Digital Partnership Strategies Revealed

By Stijn Viaene

Going for partnerships as a strategic option for driving business growth implies adopting a certain mindset: a perspective you take on the relationship between you and other economic actors for creating and capturing value.


Strategic partnerships are not new, but their importance has grown immensely in the digital space. In 2017, McKinsey reported on interviewing 300 CEOs worldwide, across 37 sectors, about digital transformation. One striking observation was that more than 30% of them had cross-industry dynamics top of mind. Many worried that companies from other industries had a clearer insight into their customers than they did.1

So, why not partner up? Digital partnerships are active collaborations between organisations aimed at capitalising on new digital opportunities.

The reality is that no one organisation possesses all the data, digital skills and capabilities to win over today’s demanding and dynamic digital customer. Competition has become a team sport in the digital age. Moreover, your innovation strength as an organisation is limited by your ability to combine your digital assets with those of others.2

Digital innovation is essentially combinatorial in nature.3 Simply put: You bring your digital assets, I bring mine – and by combining them we can create great new value propositions and business models. Of course, it’s never that simple, but that’s basically the digital opportunity out there. In other words, what will be key for strategising about digital opportunities is going beyond the traditional analysis of knowing your customer and knowing your competition, to also getting to know your partners.

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About the Author

Stijn Viaene is a full professor and partner at Vlerick Business School in Belgium. He is the director of the school’s Digital Transformation focus area. He is also a full professor in the Decision Sciences and Information Management department at KU Leuven University in Belgium.


1. Atluri, V., Dietz, M. and Henke, N. (2017). Competing in a world of sectors without borders. McKinsey Quarterly. July.

2. Viaene, S. (2017). A digital quick-start guide. Ivey Business Journal. September-October.

3. Brynjolfsson, E. and McAfee, A. (2014). The second machine age. Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company.

4. Legenvre, H. and Herbet, I. (2017). Mapping and strategising across business ecosystems. The European Business Review. March-April.

5. The concept of a focal customer is the equivalent of an end customer in a supply chain, and serves to orient and scope business ecosystem mapping and strategising.

6. Adner, R. (2016). Navigating the challenges of innovation ecosystems. MIT Sloan Management Review– Frontiers. August.

7. See:

8. According to, fintech, a portmanteau of “financial technology,” is used to describe new technology and innovation that aims to compete with traditional financial methods in the delivery of financial services.

9. See:

10. Hagiu, A. (2014). Strategic decisions for multisided platforms. Harvard Business Review. Winter.

11. Blockchain is a database technology that uses a mathematical structure for storing data in a way that is nearly impossible to fake. It can be used for all kinds of valuable data. For more explanation, see:


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