How Digital Ecosystems Create Value for Associations

The term digital ecosystem have come to the forefront in recent years. Thanks, in part, to advancements in technology, many platforms now integrate easily with each other. Connected systems share data, making several different tools a cohesive unit. 

When all the elements of a digital ecosystem integrate, associations have a better chance of delivering a successful member engagement strategy. Giving members access is best-in-class software is critical. But, members shouldn’t feel like the experience is disjointed. They shouldn’t have any awareness of leaving one system to enter another. The beauty of a digital ecosystem is its connectedness. Every tool is tied together seamlessly. 

Because an ecosystem approach focuses on automation, manual processes become a thing of the past. This shift frees staff to focus on what’s important: making members happy. 

But what are digital ecosystems, exactly? How can a digital ecosystem benefit you? If this is a new concept for you, don’t worry. We’ll dive into the details. 

What is a digital ecosystem, in simple words?

The definition of a digital ecosystem is a group of connected software that function as a unit. It gives you the flexibility to choose any software while still having data flowing freely between systems. 

How do digital ecosystems work?

When thinking about how digital ecosystems work, it’s essential to consider the alternative. 

It’s not an all-in-one solution

Let’s look at Association Management Software (AMS). For a long time, this was the only software available on the market for member-based organizations. Coming from a time when integrating with other software was complex, AMS solutions are closed. They don’t play well with others. 

Instead, they try to do everything. You can manage your website, events, email marketing and more in one piece of software. The problem with this approach is that the software doesn’t excel at any of these tasks. It can’t stack up against best-in-class tools. As a result, your staff may branch off here and there, using a different tool for emails or events. Now you have data silos. Data trapped in different systems means you have no cohesive view of your member’s experience. 

There’s a better way

Digital ecosystems are a solution to these problems. You’re free to choose any tool. With integrations, these tools talk to each other. Because the systems are connected, data flows freely. When a member updates their data in one system, all the integrated tools receive the update. 

The alternative to an AMS is a Member Data Platform (MDP). An MDP is a member management platform focusing on integration. By integrating with top-notch platforms, the MDP can focus solely on helping you understand members. Another critical role the MDP plays in the ecosystem is connecting the tools. The MDP receives data changes from connected tools and, in turn, transmits those changes to other integrated systems. 

It’s essential to have a digital ecosystem platform, like an MDP, that sits in the middle and connects with other software for you. Otherwise, your ecosystem becomes very complex.

One of the benefits of this model is the digital ecosystem’s growth over time. As your association changes, you can add new systems. When your organization needs a new tool, expanding your ecosystem is straightforward. The same isn’t true for the AMS model. If your needs change, you rely on one company to provide a tool. 

Want to learn more? Here’s a great blog post on why you should always prioritize tools that integrate easily. 

What are the best examples of digital ecosystems?

There are two main types of digital ecosystems available on the market: single-company ecosystems and multi-company ecosystems.  

Single-Company Ecosystem

One type of ecosystem is when a single company offers a suite of connected products. Customers choose from a set of tools the company provides to meet their business needs. 

Microsoft is an example of this kind of ecosystem. They offer a wide range of business products and devices that work seamlessly together. Often a Microsoft product will come with this software already installed, eliminating the need for the customer to seek out competitor products. Each Microsoft product, however, is an individual tool within the umbrella of a larger company. The downside of an ecosystem from one company is that it tends to lock you in. Their software doesn’t always integrate well with external products, preventing customers from purchasing from the competition. 

Multi-Company Ecosystem

The other popular type of digital ecosystem is through a multi-company partnership. This type is also known as a platform ecosystem model. Each company may specialize in a given need. When all of these companies come together via integration, they form a robust ecosystem. The benefit of multi-company ecosystems is that they give you a lot more flexibility and freedom. 

Wicket is an excellent example of a piece in a multi-company digital ecosystem. Because we integrate with the top software for associations, it’s easy for customers to choose the right tools. Then, because of the integration, data flows easily between systems. 

What is a digital ecosystem strategy?

First, you’ll want to do an audit. The best way to create an ecosystem that works for you is by thoroughly auditing your tools to date and understanding where the holes and inefficiencies are. Learning from your colleagues and members is critical. Research in advance will make your digital ecosystem development smoother later on.  

