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Ambidextrous Digital Platforms: Balancing Control and Emergence

English title Ambidextrous Digital Platforms: Balancing Control and Emergence
Applicant Winter Robert
Number 185130
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Institut für Wirtschaftsinformatik Universität St. Gallen
Institution of higher education University of St.Gallen - SG
Main discipline Science of management
Start/End 01.08.2019 - 31.07.2022
Approved amount 367'022.00
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Keywords (6)

digital platforms; complex adaptive systems; control; emergence; business ecosystems; ambidexterity

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Unser Jahrhundert ist geprägt vom raschen Wandel (erkennbar an neuen Geschäftsformen die sich etablieren aber auch wieder verschwinden), sowie der Digitalisierung (im Zuge derer traditionelle Geschäftsbeziehungen auflöst und durch digitale Ökosysteme ersetzt werden). Das Forschungsprojekt untersucht, wie sich digitale Plattformen, ein zentrales Element digitaler Ökosysteme, in einem sich stets verändernden Umfeld behaupten können.
Lay summary

Eine digitale Plattform (z.B. Facebook) besteht aus einer technischen Infrastruktur, welche von Drittanbietern (z.B. Entwicklern von Games) genutzt und erweitert wird, um darauf vorwiegend digitale Dienstleistungen anzubieten. Dadurch sind digitale Plattformen mit der Herausforderung konfrontiert, ein Gleichgewicht zwischen Steuerung (zur Wahrung technischer Stabilität und Sicherheit) und Gestaltungsfreiheit (um den Anforderungen möglichst vieler Drittanbieter gerecht zu werden) zu finden. Während eine zu strikte Steuerung die Anpassungsmöglichkeiten reduziert, verunmöglicht das Gewähren uneingeschränkter Gestaltungsfreiheiten das Erzielen von Plattformvorteilen. Das Forschungsprojekt geht über ein solches schwarz-weiss denken hinaus und sucht nach theoretischen Erklärungsansätzen, um Steuerung und Gestaltungsfreiheit auszubalancieren. Hierzu planen wir, theoretische Erklärungsansätze aus den Bereichen der organisationalen Ambidexterie sowie komplexer anpassungsfähiger Systeme zu verwenden, um sowohl beschreibende als auch erklärende Theorien zu entwickeln. Wir erwarten, dass wir dadurch den Wandel, dessen Einflussfaktoren sowie die Gestaltungskonfigurationen besser beschreiben können, was es den Plattformbetreibern ermöglichen soll, Steuerung und Gestaltungsfreiheit auszubalancieren.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 05.04.2019

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Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
164204 Value Co-creation Language (ValCoLa) 01.09.2016 Project funding (Div. I-III)
165607 Dynamics of Institutional Mechanisms in Enterprise-wide Information Systems Architecture 01.06.2016 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

A recent and rapidly growing discourse in information systems (IS) research seeks to understand the omnipresent digital platforms in today’s industries. Prime examples of digital platforms are social media (e.g., Facebook and LinkedIn), operating system (e.g., Android and iOS), payment (e.g., PayPal and Apple Pay), and peer-to-peer (e.g., Uber and Airbnb) platforms. Prevalent IS research views these digital platforms as a set of stable technical core artefacts augmented by dynamic peripheral platform derivatives, and associated organizational arrangements. Following this definition, thriving digital platforms are contingent on attracting third parties to add their platform-augmenting derivatives. Embracing this logic, prominent digital platform owners such as Apple (iOS), Alphabet (Android), and Microsoft (Windows) have become one of the most valuable companies.Relying on an ecosystem of third-party platform derivatives, digital platforms are subject to a delicate tension between (1) maintaining control to ensure stable technical core artefacts, and, simultaneously, (2) stimulating emergence to flexibly recombine third-party derivatives. While control here refers to mechanisms that encourage desirable outputs by or behaviors of third parties from the platform owner’s perspective [6], emergence in turn refers to the digital platform’s capacity to produce unprompted change driven by large, varied, and uncoordinated third parties. Previous research has often seen control and emergence as incompatible and mutually exclusive goals. However, as pure control makes adaptation difficult and pure emergence suffers the costs of experimentation without gaining associated benefits, digital platform research has started moving beyond such an either-or approach to delicately balancing control and emergence. Balancing has in fact become the innate mindset of and a research priority for IS research. Promising evidence indicates that thriving digital platforms-in terms of critical mass, innovativeness, and performance-excel in balancing control and emergence, while dying digital platforms fail in achieving an effective balance. However, as the dynamics, determinants, and design configurations that digital platform owners embrace in simultaneously obtaining control and emergence are under-researched, we address the research question: How can simultaneous control and emergence be balanced for digital platforms to develop effectively?Drawing on both organizational ambidexterity and complex adaptive systems (CAS) as theoretical lenses, we aim to theorize ambidextrous digital platforms. Specifically, we draw on ambidexterity to account for the balance between control and emergence as motivated by the IS literature. We further draw on CAS as an ancillary theoretical lens to capture the multi-actor, emergent, and non-linear character of digital platforms resulting from the dynamic interactions among their constituent actors and with the environment.Triangulating variance- and process-based epistemological positions, we expect to provide a thorough description of the dynamics (WP2), determinants (WP3), and design configurations (WP4) through which platform owners simultaneously manage and legitimate a balanced co-existence of top-down control and bottom-up emergence. We account for both in terms of balancing what may be allowed to emerge and what can be purposefully controlled to guide and constrain the emergent behavior of digital platforms. Integrating ambidexterity and CAS, we not only augment ambidexterity theory with a dynamic perspective, but we also offer a conceptual framework for studying various emergent IS phenomena.
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