scale possibilities?

Society as a platform
Coordination remains the cornerstone pivot in both hierarchies and markets. It has an even more intense role in p-2-p interactions for shared sourcing, production and consumption. Societies have historically performed the role of default coordinating. The relevance of coordination in different contexts ranging from hierarchies to platforms and markets, and ways to unlock the value, cannot be emphasised enough.

A platform-thinking approach necessitates technology as the first layer that operates as an open shared, foundational infrastructure. There is a need to examine key design and technology characteristics including the benefits and challenges of blockchain and an AI environment to achieve scale, speed and sustainability as regards the societal objectives.

Such ecosystems could lead to serving the interests of many, while allowing for flexibility, choice and contextualising to local and diverse conditions. Distributed problem-solving ability amongst various types of entities within the platform may enable solutions to some of the trickiest problems, therefore.

Such an endeavour could examine the viability of creating a free platform: An open source for the public good. The idea is to be able to build an open arena for experimentation, a platform that thrives on collaboration, co-creation and technology where the individual, media, governments, civil society and the markets come together to address relevant questions about the future.

Collaboration on such a project could try and address some of the following questions: Could social entrepreneurial capitalism and market-based thinking solve society’s challenges? How could we design, build and scale such a platform? How could we extend and leverage it in diverse contexts? Could tech-enabled open digital co-creation networks help deliver multi-disciplinary innovation to solve large, diverse and complex societal challenges globally?

The India story
Aadhaar formed the first unique identity stack—a digital backbone on which tens of open digital ecosystems could be built. The first such successful case has been that of UPI (United Payments Interface). There are said to be some ten more projects in the offing. There is Swasth and The Health Stack. There is Diksha, the education piece. And then there is National Urban Innovation Stack for Smart Cities and the India Urban Data Exchange. It is projected that 10 of these could collectively create new economic value of $500 billion by 2030, as per Roopa Kudva of Omidyar Network India.

In the age that we live in, technology has shifted from physical to digital. Assets from tangible to intangible. Strategy from operator to allocator. Leadership from commander to co-creator. Consumers from customers to contributors. Revenues from transaction to subscription. Mindset from closed to open.

It is high time that the benefits of the disruptive and proven platform business model shift from private good to public good, digital transformation to societal transformation.

The writer works at the intersection of business, civil society, academia, social and policy impact. He is executive-in-residence at UCLA and a Stanford SEED consultant besides being a global CEO coach and a C-Suite + start-up advisor

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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