Research Susan Hilbolling: Digital innovation in Ecosystems: the case of the Philips Hue smart light platform

Research Susan Hilbolling: Digital innovation in Ecosystems: the case of the Philips Hue smart light platform

Researcher: Susan Hilbolling  
Department: Knowledge, Information and Networks (KIN)

Susan HilbollingWhile digitalization offers all kinds of new opportunities for new product and service innovation (e.g., “the internet of things”), it also brings about coordination challenges for organizations. Not only do products become ‘connected’, so do organizations. Increasingly, innovation takes place in a web of heterogeneous partners, and the results depend on how well the interdependent efforts are aligned.

To better understand the process of development and maintenance of digital innovation in ecosystems, I performed in-depth field research during my PhD. The results of the study on the Philips Hue smart light platform gives novel insights in how platform owners manage interactions with their complementors, i.e. actors that (typically autonomous) develop complementary products and services for the platform core product. The complementors in the Philips Hue ecosystem vary from independent third-party app developers, who create additional functionality for the Hue lights based on open API (application programming interfaces) programme, to large international corporations like Apple and Amazon, who have their own platforms for the smart home in which the Hue lights are integrated. An interesting insight from the study is that complementors create an ‘ecology of platforms’, that is, platforms become connected through the efforts of the third parties who recombine different APIs in their applications. As a result, for a platform owner, it means that what your digital product can do is out of your hands – with far reaching consequences (e.g., with regards to ensuring quality). Our research reveals that organizations need to engage with different forms of collaboration, from arm’s lengths contracts to intensive partnerships, in order to maintain (some) control over the overall user experience and integrity of the system over time. 

Susan Hilbolling was a PhD candidate at the KIN Center for Digital Innovation and will start as PostDoc researcher at Aarhus University as of January 2019. She defended her thesis on December 5 2018.