“Ecosystem” has become a buzzword within the eCommerce industry, so the team at Echidna thought it was time to shed some light on the subject. First, we did some hard-core research (i.e.: Wikipedia the definition). This is what comes up:
Ec·o·sys·tem (noun): a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. (in general use) a complex network or interconnected system. "Silicon Valley's entrepreneurial ecosystem"
A good starting point, but how does this relate directly to an online merchant? I decided to call on the experts, Echidna’s CEO, Adam Roozen, and CTO, Mike Pierce, to discuss.
What does “ecosystem” mean to you in the context of eCommerce?
Mike Pierce: When I think of ecosystems, I think of these rich natural environments, teeming with life and filled with organisms interacting with one another. I imagine digital ecosystems in much the same way.
We know every online storefront starts with an eCommerce platform. But as anyone who’s worked in eCommerce can tell you, that’s just the beginning. It takes more than a well-designed site, catalog of products, and a streamlined checkout process to build an eCommerce business; you’re going to need several other software platforms to operate it. And since eCommerce doesn’t stop once an order is placed online, we also have to consider all of the downstream systems that are needed. All of these platforms, the developers that build them, the vendors that support them, the partners that implement them, and the companies that use them create the eCommerce ecosystems that retailers choose to be a part of when they select software platforms for their digital business.
Adam Roozen: A strong ecosystem provides these benefits by way of leveraging familiar systems and familiar teams that utilize familiar processes. The companies have worked together before, the people in each company know each other by name, they all know each other's tendencies, they use common language, and they are already aligned regarding the expected use of systems and processes. By starting with this high level of consistency, less planning and preparation is required when adaptation of innovation is required, just like adding one person to a team is likely to be a smoother activity than adding 10 new people to a team.
In your opinion, what are the most beneficial aspects of being tied into an ecosystem as an online merchant?
M.P.: I think the greatest benefit of being tied to a well-designed ecosystem is the access it provides to rapid innovation. The pace of change in today’s digital markets puts an incredible amount of pressure on retailers to constantly innovate. Today’s modern off-the-shelf eCommerce platforms have massive global communities of developers, designers, partners, and companies; all innovating and contributing to the platform’s rapid evolution. When anyone in this community of innovators extends the capabilities of a particular platform, that innovation immediately benefits the rest of the community, and is then improved upon by others, further extending its value to the community. This extended ecosystem of contributors turns out new innovation faster than any single company could ever hope to match.
What are the potential pitfalls or dangers of not being connected to a strong eCommerce ecosystem?
A.R.: When you're not connected to a strong ecosystem, there's a lack of familiarity and a lack of repeatability. You are, in essence, creating a new ecosystem for yourself. The companies and people don't know each other, words may mean different things to different people, and each team expects a different process to be used. This creates significant room for error, driving up timelines, budgets, and headaches. In addition, when something new arrives, like a paradigm shift in the market or new innovation needs, the team will have difficulty making sense of the new world as they are bogged down with the complexities of making the "new" ecosystem work.
Echidna talks about having its own eCommerce ecosystem: what makes Echidna’s ecosystem unique?
M.P.: Echidna’s ecosystem is unique because we play a pivotal role at the center of many of our client’s eCommerce ecosystems. From frontend digital marketing to backend order fulfillment, we know what platforms retailers need and their ability to adapt as technology trends and market conditions change. We know the platform providers, development communities, and technology partners who support their continuous innovation. Whether we’re helping clients choose the right platforms for their ecosystem or actively implementing and integrating those platforms into their day-to-day business, we’re in a unique position to offer perspective that is supported by years of eCommerce experience and a large community of innovators.
A.R.: Agreed, we have executed many projects with our preferred partners, creating familiarity. Our companies and teams use the same language, have the same expectations of systems and processes, and trust each other. This keeps errors to a minimum, and expedites resolution when issues do arise. In any of Echidna's projects, there are new systems introduced (third party tools). Since there is a significant amount of familiarity with the base set of teams and tools, the addition of a few new teams or tools is straight-forward to accomodate without the risk of a working outside of an ecosystem, where everything is new to everyone.
What are some of the best examples of ecosystems that you’ve seen in recent projects?
M.P.: The best ecosystems I’ve seen meet three important criteria. The software platforms supporting them are well-integrated with each other and with the business operations that depend on them. The platforms are easily configurable or extendable to provide new and unique capabilities. And innovative communities who dedicate themselves to continually improving these platforms, contributing to the success of every ecosystem that depends on it.