Digital-First Success Requires Ecosystem-First Thinking

How companies are embracing an ecosystem approach to digital transformation and achieving a faster time to value

Jed Bleess
Digital-First Success Requires Ecosystem-First Thinking

The digital economy has come to dominate the global landscape. Faced with continuous disruption, more organization are shifting from their traditional delivery of physical goods and services to the creation of new services based on electronic exchange. Digital now represents a sizeable share of economic growth around the world, with global digital transformation spending forecast to reach $3.4 trillion in 2026 with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.3%, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC).[1] Nearly all enterprises are trying to tap into this growth and have some form of a digital transformation strategy. However, despite high adoption of digital initiatives, organizations face persistent challenges, and one in four digital projects is at risk of failing.[2]

Many organizations start on the digital journey but don’t make it past the early stages into digital maturity—and therefore haven’t fully seen the return on investment (ROI) of digital. IDC benchmark research indicates that about 28% of US organizations are now in the most advanced stages of maturity.[3] This small portion of digital leaders are capturing most of the digital growth while followers compete for a shrinking pool. In order to be competitive, organizations need to go beyond deploying new technologies and focus on transformation that drives a clear business outcome. They can’t do this alone, and they’ll need to change how they leverage ecosystems to stay competitive.

The essential role of ecosystems in digital success

Increasingly, business leaders are recognizing the power and importance of digital ecosystems for business success—and digital partnerships are on the rise. In an IDC white paper sponsored by Equinix, titled Connected Ecosystems, Distributed Infrastructure for Digital-First Business, IDC argues that organizations must take advantage of digital ecosystems for growth and innovation: “It has become apparent that no one can pursue digital-first strategies without the partner ecosystem that is required to deliver solutions.”[4] In other words, companies today need to be “ecosystem-first” to thrive in the digital economy.

The most mature organizations understand the benefits of leveraging an ecosystem of partners to improve resiliency and gain competitive advantage. Understanding these needs, prioritizing the shift to digital partners, and choosing the right partners become a leadership requisite for success.” —IDC White Paper, Connected Ecosystems, Distributed Infrastructure for Digital-First Business

An ecosystem-first approach can improve the agility, resiliency and sustainability of your business. Digital ecosystems include the foundational cloud and networking providers that enable your business to operate in a digital world, as well as specialized industry ecosystems that have expertise in a given domain. For example:

  • The retail ecosystem is enhancing personalized customer experiences and AI diagnostics.
  • Digital healthcare ecosystems are helping healthcare companies improve patient control over their own data and access to new health innovations.
  • The manufacturing ecosystem is driving more agile production and supply chain visibility.
  • The financial services ecosystem is addressing regulatory requirements while improving user experience.

The pace of ecosystem growth is accelerating

As digital ecosystems become more essential to success, they are growing more quickly into robust, high-value communities.

Ecosystems evolve from early incubation through the following phases to become high-value communities:

  • Participant expansion: The initial stage involved attracting key providers (magnets), supporting suppliers and participants to join the ecosystem.
  • Digital cluster formation: Participants with similar interests and objectives began to cluster together, fostering collaboration and value creation.
  • Digital communities: Over time, these clusters transform into high-value communities with shared goals, resources and success measures.

Today, that evolution is happening faster than ever. The availability of a vast array of network and infrastructure services helps leaders integrate the capabilities they need faster. Being near dense pools of existing participants is simplifying access and reducing the time for emerging ecosystems to build critical mass. Specialized ecosystems enable organizations to more rapidly transform their business processes, accelerating the formation of digital clusters. This is an example of the network effect—the ability to exchange data at a higher velocity across a larger variety of partners in more locations creates compound value for all participants.

What started as a handful of digital ecosystems accessed by only a few industries is now a digital economy that’s a marketplace of producers and consumers from an exponentially growing number of ecosystems. New participants are subscribing to services from providers in order to make new digital offerings available to their subscribers in a fraction of the time it took before.

Unlock access to ecosystem marketplaces to accelerate innovation

Embracing ecosystems unlocks dual value. On the one hand, it brings new digital capabilities that you can seamlessly integrate into your operations. On the other hand, it provides access to a rich network of partners, creating opportunities for new digital offerings. Organizations that excel at partnership can reduce their time to generate value and scale with lower risk, leading to sustainable growth.

Here are some tips on how you can get started:

  • Reimagine your core business processes. Shifting traditional application workflows to the cloud won’t bring the benefits of digital transformation by itself.
  • Instead of focusing on ROI, think about time to value.
  • Establish practices to onboard new external partners into your ecosystem.
  • Prioritize those partnerships that help you simultaneously meet your resilience and sustainability goals.
  • Use your ecosystems to access capabilities and to market your offerings.

Embracing ecosystems for growth

According to the IDC White Paper on connected ecosystems, “Building a digital-first business requires access to digital platforms that can scale with ease to all locations; support interconnected, cloudlike architectures; and operate with a high level of autonomy across all these locations.” Ecosystems today are bringing together these essential elements. In fact, at Equinix, we’d even argue that ecosystems have become so essential that your ecosystem is your infrastructure. And we can support your journey to build a digital-first business with ecosystem-first thinking as a foundation.

Digital ecosystems are the way of the future, so embracing them now means being better positioned for growth, innovation and competitive advantage. For a deeper look at the importance of ecosystems in a digital-first world, download the full IDC White Paper Connected Ecosystems, Distributed Infrastructure for Digital-First Business.


[1] IDC, IDC Spending Guide Sees Worldwide Digital Transformation Investments Reaching $3.4 Trillion in 2026, October 26, 2022.

[2] Failure is common, with 42% of organizations worldwide reporting that 11-25% of their digital projects were not completed, while 17% reported that 26-50% of their projects failed. IDC’s Future Enterprise Resiliency and Spending Survey, Wave 7, August 2022.

[3] IDC, IDC MaturityScape Benchmark: Digital Maturity in the U.S., 2022, doc #EUR149303622, July 2022.

[4] IDC, Connected Ecosystems, Distributed Infrastructure for Digital-First Business, doc #US50037622, January 2023.

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Jed Bleess Director, Equinix Research Group
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