Characterizing Business Models for Digital Business Through Patterns

Paul Beynon-Davies
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 22, Number 1, 2018, pp. 98-124.


This article considers business models through the lenses of both design science and the design orientation in management. It describes a new way of thinking about and engaging with business models as patterns. The term “business pattern” is used to refer to a coherent and repeating sequence of action involving humans, machines (including information technologies systems) and artifacts (such as data structures) as a way of organizing a firm. The study also describes a way of visualizing either existing business patterns or envisaged business patterns through the design artifact of a pattern comic. This is used to provide a narrative of some business pattern in principle or in practice. The design theory of a business pattern as well as the design artifact of a pattern comic offer a range of contributions to the literature on business models. First, they permit a clearer distinction to be drawn between business model, business motivation, and business strategy. Second, they suggest a clearer way of building models of “business” (organizing) either as currently conceived (as-is) or in terms of envisaged models (as-if). This also allows clearer expression of business motivation in terms of transitions between as-is and as-if business patterns. Third, business patterns offer a practical way of thinking about the reuse of business models as patterns and their potential for benchmarking purposes. To help ground both the theorization and the visualization proposed we apply the design theory of a business pattern and the design artifact of pattern comics to help make sense of the domain of online grocery.

Key Words and Phrases: Business model, business motivation, business pattern, design science, digital business, online groceries, pattern comic.