Understanding Digital Ecosystem using the principles of Natural Capitalism

16 Mar, 2021
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Any product innovation responds to the demands of changing patterns of commerce. Certain transformations in the software ecosystem, from host-based computing to client-server computing to web-enabling to Software-as-a-Service and mobile computing, reflect such a response of technology to the changing needs of the environment, business, and lifestyle.

Hawken and Lovins, brilliantly articulate how commerce transforms the ecosystem and why we need a framework to grow sustainably it in their book, Natural capitalism. Although the theories apply to eco-sustainable development, they are relevant to many sectors that aspire to grow sustainably. This blog attempts to apply Natural Capitalism Philosophy to the ISV (Independent Software Vendor) industry for sustaining profits and businesses.

The concepts of Natural Capitalism discussed in this blog can be applied to all the three broad stages of product development: Product Roadmap, Product Development, and Release Management.

Biomimicry for product management

Biomimicry is applying the process of biological evolution to various businesses. For example, if we take more wood from a forest in a year than it would make, the amount of wood in the forest keeps decreasing. To prevent losing our business, the forest, and the wood, biomimicry suggests we take wood at the same rate nature makes it.

One of the common issues in product management is the instability of requirements caused by an ever-changing environment. In environmental eco-systems, nothing that ever comes into production will ever be stopped but is transitioned into something else. Demands from the ecosystem (digital or environmental) change over a period, gradually or suddenly and disruptively. Flow-based services designed for product development on the principles of natural capitalism can help us adapt efficiently to these changes in a digital ecosystem.

Flow-based biomimicry, or we can call eco-mimicry, can be applied to product development according to an ISV’s needs. By extending the concepts built for natural ecosystem to the digital ecosystem, we realize the success of an ISV and its sustainability depends on managing ecosystem-based services and ecosystem assets like knowledge pools and human resources. We should take care of our assets, identify as soon as possible when they are depleting, and take corrective measures to replenish them. Our processes should support asset sustainability and prevent burnouts. Biomimicry or ecosystem mimicry should be the basis for developing a product right from design to releases.

Radical resource productivity

Products and product development need resources, human and financial, apart from other resources. A roadmap to manage releases to the changing ecosystems should be charted in such a way that resources are not wasted. Understanding zero wastage of intangible resources is tricky. Given the future exigencies and changes in the ecosystem, plans should be made to utilize resources effectively with an approach to conserve human and intellectual capital.

Reduce Waste

Waste reduction is an important limb of Natural Capitalism. It is achieved by designing circular and regenerative resource models and product design. Every resource builds an asset in natural capitalism. The asset should be sustained to deliver services. The resources, infrastructure, human resources, knowledge resources, the assets of an organization need to be utilized, added, nourished, and managed to sustain profitably in an ever-changing ecosystem. It not only conserves assets over a longer period but nurtures them for future challenges.

Build incremental products for the Software platform ecosystem

The connected and continuously evolving digital platform is increasingly creating digital products that fit into the existing platform than isolated ones. The communications between the products that evolve the ecosystem would eliminate the need to re-build redundant products or build repetitive features in existing products.

Productizing software services

‘Build Services, Not Products model’ of Natural Capitalism suggests that we build services like washing services, cleaning services, etc., instead of products like washing machines and vacuum cleaners. This reduces pollution, conserves resources like water, and utilizes raw materials to their fullest potential. However, the model should not be applied literally to the software ecosystem. The intention behind the model is to avoid building redundant systems and encourage re-use.

Software product companies or ISVs should productize services to ensure resource productivity, and reuse. It perfectly aligns with the already discussed models of resource use. It is better to build a repeatable service as a product to reduce the burden of a one-time use of services and to increase efficiency and resource (knowledge or Intellectual property) reuse. Though not effectively estimated, this I think would also reduce the carbon footprint of digital systems.

Doing more with less – redefining Offshore development

Offshore development is popular as a cost-effective solution that outsources parts of software development to other geographical areas where talented resources are available. Like the other concepts of Natural Capitalism, this promotes ‘Doing More, with Less’. Moreover, it has the potential to utilize knowledge resources from diverse communities and through collaborations promotes wealth among local communities.

Software Product Development for a Sustainable Future

As we apply concepts of Natural Capitalism to Software Product Development it would be unfair to not think about contributing to the very cause of sustainability the theory convincingly preaches. Many would blame the current precarious conditions and our increasingly unpredictable future on economic development and industrial growth.

Technological developments in diverse sectors promise a vast array of future possibilities. As we understand ecological issues, develop our systems to be more sustainable, and invest our resources in finding solutions for the critical ecosystem challenges of the future, we are taking the right steps. Software advancements contribute to building smart products, smart cities, and energy systems. Green buildings and sustainable corporate practices combat climate issues. 

We can effectively promote the cause of Natural Capitalism while we apply its concepts to sustainable software product development.


As I close this blog, let us also consider the hidden carbon emissions in a digital ecosystem. Let us be mindful of the carbon footprint of unnecessary mail or an automated digital system. Digital systems may be intended to eliminate any visible pollution causing phenomenon, but they may not. It is time to study and evaluate the carbon footprints of digital systems and products too.

Applying concepts of Natural Capitalism brings up new possibilities of growth. Unlike popular perception, Natural Capitalism while being humane is also profit-assuring. As we take and apply the concepts of Natural Capitalism to drive software industry growth, these advancements make our eco-system more sustainable.

Divya Prathima
The author was a java Developer at coMakeIT before turning into a stay-at-home-mom. She slowed down to make art, tell stories, read books on fiction, philosophy, science, art-history, write about science, parenting, and observe technology trends. She loves to write and aspires to write simple and understandable articles someday like Yuval Noah Harari. We are very happy to have her back at coMakeIT and contribute to our relevant and thought provoking content.

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