Business ecosystems will play a major role in future as manufacturers find it increasingly difficult to be successful on their own. Producing high-quality products or having the most efficient production processes will no longer guarantee sole competitive advantage. Global competition will bring up other manufacturers that can offer high-quality products at reasonable prices,

and the most successful manufacturers will be those that can give their customers exactly what they need and increase the value of their products. It will be all about enhancing customer experiences.

This can be achieved by delivering data-driven value-added services for products that are increasingly smart and connected or by adding products or services from other companies. Products will therefore become platforms in new business ecosystems where multiple stakeholders and partners contribute to a product platform in order to deliver the highest value to the customers. Collaborating in ecosystems will therefore become a key capability for manufacturers, as will the ability to adapt to changing market needs within a flexible reconfigurable ecosystem of partners and stakeholders.

Collaborating in ecosystems will mean that the underlying B2B processes need to be transformed accordingly. B2B processes such as supply-side and sell-side processes, as well as production processes, need to become highly flexible, scalable, and smart to adapt to changing market needs in a flexible business ecosystem.

Technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and robotics process automation, and cognitive/AI solutions will be the major pillars of the technology foundation in such business ecosystems — and these technologies will be key to transforming B2B processes into smart processes that support the ecosystem. The combined use of these next-generation automation technologies is what IDC calls Industrial Technology (InTech). As these individual technologies mature and become more widely adopted, this will drive the transformation of B2B processes in business ecosystems toward highly flexible, scalable, and smart ecosystem processes.

The maturity of manufacturers applying next-generation automation in business ecosystems (i.e., in B2B or B2B2C processes) is low at the moment as collaboration in ecosystems is still evolving, but it will gain momentum. Current projects are in their very early stages and the automation of B2B processes in business ecosystems is focused mainly on single aspects of next-generation automation capabilities, such as automating B2B ordering processes with a direct connection to the shop floor (e.g., automatic replenishment).

Analyzing and providing guidance on manufacturers’ business ecosystem strategies and how 3rd Platform technologies and innovation accelerators like IoT, robotics, and cognitive solutions will support next-generation automation of B2B processes will be central elements of IDC’s new Manufacturing Insights’ Business Ecosystem Strategies research advisory service.