Tech Ecosystems: What They Are and How They Can Benefit Your Organization.


It doesn’t take more than a quick Google search to see headlines about “technological ecosystems.”

From a biological perspective, we know that ecosystems are interconnected, so that even small disturbances can trigger a chain of events that affect the overall health of the system. Viewing technology through this lens allows organizations to understand the breadth of digital tools they are using and how their interactions affect the system as a whole.

“In my context, the technology ecosystem is made up of systems that you don’t know are affecting an organization’s management solution or data,” says Gretchen Steenstra, director of client strategy at Delcor Technology Solutions. “Organizations now have fragmented ecosystems of virtual event platforms and event registration platforms, and as their websites become more functional, these connections are becoming more important.

Analysis of technology ecosystems gives organizations the visibility they need to identify trends, pitfalls, and opportunities. “Sometimes the conversations you have are the most important part of the process,” Steenstra said. “Having a basic picture gets everyone on the same page.”

Steenstra said sophisticated organizations should maintain a detailed and up-to-date documentation of their technology systems.

“That way, when you’re talking to your technology partners, you’re making the same definitions,” she says. “If you’re a small organization, it’s probably something you talk about once or twice a year when you’re looking at new systems or maintenance and upgrades.”

Technology selection begins with an ecological analysis.

In his role at Delcor, Steenstra helps organizations identify business objectives, evaluate and select new technology management systems, and connect business needs to technology resources. She says it’s important to start any technology selection project with an understanding of the outcome you want.

“We always start with the goals and objectives of the election project,” she said. “Who is doing what? What systems do you have and how can they be affected? Who owns the system, and how should they be part of this conversation?”

Associations with multiple technology vendors need to make sure everyone has a seat at the table. For example, Steenstra says one of her clients recently had a two-part conversation along these lines. In the first, the client gathered business owners to get a big view of their goals and results, which was to improve education and access. Then, the client brought AMS, learning management, and website providers into the group’s technology ecosystem for a focused discussion.

“It was the most effective conversation he had with any of his suppliers because their guard was down—they weren’t being competitive, they were being complimentary,” says Steenstra. They were grateful to be part of the conversation instead of saying, “Oh, by the way, this decision has been made, and now you as a vendor need to reverse engineer it.”

Overcoming challenges

Analyzing an organization’s technology ecosystem is not a difficult task, but finding balance between different systems can be a challenging (but important) task. Steenstra sees this game in different ways.

“We saw a situation where people identified the systems in the game, how they wanted the member experience to look and how they wanted their data to move,” she said. “Then when you talk to their vendors, there may be data that’s extremely difficult to integrate—for example, between an AMS and a data analytics tool. Then you have to make a decision: Do you want to pay $5,000 to bring that field into your data analytics platform, or are you OK with the default 10 fields?”

Adjusting to these decisions can be difficult. At the same time, any conversation that resolves tightly wound balls of yarn in the tech ecosystem is a good thing, even if the process is a bit painful.

“It’s a really good consensus-building process,” Steenstra said. “Sometimes it can be counterintuitive, but it’s not negative. No one says ‘I don’t like the tech team.’ It’s more ‘I don’t understand why everything I ask them to do is so difficult.’

Ecological discussions can give board members and leaders a better understanding of why certain investments are necessary. “This understanding makes them more comfortable and willing to relinquish control in some situations,” says Steenstra.

Finally, in the same way that an ecologist’s understanding of biological ecosystems helps promote a life-sustaining balance, discussions about technological ecosystems encourage organizations to be transparent, seek alignment, and take action to improve member experiences.


Delcor works closely with associations and non-profit organizations to provide outsourcing IT support, CIO services, technology assessments and digital workplace consulting. For more information about DelCor’s digital workplace consulting services and association technology solutions, visit delcor.com.

(photo of manuscript)



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