Digitalization, sustainability, and ecosystems : An application of social network analysis to the real estate sector

Abstract: Societies today have increasing economic, social, and environmental needs for their built environments. The performance of the built environment depends largely on urban development, with the role of digital technologies therein being a long-standing research topic. The extant literature, however, has focused less on the organizational capabilities, such as absorptive capacity, that are needed for new technology adoption and organizational change. The capabilities of real estate owners, who are key decision makers throughout the built environment life cycle, have also, surprisingly, been neglected. The purpose of this thesis is to increase the understanding of digitalization and sustainability in the built environment. To this end, this thesis presents the results of an empirical study of the capabilities of real estate owners, technology suppliers and industry associations in the context of a business ecosystem within the Swedish real estate sector. The findings show that real estate actors have developed new organizational capabilities related to digitalization and within collaborations inside the business ecosystem overall. For example, real estate owners have invested in R&D labs and business development functions that are atypical within the sector. These new capabilities may contribute to digitalization and sustainability within the built-environment sector more broadly. Nevertheless, many structural issues characteristic of a fragmented sector remain. Additionally, this thesis contributes to ecosystem theory and its methodology and to the built environment research methodology. The literature on the use of social network analysis methods in ecosystem and built environment research is reviewed, with the conclusion that social network analysis methods have great research potential despite being rarely used. Furthermore, formal concept analysis of ecosystem concepts is conducted, and a methodological framework for understanding ecosystems as multilevel structures that consist of flows between ecosystem actors and emergent system-level properties is presented. The introduction of new theories and methods in the built environment literature is important, as digitalization and sustainability transcend traditional organizational and technological boundaries.