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The Next Wave in Collaboration? Lessons from Platform Ecosystems, Part 3: From Governance Committees to Governing Principles

Posted By Contributed by Ard-Pieter de Man, CSAP, PhD, Friday, January 11, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2019

In my Q4 2018 Strategic Alliance Quarterly article about the emerging profession of the ecosystem manager, I mentioned that the most extreme examples of ecosystem management were found around platform organizations such as Facebook and Apple. What inspiration can we draw from the way these manage companies their ecosystems? New best practices are emerging that require us to rethink at least four of the tenets of alliance management. In the third and final article in this series on the topic, I discuss the evolution of governance practice and other ways in which ecosystem management is, could, or should influence the evolution of alliance management practices.

Governance: From Committees to Principles

Traditional governance structures contain committees and teams, each with their own tasks and accountability. Such governance structures have been proven effective in building bridges between organizations. Governance structures also had some downsides. With typically three layers of committees in alliances, decision-making could be slow. Moreover, they require much managerial attention, particularly from middle management. With an increasing number of partners, the risk of overloading managers with alliance work becomes real. Further slowing down of decision-making may result. The growth in the number of partners is limited by the capacity of managers to take them on.

Platform based ecosystems coordinate at least a subset of their partners based on principles and standardized governance processes. This increases their capacity to manage a higher number of partners. The developments around smart contracts also may help here in the future: agreed upon rules may be programmed into smart contracts, lessening the burden of governance. Smart contracts may at least partly replace work done by governance committees. An interesting question is whether this will lead to more or less standardization in alliance models.

What does all this mean?

Much of the partnering activity around platforms diverges from traditional definitions of alliance management. It involves new forms of collaboration that may not fit with how ASAP defines alliances. That does not mean it is not relevant for alliance management. First of all, alliances may evolve into or be replaced by these new forms of partnering. Second, companies will increasingly focus on optimizing the entire ecosystem around their platform including clients, suppliers, complementors, app builders, content parties and, of course, alliances. Defining alliances has always been difficult because there are many gray areas. With the rise of new forms of collaboration it is increasingly important for companies to understand all the shades of gray. Third, even though such new forms may be different from traditional alliances, opportunities for learning from them exist. Just like client supplier relationships and public-private partnerships learned from alliances, alliances may learn from platform based ecosystems.

These are reasons to look at collaboration more broadly rather than focusing exclusively on strategic alliances. This does not mean that all best practice developed since ASAP’s inception become irrelevant. It does mean we need to have a better understanding about when they work and when they do not work. Where they do not work we need to develop new best practices that help us ride the next wave of collaboration.

Ard-Pieter de Man, CSAP, PhD, is professor of management studies at the School of Business and Economics of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. A longtime ASAP member, he also is a consultant to companies and not-for-profits.

ASAP Media encourages diversity of thought and opinion as partnering practice and the profession of alliance management continually expand and evolve. To contribute your voice to the conversation, on this or other seminal topics relating to business collaboration, please contact John W. DeWitt, editor and publisher of ASAP Media and Strategic Alliance magazines, at 646-232-6620 or

Tags:  alliance  alliance-specific strategy  Ard-Pieter de Man  ASAP European Alliance Summit  ASAP Strategic Alliance Quarterly  governance  John Deere  launching  managing  negotiation  partner selection  Philips Light  planning  structuring  traditional alliance diagnostics  transformation  Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam 

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