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Getting Physical: The Rise of Hybrid Ecosystems

BCG Sept 2017 Getting Physical COVER

On June 16, 2017, Amazon surprised the business world by announcing that it would acquire Whole Foods for approximately $13.7 billion. The acquisition is Amazon’s largest to date by far as well as a significant departure from its traditional strategy of growing businesses organically.

There has been much speculation about the strategic rationale behind this move. Some have referred to the overlap between the clientele of Amazon Prime and of Whole Foods, others to the value of a brick-and-mortar presence, and still others to the need for scale in building out grocery supply chains.1

Whatever the specific motivation for this transaction, we believe the acquisition is not an isolated occurrence but part of a broader trend: the shift from the largely digital ecosystems that dominate today to ones richly exploiting both the digital and the physical worlds. This shift signals opportunities not only for digital giants but also for physical incumbents to build new digital-physical ecosystems. Orchestrators of these hybrid ecosystems must follow some new principles and adopt a set of behaviors different from those that purely digital ecosystems require. The Japanese company Recruit offers a rich example of how to succeed in this new realm.

The Rise of the Digital Giants

Digital ecosystems—networks of companies and consumers that interact dynamically to create mutual value—have enabled some of the most profitable and most valuable business models that exist today.2 Digital ecosystems create value primarily through the delivery of digital goods and services, using scalable digital platforms such as two-sided marketplaces. The five most valuable public companies in the US—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon—are all orchestrators of digital ecosystems. This is a strong contrast with ten years ago, when Microsoft was the only digital player alongside four physical giants (Exxon Mobil, General Electric, AT&T, and Citigroup) in the top five.3

What has allowed digital ecosystems to become so dominant? The answer lies in a winner-take-all dynamic of competition, which allows winners to reach tremendous scale and build impregnable moats around their positions. Three sets of factors have contributed to this competitive dynamic:

  • Zero Marginal Costs and Positive Network Effects. Successful digital ecosystem orchestrators offer a dominant service in their core category. Think of Google’s search engine or Facebook’s social network. Starting from this service, orchestrators have relied on virtually zero marginal production costs, network effects, and low barriers to geographical expansion (in the absence of protectionism) to grow their digital ecosystems to gigantic proportions. Digital marketplaces, like Amazon’s, embody all these features: adding one or a thousand more products for sale comes at virtually no additional cost; the more people who use the marketplace, the more attractive it becomes; and digital goods can be delivered around the world at little extra cost.
  • Unprecedented Data Accumulation and Analysis. Successful digital giants take advantage of the “data flywheel effect”: as digital ecosystems grow, they accumulate more data, which then fuels improvements in services, thus stimulating further growth. Improvements in data processing and analysis, driven by cumulative experience, and the spreading of investment costs over large volumes of data, strengthen the advantage. The ability of digital giants to attract and develop digital talent in areas of short supply, like machine learning and data engineering, reinforces the virtuous circle even more.
  • Seamless and Comprehensive Digital Experience. Finally, once they reach a certain scale, digital ecosystems can become even bigger by providing a seamless experience for users, giving them the ability to satisfy multiple needs on a single platform. Digital winners manage to build comprehensive ecosystems, including a wide variety of service providers, to this end. By reducing the incentive for users to leave the platform, these ecosystems are able to capture most of their attention, time, and value. The most salient example of the one-stop digital ecosystem so far is the Chinese app WeChat (which combines the functionalities of Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Yelp, and others), but all US digital ecosystem orchestrators are moving in this direction.

Orchestrators of digital ecosystems have all focused on exploiting this winner-take-all dynamic to establish dominant positions. Nondigital players, by contrast, lacking the kind of advantages noted above, have mostly not succeeded in building digital ecosystems. Consider the fate of Sears, which in the early 2010s invested heavily in an e-commerce business that would complement its traditional brick-and-mortar business. In the end, Sears’s digital business failed to achieve the necessary scale, and this, coupled with a sales decline in the neglected core business, led to a loss of more than 75% of market value for the company.4

More: The BCG Henderson Institute is The Boston Consulting Group’s internal think tank, dedicated to exploring and developing valuable new insights from business, technology, and science by embracing the powerful technology of ideas. The Institute engages leaders in provocative discussion and experimentation to expand the boundaries of business theory and practice and to translate innovative ideas from within and beyond business. For more ideas and inspiration from the Institute, please visit: Ideas & Inspiration


Your Strategy Has to Be Flexible—But So Does Your Execution

GDYNIA 2017 stocznia Stena fot. Grzybowski

Peter Drucker said: “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” This and a slew of similar maxims reflect a common view of strategy execution: that it’s distinct from strategy, harder to pull off than defining a strategy, and therefore more critical to success—underpinned by seemingly indisputable virtues such as diligence, discipline, consistency, alignment, and focus. But such a simplistic view of execution can be misleading and can reduce actual impact.

In fact, several frequently observed traps result from such a view of execution.

Losing the Plot.

Metric Obsession.

Planning Myopia. 

Missed Learning Opportunities. 

The Tyranny of Intermediate Goals.

Missing the Forest for the Trees.

Execution as a Thing.

The Tyranny of Practicality.

