In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing digital world, businesses must adapt to stay competitive and relevant. In the digital age, data is more than ever a key resource for business, science and society. The ability to use, connect and evaluate data is the basis for innovation. The emergence of digital business models and ecosystems has become increasingly vital to the success of businesses. In the long run, companies that prioritize building and maintaining strong digital ecosystems are likely to be more successful. For such ecosystems to be successful, collaboration based on trust between the players involved is imperative for digital businesses to thrive.
Federated ecosystems as a new form of collaboration
The federated approach is an emerging trend that is likely to play a significant role in shaping the future of collaboration. Digital ecosystems are complex networks of interconnected businesses, suppliers, customers, and partners operating in a virtual environment. By working together in the digital realm, businesses can create a more seamless and integrated experience for their customers, tap into new digital markets, and reduce costs by sharing digital resources and expertise.
There are several ongoing projects in Europe that are working towards a federated ecosystem by creating a common infrastructure and standards as well as jointly agreed principles for data exchange:
- Gaia-X is an European initiative that brings together companies and organizations from different industries to establish an ecosystem in which data is made available, collated and shared in a trustworthy environment where users always retain sovereignty over their data. This is achieved by agreeing on common standards and protocols that enable secure and interoperable data exchange (https://gaia-x.eu/).
- TANGO, another project, provides a trustworthy data management and sharing solution to ensure data sovereignty, governance and provenance for citizens, businesses, and public administrations across Europe (https://tango-project.eu/).
- FAME is a collaborative project that brings together experts in data management, data technologies, the data economy, and digital finance with the goal to develop and launch a unique, trustworthy, energy-efficient, and secure federated data marketplace for Embedded Finance (EmFi) that can be accessed globally (https://www.fame-horizon.eu/).
This federated ecosystem approach will unleash the full potential of data-driven innovation while safeguarding privacy, security, and data sovereignty.
The different ways of building trust in ecosystems
Building trust is not a purely technical endeavor. It is also social and political, thus making trust a truly fragile construct that can be easily destroyed. While privacy, security and data sovereignty (technology and legal frameworks) can help build trust, long-term trust can only be established in a social context (the human factor). Ultimately, we trust people, not things. We can all observe this with big brands that also work best when they manage to give themselves a human face and build up a good reputation.
On the technical level, there are protocols and standards that define how processes and procedures work. Blockchain technology is an example of how technology can help build trust. But it is as important to acknowledge the human factor in building trust, as social norms and agreements are needed to build trust in networks and communities.
Metaphorically speaking, the ‘mechanical trust’ in systems and protocols is like trusting the brakes in a car: They are tested and are mostly reliable. But there is also relational trust, based on certain rules, such as everyone applying the brakes at a red light. Without this rule, even the best brakes would be of no use. New technologies also require rules and standards that state when, how, why and for what purpose these technologies are used, and we have to trust that our partners will act accordingly.
Businesses must focus on a multifaceted approach to cultivate trust in digital ecosystems. This includes prioritizing transparent and honest communication, maintaining consistency and reliability, fostering mutual benefit for all parties, setting clear expectations and guidelines, implementing conflict resolution processes, and continuously striving for improvement.
A call to action
In the realm of digital ecosystems, as noted above, building trust requires a delicate balance of transparency, effective communication, trustworthiness, and collaboration. It is a concept that must be nurtured and maintained, and its fragility calls for the use of technology and legal frameworks as well as prioritizing trust-building efforts within the ecosystem. When this is accomplished, individuals and organizations can establish robust relationships that lead to greater success within digital ecosystems.
Joining an ecosystem opens the doors to new markets, enhances innovation, increases efficiency, improves the customer experience, and fosters trust. By collaborating and pooling resources, companies within an ecosystem can achieve greater success, and create more value for customers and partners. This makes joining an ecosystem a crucial factor in achieving long-term growth and sustainability in today’s digital economy.
Emma Wehrwein is the Digital Business Models Project Manager at eco – Association for the Internet Industry. She holds a Master’s degree in Science and worked as an IT Project Manager in the chemical industry for many years before joining eco. Since 2020, she has headed the Project Management Office for the German Gaia-X Federation Services (GXFS) initiative and is active as ambassador for Gaia-X at events and social media.
Lauresha Memeti is the Technical Project Manager for the Gaia-X Federation Services (GXFS) project in Germany, overseen by the eco – Association of the Internet Industry. With a background in Computer Science and Engineering, she actively contributes to project management and strategic development in areas such as Digital Business Models and Gaia-X, among others, within the eco Association.