Blog post

The Growing Power of a Hidden Ecosystem

By Hank Barnes | June 08, 2021 | 1 Comment

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Ecosystems are all around us and continuing to expand as digital accelerates.   The idea of a community of people that consume technology solutions, produce them, or do both around some foundational construct is perpetually good–and not new.   Partner networks, app stores, APIs and more are all drivers of ecosystems.

But there is an type of ecosystem that has largely been hidden, or even derided, that is growing in power and presence.

Photo by Hung Tran from Pexels

The internal ecosystems within companies.   Sure, IT organizations have provided application catalogs in the past, but they largely controlled what was in them.  Some orgs have embraced APIs for use internally.  But this is different.

Today, we are seeing growing numbers of technology savvy people whose jobs sit outside of IT.   These folks create technology solutions–for themselves, their teams, or even the entire enterprise.   When we first started covering them (and something I’ve blogged about recently), we call this community tech producers.  That name will be evolving to Business Technologists.  And there will be lots of Gartner research published about them in the coming weeks and months.

Business Technologists and, at times, the cross-functional Fusion teams they work on, produce a lot of value.  They aren’t shadow IT.  Some of them are citizen developers, but many don’t write code.  They just find ways to use tech tools to make work more efficient, to improve customer experiences, and to share data insights.

The key to success with business technologists is  providing them with a flexible environment and access to tools (they may also get their own) and expertise to help maximize value and minimize mistakes.    Everything we can do to help business technologists exercise sound digital judgment is a win for everyone involved.

But we can take it farther.   What if, rather than just acknowledging and supporting these technologists, we treated them like what they are—a key part of the technology ecosystems that exist within every company.

Let’s pull back the curtain on these hidden ecosystems.   A number of colleagues (e.g. Mark O’Neill, John Santoro) study ecosystems and ecosystem platforms.  Learn best practices from them.   Create an easy to use portal where Business Technologists could publish and share solutions they have created.  Provide a certification service to validate their work, given certain solutions the endorsed checkmark for demonstrating sound digital judgment.   Provide training on tools and guides for picking the best tools for the job.   Make it easy for consumers to be producers and producers to be effective.   Measure what is getting used and the impact.

This is an idea whose time has come, and it has been a long time coming.   Back in the 80’s, I was developing solutions for the government using dBase 2, then Lotus Notes, then Edify, and the list goes on to the world of content management and business process management.   I spent my whole career working at places where you created solutions with little to no coding.   I now understand that the environment–of centralized control and fear—limited the success possibilities of those solutions.  Today, that type of stuff is among the hottest markets going.

But, if we don’t provide the right environment, the right structure, the right guardrails the risk of backlash will grow.

The answer is simple.   Treat your internal organization like an ecosystem.    Help it thrive.   (Side note:  The vendors who figure out how to enable and support this could be big winners.)


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1 Comment

  • Hank, you said, “They aren’t shadow IT.”

    I wonder where the Shadow analogy originated? I remember the context often had a somewhat negative undercurrent. Meaning: these independent thinking people were somehow breaking rules or policies that could put their employer at risk, etc.

    If the Shadow term was applied in a more balanced or positive tone, I don’t recall seeing that within the commentary about this phenomenon. Therefore, I’m glad that it was abandoned.

    Besides, from an IT vendor’s marketing perspective, I now see less value in creating ‘persona’ descriptions that are based upon customer employee titles (CIO, CTO, LoB, etc). Instead, I believe that describing archetypes of common characteristics that people have (regardless of title, or position in the org hierarchy) is more useful in understanding needs, wants, and buyer intent.

    I’m wondering, do you have thoughts on this related topic?