Ask yourself these questions: 

  • What’s your member journey? What are all the steps a member takes when purchasing products and services? How could this be streamlined? 
  • How are tools managed today? Who’s involved in that management? Are these the people who should be involved?
  • How do your current tools support your organization’s goals? Are they detracting from those goals?
  • How do people collaborate today? Could they collaborate better through an ecosystem? Who should have access to which tools? 

From this audit, you can begin to draw your digital ecosystem map. You can see where tools should connect to create efficiencies. You can start building your data model at this stage. What data should tools share? For example, which systems need to know about membership status? What systems need mailing addresses? You can map this out precisely and, in doing so, have a clear map of how your ecosystem would share data. 

When you’re ready to strategize your new ecosystem, Associations Now have a great article to get you started. 

How do ecosystems change your existing processes?

When shifting to an ecosystem approach, it’s critical that you go in ready for a transformation. Your organization needs to remain open to change. With any digital transformation, processes and products will change. Embracing these changes will set you up for future success. 

An ecosystem will create operational efficiencies and improve your member experience in the long run. Being ready to look at your workflows in new ways is essential. 

A crucial aspect of transitioning to an ecosystem is training. We recommend scheduling dedicated training time for staff months in advance. Staff should feel comfortable using all the tools needed before you launch your new ecosystem. It’s also important to be realistic about who needs to use which tools. For example, if you have some staff who only need to see email open rates, this data is accessed in your member data platform. They won’t need access to the email marketing tool as well. Limiting the new tools staff use will ensure they’re not overwhelmed and improve adoption rates among staff. 

How do companies create value from digital ecosystems?

There are many ways to develop a successful digital ecosystem that creates value for your organization. Beyond an improved staff and member experience, it’s important also to consider ROI and security. 

Improve operational costs 

First of all, this shift will improve your operational costs. In the traditional AMS, your team is limited to clunky modules. These modules might partially do the job or require cumbersome workarounds to suit your needs. With a digital ecosystem, staff can use best-in-class software. This software is easier to use, and you can select the tools that precisely fit your needs. 

First of all, this shift will improve your operational costs. In the traditional AMS, your team is limited to clunky modules. These modules might partially do the job or require cumbersome workarounds to suit your needs. With a digital ecosystem, staff can use best-in-class software. This software is easier to use, and you can select the tools that precisely fit your needs. 

At Wicket, we carefully design integrations based on our customers’ workflows. The data shared between tools will make your life easier. For example, you’ll know who the current and lapsed members are in all your systems, making setting up member discounts easy. 

Improvements to security

You can also improve your overall security. With a digital ecosystem, your security team has visibility into every application. Right now, you might have staff branching off and using unconnected tools. Without this visibility, it’s difficult to see any security vulnerabilities. 

You can also have more robust data governance and privacy regulations in place. Wicket will store data on member interactions across your ecosystem. Instead of giving staff access to every tool, they can log in to Wicket to see what emails a member has opened or what events they’ve attended. 

Improved member experience

With a digital ecosystem, you’ll offer an experience more aligned with their expectations. Your members are using Netflix, Amazon, and Google and expect better than outdated technology from you. With a modern ecosystem, you can choose the latest technology. 

On top of that, a tool like Wicket will make your members’ experience seamless. Wicket offers single sign-on (SSO). Instead of having multiple usernames and passwords, your member can log in everywhere with the same set. They’ll manage that password and all their details from your website’s account centre. Wicket shares data updates with all of the integrated tools. 

More targeted digital marketing

Improved member experience

An important aspect is the role digital ecosystems play in digital marketing. Because digital ecosystems eliminate data silos, you’ll have a clearer picture of how your members engage. For example, you’ll see which emails resulted in purchases on your website. Or, you’ll see the impact event attendance has on members purchasing online courses. Knowing the whole story, you can up your digital marketing game. You’ll know what does and doesn’t convert. 

Digital ecosystems are the future. They give you the freedom to choose the tools you want without compromising your member data. Members and staff alike deserve an exceptional user experience. Giving them the best tools is the best way to do that.
When it comes to integrating, we know our stuff. It’s what we do every day. When you’re ready to start finding all the pieces to fit your ecosystem, we’re here to help. We have free, downloadable guides that break down every type of platform for you.

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