The next frontier of IT-enabled systems thinking

[Editor's note: If you're interested in this topic or want to learn more, check out the program for our upcoming VERGE Boston event on May 13-14.]

The next frontier of IT will focus on wicked problems embedded in emergent business systems. One of the most notable yet overlooked areas is the intersection of business, communities, biodiversity and ecosystem services, upon which all rely.

Some examples of the players in this space include Microsoft Research's Madingley Model, the European Space Agency's remote sensing of ecosystems and Stanford University's Natural Capital Project and ecosystem services model, according to a recent BSR report.

For IT developers and B2B IT customers alike, the question is: Are you assessing business opportunities from either building out or pilot testing these new ecosystem services IT systems in the coming months and years?

In many ways this emerging, beta version-filled IT domain is a response to the growing recognition that we live in an era of wicked problems that are difficult to solve with no easy solutions. Climate change is a prime example of a wicked problem, as is the challenge of identifying the course ahead for multinational companies in an era of climate change. Both issues are characterized by better or worse options, no clear test of proposed solutions and with the potential that problems and solutions may be manifestations of other problems.

For companies, the wickedness of many of today's looming natural resource-related business problems is due to how embedded the challenges are within emergent systems, both financial and ecological. Both systems are self-organizing and the structure, patterns and properties are continually changing.

A simpler example of an emergent system would be the game of chess. The rules are set, but it is very hard to predict the next move within a particular game at a specific moment because players operate in a dynamic and interacting state of play. Each move is emerging in the moment.

How is a company to identify, plan for and avoid significant risks, as well as realize opportunities, within emergent systems that appear to be mired in wicked problems? Enter the new application domain of IT and multi-stakeholder engagement around biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Next page: Visualizing systems dynamics