Understanding the digital ecosystem

Last week, I introduced you to a five-step process I am practicing to apply urban planning to online community building and management. It is time to explore the first step and build our foundation and understanding of our digital ecosystem. How many are familiar with the Garter Digital Marketing Transit Map? Cool concept and visual, but the structure is repeating the same structures and silos we have been “talking” about breaking down. Take a close look at this image. Yes, all areas are connected, but none are integrated. Before we can discuss integration, we need to know all of our customer/member touch points (how and where they interact with the company on and offline) and all of the organization’s internal and external support systems and technology. For some, this exercise will be brief. For others, this will be a painful scavenger hunt. As you go through this identification process, I highly recommend you keep track of the business and department owner(s) of each item. This additional information will assist governance outreach.


According to Gartner, the map “shows the relationships among business functions, application services and solution providers.” There are multiple hooks, people, and departments involved in every touch point and technology. It is difficult to display such relationships in parallel transit lines with overlapping stations. Gartner is trying hard to apply urban planning and design with this map design and the reference to neighborhoods on this image, yet neighborhoods that are vibrant are also diversified and dense. This map design looks like it is the product of an organization and not for the use and navigation by humans.

We’re building destination cities. We need human, living cities.” – Cameron Sinclair, founder and executive director of the non-profit, Architecture for Humanity

Just like cities on a map, we are building destinations online. We are building and designing these online structures for organizations, not humans. This transit map from Gartner is a good start to apply urban planning methodology to digital ecosystem strategy to better understand gaps, opportunities, responsibilities, and the integrated role of social media. Take some time to sit down with your team and organization departments and figure out what you have, why you have it, and establish business owners. A simple spreadsheet will work. Create a simple tab for each transit line on the map. For every station, determine if you have this existing in your company, why/why not, and identify business owner(s). Don’t get bogged down into figuring out where these items belong within your digital ecosystem. We will discuss how to craft the ideal online neighborhood and digital ecosystem next.

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