Ecosystems are complex, multifaceted organisms that encompass a range of actors and types of exchanges. This article will help you better understand what a data ecosystem is and how it works.

What is a data ecosystem ?

Although there are many books and definitions on data ecosystems, there is a lack of a common vocabulary. To define an ecosystem we will use several sources: Nardi and O’Day give a broad definition of what an ecosystem is: “a system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a particular local environment.” Martin, Sebastien & Turki, Slim & Renault, Samuel (2017) provide some additional clarification “ecosystems are made up of interacting components that are relatively well connected and have substantial interdependencies. The specific components vary from one ecosystem to another.” “What Is a Data Ecosystem?”, 2021, more enterprise-oriented describes data ecosystems as “a combination of infrastructure and enterprise applications (…) used to aggregate and analyze information” Abdulla, Ahmed, et al, 2021, characterizes it as “a platform that combines data from many providers and creates value through the use of the processed data.” To summarize, data ecosystems are environments in which two or more actors, whether public, private, or a combination of the two, come together to exchange data or services in various ways.

How do ecosystems work ?

Although data ecosystems contain a variety of actors (both public and private), two distinct criteria help us determine the type of ecosystem we observe. The first distinction we can make in ecosystems is between publicly and privately organized ecosystems. The second way to categorize ecosystems is whether they are centralized (meaning all data is uploaded to a specific platform) or decentralized (data remains in partner platforms and API routes allow other parties to access their data).  

Publicly orchestrated ecosystems

In publicly orchestrated ecosystems, a government entity, whether small-scale (regional government) or large-scale (e.g., the European Commission or national government), manages the creation, organization, and governance of the ecosystem. An example of a publicly orchestrated ecosystem is an exchange in Korea between KT Corporation (Korea Telecom) and KCDC (Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to mitigate the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak (Boral, Austin, et al., 2019) . In order to stem a MERS outbreak in 2020, the Korean government orchestrated a rapid response data ecosystem between the KCDC and telecommunications giant KT. A WEF (World Economic Forum) “Data Collaboration for the Common Good” publication details the parameters of this ecosystem: “KCDC helped government authorities coordinate their activities during the development of critical legislation to address private sector concerns about data privacy and consumer protection. Specifically, the legislation called for the destruction of all mobility data used during the collaboration after a specified period of time. This directive helped gain the trust of KT executives and subscribers, while improving the transparency of the data collaboration. KT’s effort to improve public health via its outbreak preparedness platform encouraged other large mobile operators to participate in the initiative” (Boral, Austin, et al., 2019). Government-orchestrated ecosystems such as these often have very specific goals for their creation. These ecosystems have specific contracts, metrics, and agreements on exactly how data will be collected, used, and often destroyed after the collaboration.  

Privately orchestrated ecosystems

Privately organized ecosystems are the most common types of ecosystems. They are organized by a private company. An example of a private ecosystem is mentioned in Marcus Roth and colleagues’ paper “Four ways to accelerate the creation of data ecosystems,” in which “a digital service provider and a supermarket chain partnered to solve a recurring problem for consumer packaged goods companies: understanding how advertising affects purchases. Each partner collects large amounts of data – the digital service provider collects advertising and audience data from millions of accounts, and the supermarket chain collects purchase data from millions of customers. Combined, these data sources can be used to uncover the link between advertising and purchases – a significant challenge for FMCG marketers and digital advertising platforms. The ecosystem creates benefits for both partners” (Aaser, Mohammed, et al., 2020). Depending on the orchestration of the ecosystems the very functioning of the ecosystem changes, so it is interesting to dig deeper to know the difference between centralized and decentralized ecosystems.

Also to be discovered : Centralized and decentralized ecosystems: what are the differences?

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