Friday Rant: The “Solution Ecosystem” Metaphor and Analyst/Journalist/Practitioner Collaboration

My Friday Rant last week covering the rise of procurement platforms and solution ecosystems at the eventual expense of stand-alone suites caused a bit of a stir, judging by traffic numbers and tweets alone. The central component of my argument is that sometime in the next decade, Spend Management tools operating in an isolated platform paradigm (even with a common data model and architecture) that weren't built to connect with the outside world and embrace its participation in an ecosystem are likely to take a back seat to disruptive new models built from the ground up, like Facebook, to encourage the integrated use of third-party applications and knowledge sources. It's worth extending this paradigm, I believe, to the way we share information and collaborate in our sector among analysts, journalists, practitioners, consultants, academics and just about everyone else.

The historic paradigm for information sharing in procurement and supply chain, as I've observed before, took a one-way "talk down" or "top down" approach. Analysts, academics and journalists covered subjects and shared opinionated articles, papers, lectures and conference presentations. Collaborative participation -- especially extending to "competitive" or "substitute" information sources -- was rare beyond the occasional panel interaction at a conference. And all the audience could do was, well, serve as an audience, asking questions with limited (if any) chance to actually participate and shape the ongoing dialogue.

Within this closed world, there were (and are) lots of leg-lifting contests to mark one's various territories. From journalists criticizing the work of competitors and substitutes and even threatening to blackball those subjects, individuals and companies that they cover should they participate in certain activities with others -- yes, this actually happened once years ago when an individual at a publication reached out to Spend Matters sponsors and intimated that continued participation could have averse impacts with their own relationship -- to closed conference speaking selection processes that appear to be a giant black box for how decisions are made, the proverbial fire hydrants in this world are indeed well-scented to create barriers and discourage outsiders to getting involved.

But I believe things are starting to change. And they're changing fast, among certain organizations that "get it." As an example in the conference space, one leading analyst firm is having me present at one of their events this spring (which I'm really excited about). And we were asked on the MetalMiner side a couple of weeks back if we'd participate in a commodity price forecast outlook session at an event held by an old line media/events company. Years ago, a new media firm covering similar material to the traditional research houses or media/conference companies would never have gotten such an opportunity. And at the same time, we've invited a number of other experts who cover the same commodities and topics we are also experts in to present at our Commodity EDGE event taking place the week after next.

Just as next generation technology suites in the Spend Management sector are beginning to invite participation from others -- even potential competitors -- to create broader ecosystems of application usage and knowledge, so too will publications, events companies, analyst firms, old media, practitioners, new media, trade and non-profit association and academics cross boundaries with each other and level the playing field for information exchange. Need proof in the coming years? Look for the following:

  • An increasing number of papers, blogs and articles coming from non-journalists and analysts
  • Association leadership and board seats held by those who do not fit traditional profiles
  • Cross-participation in speaking and thought leadership opportunities among associations, analyst firms, etc. at conferences and events (inviting others who may have been previously seen as competition to participate)
  • Supplier and vendor selection decisions (in technology and beyond) supported in part by research and experiences from non-analysts, non-bloggers and non-journalists (e.g., peer-to-peer exchange via LinkedIn, private social networks)
  • Supplier experiences becoming part of the public domain -- or at least a semi-public domain -- rather than something squirrelled away internally within companies (e.g., around CSR, risk, performance and related issues)

I suspect this new ecosystem for information exchange and dialogue mirroring Facebook, Linkedin and others around technology -- both B2C and B2B -- will arrive faster than you might think. So as social interaction goes, take a minute to ponder the following quote from Roy Amara, recently referenced in The Economist. And include this new world of peer collaboration along with his reference to technology: "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." In this case, I'd argue the long run has already begun.

- Jason Busch

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