INSEAD Participant Interview

Building Digital Partnerships and Ecosystems: Getting the Knowledge, the Methods and the Network

Marc-Alexander Winter

SAP’s Marc-Alexander Winter went into Building Digital Partnerships and Ecosystems with high expectations and certain reservations. He came away with far more than he bargained for – a roadmap for leveraging digital to innovation to create new services and build value for customers.

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What does INSEAD’s Building Digital Partnerships and Ecosystems (BDPE) programme offer you, in a nutshell? Ask SAP’s Marc Alexander Winter, and he has an answer as succinct as it is immediate. “It’s a complete package of knowledge, methods and network. A kind of three-way, win-win-win,” says the Global Head of Service Portfolio in Business Transformation.

And it’s exactly that combination of the latest thinking on B2B partnerships, ecosystems and platforms, together with best practices and a broadened understanding of different opportunities in this fast-evolving space that brought Winter to the programme at INSEAD’s Fontainebleau campus earlier this year.

“I’ve been with SAP for many years occupying different roles within the company. I currently head up our service portfolio, working with customers to best deploy SAP software in their digital strategy. A lot of my conversations with customers have a focus on platforms and whether to build, buy or belong. There isn’t a lot of current literature on this – with the exception of big names like Uber, Facebook or AirBnB, most companies are simply not platforms, especially in the B2B space.”

Winter joined the BDPE programme to become, as he puts it, “a hinge” between the INSEAD world of leading-edge research and the needs of his customers.

“I wanted to be a kind of knowledge conduit for my customers. I was looking to be able to transfer the benefits of world-class thinking on the business of platforms to them. I also wanted the inside track on methodology and the access to other participants from diverse backgrounds to see how opportunities were playing out in different sectors and geographies.”

Having already experienced executive leadership programmes at INSEAD in Singapore, Winter arrived armed with high expectations of the programme. As well as a few initial reservations about the online format.

“I’d felt the value of face-to-face time at the Singapore campus and I was curious to know whether that value could be recreated without losing something in the online world.”

In the event, he found the quality of the BDPE to be “absolutely on par” with classroom learning.

A stand-out element of the programme for Winter was the integrated Action Learning Project  (ALP) – weekly, applied learning synthesising new concepts and ideas around actual, real-world challenges.

“I used the ALP to help me set context and construct an actionable roadmap around product ‘servicisation’ and digital platforms. My ALP helped me build momentum while keeping discipline. Week by week you track what you’ve learned and how to apply it to your challenge, in my case building a new service around platforms for my customers. You progress solidly, adding dimensions of your learning systematically.”

So effective was the ALP, that Winter has used his project work to prototype elements of the new platform service, and trialling a ground-breaking subscription model that is resonating with his customers and yielding “very promising results.”

Winter’s experience of the BDPE was comprehensively satisfying, he says. While empowering him to expand his footprint in the key area of servicisation, the programme also gave him a chance to be part of rich dialogue, build new relationships and build a toolbox of useful applications to reach his objectives.

“I’m more than satisfied with the programme – I would sign up to another INSEAD online programme in a heartbeat. It’s hard to imagine an online learning experience that can keep you fully engaged and motivated over several weeks, but the BDPE does just that. I’ve come away with a roadmap for leveraging digital to innovation to help me create services that can either replace or complement my products – and this is far more than I went into the programme expecting to achieve. As a training for forward-thinking executives, this programme hits the nail on the head every time.”


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