Emergence, evolution, and management of innovation ecosystems

van Dyck, Marc; Piller, Frank Thomas (Thesis advisor); Jarke, Matthias (Thesis advisor)

Aachen : RWTH Aachen University (2022, 2023)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2022


Ecosystems have received a growing interest among management and innovation scholars as a new way of organizing competition and innovation. Managers share this enthusiasm and have adopted ecosystem strategies in settings ranging from smartphones, video games, to ride-hailing services. While the literature has predominantly focused on consumer-facing firms in business-to-consumer markets that either started as ecosystems or adopted this model a long time, there is a lack of understanding how ecosystems affect established firms in traditional industries that produce and sell asset-heavy equipment. This is surprising considering that established firms from all industries increasingly turn to ecosystems either because they face competition from ecosystems or seek new growth opportunities. The objective of this dissertation is to examine how innovation ecosystems come into being (emerge), develop as a whole while its individual members mutually adapt (evolve), and how they can be managed. I particularly focus on how ecosystems affect established firms in traditional industries that produce and sell asset-heavy equipment. I use a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods to address these aspects in a series of three independent research essays.The first essay investigates how ecosystems in traditional industries emerge enabled by new technology. I present the results of an extensive Delphi survey, analyzing 1930 quantitative estimations and 629 qualitative arguments on a set of 24 projections, forecasting the future of digital manufacturing with a projection horizon towards 2030. Examining this data and a broad range of additional use cases of digital twins in manufacturing firms, I find that digital twins shared and connected across organizations demand a nuanced view of the design of future industry platforms for digital manufacturing. Based on the empirical findings, I develop a framework of design choices for industry platforms that enable interconnected digital twins - spanning different alternatives and identifying tensions for the design and utilization of such platforms. The second essay examines how incumbents transition from a product business to a platform business. Based on a longitudinal multi-case study of two incumbents in the agricultural sector, I reveal key choices they make to adapt their value creation and capture model toward a platform ecosystem, shaping their transformation outcomes differently. Based on these observations, I offer three propositions on how these choices orchestrate existing and new actors to create an ecosystem-level value proposition.In the third essay, I turn to the often overlooked side of complementors. An ecosystem’s competitive advantage is dependent on stimulating co-creation with a network of complementors that continuously provides complementary innovation. Yet, attracting and maintaining complementors is challenging and lack of complementor engagement is a major reason for ecosystem failure. Given mixed results in the literature, I test a key determinant for innovation outcomes. I argue that innovation efforts by complementors vary for different forms of innovation ecosystems due to differences in the type of knowledge and the way external contributors are organized. An analysis of 9,977 contributions by 6,790 complementors submitted over three years finds that past success in generating high-quality contributions reduces the likelihood of proposing subsequent high-quality contributions, confirming earlier findings of cognitive fixation. The results suggest that specialization, i.e., focus on a particular knowledge domain, is less prone to the negative effects of past success. Thereby, I contribute to the understanding of innovation efforts in different contexts and add to the discussion of the differing views on the role of knowledge. Collectively, the three research essays advance knowledge about the emergence, evolution, and management of innovation ecosystems. Importantly, they challenge the notion that ecosystems require a keystone firm that orchestrates its development and its members.Taken together, the three essays contribute to the understanding of how ecosystems emerge, evolve, and can be managed.