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Digital innovation in the energy industry: The impact of controversies on the evolution of innovation ecosystems


The concept of innovation ecosystems gained significant importance in academic research on strategy and practice over the last years. The emergence of the Internet of Things is disrupting industries and setting the ecosystem in the focus of innovation. Even traditional analog industries, like the energy industry, are under pressure to foster and manage ecosystems during their innovation efforts. Thus, the energy industry represents an appropriate setting for examining the evolution of an innovation ecosystem under the empirical lens of controversies, which describe the challenges of the status quo and is congruent with previous research on dialectical inquiries as source of innovation dynamics. For the purpose of this paper, the Actor-network theory (ANT) is regarded as an appropriate tool since it allows researchers to analyze how actors interact due to their specific interests with each other and thus configure the ecosystem in its base. ANT further enlarges the perspective of handling actors, while it involves not only human but also non-human actors (i.e. technologies). This is a valuable and necessary feature while dealing with digital innovations such as virtual power plants (VPP). By analyzing three how distinctive typologies, their mechanisms as well as their pathways of controversies affect the innovation ecosystem of VPPs and the evolution of the technological components of the innovation, this interaction between human and non-human actors is highlighted. In consequence, our research emphasizes the significance of involving non-human actors into managerial strategies and the role they inherit for the evolution of ecosystems. Furthermore, the present research reveals that controversies are not only a moderating factor but also a constitutional one for the coevolution of the ecosystem as well as the innovation itself especially during the forming phases. With respect to recent research of the management of digital innovation, this paper contributes to a better understanding of managerial challenges associated with digital innovation and their respective ecosystems.