Products, Platforms, and Ecosystems – A Natural Evolution (Part III)

Products, Platforms, and Ecosystems – A Natural Evolution (Part III)

The previous parts of the transcription of the discussion between Kiran, Co-founder and COO of coMakeIT, Part of Xebia, and Sundar Sarangan, Executive Director, ISG Research, facilitated by Runki Goswami, Chief Marketing Officer, Xebia, talked about what is a platform, what is not, the platform mindset and its attributes, and why project or even product thinking is not appropriate for platforms.

This final part of the discussion transcript walks us through the steps to inculcate a platform mindset at the organizational level. It stresses on the need for openness and accepting innovations from outside the organization too. Further, the talk elaborates on the need for a fundamentally longer time view while building platforms.

Read on to know more.

Sundar :

An aspect of platform thinking, from coMakeIT’s client examples as well as the other clients of ISG, is the increasingly important role of technology stakeholders and technologies. They are not just fulfilling the product roadmap or product vision, but quite often shaping the fundamental capabilities of a platform.

To enable this, product architects should evolve into platform architects. What are the new skills they need to learn? Also, what’s the increased importance of technology polyglots and leaders in the platform model?

Kiran:

Though platforms have been around for more than ten years, platforming has become better and more successful mostly in the last three to four years. This is primarily because technology is supporting the innovations in platforms we’re developing now.

The tasks of integrating with other products and exposing the required APIs to other parties to integrate were considered projects while we were developing products.

But in platforms, they’re kind of given, integral aspects with important roles. They enable other people to build their apps on top of the base platform, and other products can participate in and use the platform. When you think along the lines of the platform model, the technology also should support it. And it is actually possible now.

The same creator building a product ten years ago would have to think differently and learn the technology changes that support developing platforms.

Sundar:

To summarize, we can’t really build platforms using the operating models designed for projects or products. Pursuing a platform strategy, which every technology or software company is trying to do, requires a shift in mindset and operating model.

What is your answer to your clients approaching you for modernizing their legacy product and moving to platforms about the key principles to getting started and becoming successful as a platform business?

Kiran:

Before embarking on the process of developing a platform, one must adhere to the principle of openness. For your platforms to connect to multiple data sources and enable various products to operate, you need to, firstly, be open. This means, the way platforms are architected, developed, and delivered should also need to undergo subsequent changes. However, everything starts with being open about the evolution of the platform.

Sundar:

Openness is the most important part. So, is it fair to say it should start with the CEO?

Kiran:

Yes, we need to trust that innovation is possible outside the four walls, be open, inculcate the mindset, and believe that the platform is going to transform the way of doing business for the customers, however, not alone, but with their participation.

Sundar:

So, we’ve already discussed the openness, the shared vision, bringing the outside-in innovation, and taking a fundamentally longer time (ideally an infinite time) view.

I would like to talk about two findings from our research. One, while executing the platform ideas, tools and methods help us. However, they are only a means to an end. Just the deployment of specific tools and methods doesn’t complete the platform journey. Two, the disciplines of product and project management are not wrong or inappropriate to the platform world. They still need to exist and are important. However, they should exist in an environment that is driven towards the platform mindset. So, how do your clients work differently when they’re a platform company, and not a traditional project or a product company?

Kiran:

This is an interesting question.

The openness, that we’ve already discussed, should be extended. There’s openness not just in the product, the platform, the technology choices, or the integration possibilities. It is also about where to take our best practices from.

At coMakeIT, we’ve many years of experience building products and platforms. Similarly, our customers have been building solutions for a specific market for many years. So, we need to bring the best of both worlds together, i.e., the experience of building solutions for the market, and the expertise in architecting and building platforms and products. For this, the spirit of co-creation should co-exist with co-development. For me, this is quite important. Selecting such a co-creation partner based on their abilities and history, and being willing to contribute to the platform, just like an ecosystem partner, is critical. So, in the case of platforms, a co-development and co-creation partner is also an ecosystem partner.

Sundar:

So, is co-creation and co-development more needed in the platform journey because you’re dealing with a more uncertain and unknown future? And the future should be discovered together by you and your client?

Kiran:

Indeed.

To introduce simplicity into the market, you need to introduce more complexity within your company. Accomplishing this requires a synergy of the best brains. More than for product development, this is important for platform development.

Sundar:

Great!

To conclude, introducing simplicity in the ecosystem, takes more collaboration, and increases complexity, behind the scenes, and on the inside. This brings success, and you and your clients are great examples of it.

Kiran:

Indeed.

In fact, along with openness, all companies adopting or trying to adopt a platform mindset should keep the community in mind. Consciously put as much effort as you put into developing a platform into building a community. This is one part. The other part is infomediation. This means the platform should create an opportunity to generate value for all the ecosystem partners, not just for someone who buys and uses your product, but for everyone who participates in the platform. These two are two critical aspects of the platform mindset.

Sundar:

One closing thought. What about the community that includes not just humans, businesses, and other stakeholders, but also other platforms?

Kiran:

Yes, this federation of platforms is quite important. It is not only users and communities that collaborate on a platform, but it should be orchestrated to allow other products and platforms to dock into it. That is the ultimate vision that every company building a platform should have. The ecosystem partners are not just users and communities but also apps, products, and platforms. This is what we mentioned in our vision statement. Every product, at some point in time, will either become a platform or a part of a platform. I think this is what we’re going to see in the future.

Sundar:

I’m quite excited to be a part of the research that investigated what goes into a successful platform journey through the lens of your clients and your expertise. I’m glad that we’re able to share this with your broader community to propagate these ideas.

Runki:

That’s an insightful discussion. The mindset is all about a common vision, tech leadership, autonomy, and interdependence. The knowledge of operating models you shared was brilliant. We defined a platform, and how it is different, outlined the attributes of a platform, and understood the case for a change, the long-term orientation, and organizational alignment. Fabulous, this is a great takeaway.

Thank you so much for being here, for your time, and for carrying out this research.

Kiran:

Thank you, Sundar for this intriguing conversation. I will think further about the points we discussed, to find better ways to identify them to help product companies while transforming into platform ones. Anyway, we’re all moving in that direction.

Sundar:

In the spirit of platforms, our thoughts started as a project, but have an infinite life as an ongoing platform that we can build. Maybe platforms can be ideas too.

Summary:

  1. Current technological advancements make today’s digital ecosystem conducive to innovations in platforms.
  2. Openness is essential while building platforms. The maker needs to accept and leverage innovations that stem outside the company too.
  3. Platforms have an infinite timeline and preparing for the uncertain future requires meaningful collaborations, especially the ones that promise co-development and co-creation.
  4. While developing a platform, also focus on building a community.
  5. Every product, soon, will either become a platform or a part of a platform.
    Divya Prathima

    The author was a java Developer at coMakeIT before turning into a stay-at-home-mom. She slowed down to make art, tell stories, read books on fiction, philosophy, science, art-history, write about science, parenting, and observe technology trends. She loves to write and aspires to write simple and understandable articles someday like Yuval Noah Harari. We are very happy to have her back at coMakeIT and contribute to our relevant and thought provoking content.

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