We should not let the simplistic but comforting dualism of strategy and execution deceive us. Execution should be as varied, as thoughtful, as subtle, as diverse, and as intertwined with strategy as is necessary to get the job done, and that will vary according to the specific challenge at hand. In short, your execution needs a strategy.

More in:

The BCG Henderson Institute is The Boston Consulting Group’s internal think tank, dedicated to exploring and developing valuable new insights from business, technology, and science by embracing the powerful technology of ideas. The Institute engages leaders in provocative discussion and experimentation to expand the boundaries of business theory and practice and to translate innovative ideas from within and beyond business. For more ideas and inspiration from the Institute, please visit: Ideas & Inspiration

Author: Martin Reeves ,  Senior Partner & Managing Director; Director of the BCG Henderson Institute, New York


Competing in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

BCG Age-of-Artificial-Intelligence-ex03-lg_tcm80-218636

Until recently, artificial intelligence (AI) was similar to nuclear fusion in unfulfilled promise. It had been around a long time but had not reached the spectacular heights foreseen in its infancy. Now, however, AI is realizing its potential in achieving human-like capabilities, so it is time to ask: How can business leaders harness AI to take advantage of the specific strengths of man and machine? Read the rest of this entry »


A CEO’s Guide to Navigating Brexit


The Leave campaign’s victory, with a margin of 3.8 percentage points, has likely ushered in a protracted phase of uncertainty  for the UK, EU, and global economies. A systemic shock cutting across industries and borders, Brexit poses significant strategic challenges for business leaders as they navigate the fallout. Judging by our interactions with CEOs around the world to date, some of their burning questions are:
What are the elements of uncertainty created by Brexit?
How can leaders develop a specific view of the industry- and firm-level implications?
What are the first-response imperatives for corporate leaders?
What structural changes to the business environment are triggered by Brexit, and how do we adapt to them?
This is how we recommend CEOs approach these difficult questions:
Identify the Sources of Uncertainty
The uncertainties that come with Brexit can be ordered into four categories. While the overall directional impact is generally clear, it’s the magnitude, duration, and differential that are more critical to determine.
Political Process. There are significant drivers of uncertainty domestically and abroad. At home, the UK faces dissolution pressures if Scotland seeks to salvage its EU membership, while the EU has every incentive to make Brexit a painful experience to deter other defectors, making the outcome of negotiations difficult to predict. These unknowns have the potential to influence the evolution of the financial, institutional, and real economies.
Financial Economy. The directional impact on key prices was widely predicted—and strong corrections to the pound (–11% versus
the dollar) and to equities (–13.6% FTSE250) were indeed recorded in the first two sessions after the vote. The Bank of  England will likely lower policy rates, or even adopt negative interest rates. What drives uncertainty are the magnitude and duration of these corrections; as prices guide resource allocation, their volatility and uncertainty interfere with planning and investment decisions.
Trade Regime. The reconstruction challenge for the UK’s trade regime is clear. The EU represents 47% of UK exports, facilitates an additional 13% through non-EU trade deals, and currently negotiates with countries worth an additional 21% of  UK exports. While the UK would need only eight bilateral trade agreements to cover 80% of its current exports, there is a long tail of 18 additional countries worth more than $1 billion in UK exports and an additional 132 countries to cover all existing exports. Both internal and external factors drive uncertainty about the duration and outcome of the reconstruction challenge—for example, the UK’s ability to negotiate agreements, having outsourced this task to Brussels for 40 years, or trade partners’ willingness to engage with Britain in a constructive and timely manner.
Real Economy. The transmission mechanism to the real economy is primarily via delayed or canceled investment decisions or the anticipatory redeployment of employment or production assets. Here, too, the directional impact has been analyzed credibly, with estimates ranging from 3% to 9% of GDP loss. Here it is the speed, depth, and duration of these effects—on demand, consumption, and employment across industries—that drive uncertainty.
Determine the Specific Industry- and Firm-Level Implications Industries and individual companies vary widely in terms of the impact on the uncertainties outlined above, due to their differential dependence on UK and EU production, demand and trade, global trade, regulation, and integration into EU structures (such as R&D subsidies and EU norms and standards). Therefore each company needs to carry out (or take to the next
level) its own specific impact analysis.
It is impossible to forecast precise impact with confidence, given that exit terms, timing, and knock-on implications are all uncertain. A scenario-based approach to planning, modeling, and preparing for multiple outcomes is therefore recommended.

This can be done in four steps:



Martin Reeves is a senior partner and managing director in the New York office of The Boston Consulting Group, the director  of the BCG Henderson Institute, and a coauthor of Your Strategy Needs a Strategy, Harvard Business Review Press, 2015.
Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak is the firm’s chief economist and head of BCG’s Center for Macroeconomics.


Prawo restrukturyzacyjne otwiera nowe możliwości przed firmami zagrożonymi upadłością

EY 2016-03-24 Prawo restrukturyzacyjne otwiera nowe TABELA

Łatwiejsza i szybsza procedura, uniknięcie upadłości, możliwość normalnego prowadzenia działalności gospodarczej – to tylko kilka z rozwiązań, które wprowadza prawo restrukturyzacyjne. Pomimo że ustawa obowiązuje dopiero od początku roku, już pojawiły się pierwsze wnioski o otwarcie postępowania restrukturyzacyjnego. Read the rest of this entry »