Monthly Archives: November 2011

Gawer’s “Platforms, Markets, and Innovation” now available in paperback

Annabelle Gawer’s Platforms, Markets, and Innovation is now available in paperback at Edward Elgar Publishing.  The price of the paperback will make this excellent sampling of current research on platforms more accessible to interested students and professionals.

For those seriously interested in the platform phenomenon, Gawer’s book is a must read. The book consists of a collection of papers by many of the foremost researchers in the field, offering serious insights into different dimensions of what make platforms “platforms” and how they work.  For students and professionals with more than a casual interest in understanding platforms, Gawer’s book represents a necessary complement to Phil Simon’s recently published business book, The Age of the Platform.  Whereas Simon’s book provides a broad, ethnographic surveillance of the  phenonemon of “modern platform businesses,” like Amazon, Apple, etc., Gawer’s book offers a much more comprehensive coverage of various important dimensions of different types of platforms from the more in-depth, analytical perspectives of specialized scholars/researchers.  In this sense, Gawer’s book “takes you under the hood” of platforms and reveals a more intricate picture of many of the “mechanics and moving parts.”   Once again, Gawer’s Platforms, Markets, and Innovation is now available in paperback a thttp://www.e-elgar.co.uk/bookentry_main.lasso?currency=US&id=13257.

Study: What are Business Platforms and why they represent the future of outsourcing

HfS Research, an outsourcing industry research firm, recently published a new study that reports continued rising interest in “Business Platform” approaches to business process outsourcing (BPO).   The actual report in PDF format can be found via a link at the bottom of this article:  “What are Business Platforms and why they represent the future of outsourcing‘”

The article and the report contain some excellent insights into the development of this approach to business process outsourcing, a phenomenon HfS defines — for the outsourcing domain/empirical context — as follows:  “Business Platforms, enabled by the fusion of Cloud Computing, SaaS and BPO innovations in an integrated singular managed service, are emerging rapidly as the desired “one-to-many” utility service provision for providers and a new source of value for outsourcing buyers. ”  This HfS definition of the approach emphasizes a drive toward efficient process standardization through IT and other mechanisms, but does not emphasize properties of aggregation and network effects (which I think can often be present in such models).

In the past, these approaches have sometimes been referred to as “Platform BPO.”  In my recent working paper/taxonomy– posted at “Platform “Language Games” –  a working paper on how we understand platform“–I discussed “Platform BPO” as a kind of sub-category/special instance of “Enterprise Platforms” as follows:

Certainly, there is some overlap in what is encompassed by the definitions of “enterprise platforms,” “domain/function platforms,” and “technology platforms.” However, I would argue that there is little or no overlap of the categories “enterprise platforms” and “product platforms,” unless, as we shall see, the enterprise and its platform are geared toward providing (information or other) services, not products (and in this case, the “enterprise platform” does indeed become analogous to a “product platform” to the extent that the platform becomes the means for developing and supporting derivative and new service offerings, while maintaining high levels of standardization and efficiency). One good example of such a case is the phenomenon of “Platform BPO” (see: http://www.outsourcing-center.com/2011-08-how-amcor-achieved-it-business-transformation-by-standardizing-processes-in-10-countries-using-sap-and-a-local-provider-article-45050.html , http://www.outsourcing-center.com/2011-02-business-process-as-a-service-the-next-wave-of-bpo-delivery-article-42948.html ). However, many other examples, of different kinds, could be cited.

In other words, “Platform BPO” (or what HfS calls a “Business Platform” BPO), as a special kind of “enterprise platform” in the service sector domain, has properties that are similar to a traditional “product platform” (to the extent that the platform becomes the means for developing and supporting derivative and new service offerings, while maintaining high levels of standardization and efficiency).  At the same time, this kind of platform remains very much within the definition of an “enterprise platform” (albeit specialized).   But — at least as defined  by HfS as a “Business Platform” — it is significantly different from what I and others have referred to as “Platform Businesses” (see: Part 1: “Modern Platforms” and “Service Science:” New Ways of Understanding “Platform” Mechanisms, Interests, and Outcomes or The Age of the Platform: Phil Simon Serves An Epic Feast To Business Readers), a new kind of business model structure embodied in companies like Apple, Amazon, etc. and their customer and partner ecosystems.  However, I do believe a closer look at some of these emerging “Platform BPO” businesses will reveal additional properties of the more complex and extensive “Platform Business” model (especially in the areas of service aggregation, supply chain intermediation, network effects, and customer experience management).

 

Part 1: “Modern Platforms” and “Service Science:” New Ways of Understanding “Platform” Mechanisms, Interests, and Outcomes

Part 1: “Modern Platforms” and “Service Science:” New Ways of Understanding “Platform” Mechanisms, Interests, and Outcomes is the first of two parts in which I explore the relevance of Service Science to understanding “modern platforms” and, with this backdrop, attempt to comment meaningfully on some of the less-discussed mechanisms, interests, and outcomes associated with such platforms.

Part 1 focuses on how Service Science, and its concepts of “service-dominant logic,” “value co-creation,” “service systems,” “value-creation networks,” et al, can provide a framework through which we can illuminate and better understand the new and still emerging phenomena of “modern platforms.” Part 2 will be focused on some of the less-discussed operant mechanisms in “modern platforms,” on the diverse interests that can come into play, and on some potential outcomes, both positive and negative.

In Part 1, I have suggested that Service Science offers a perspective and conceptual framework that can illuminate and enhance our understanding of “modern platforms.” I have further suggested that what we observe today in the real world (and refer to as “modern platforms)” are “artificial” constructs or entities which consist of certain protocols, mechanisms, rules, regulations, etc. that define and govern interactions among “service systems” (organizations and individuals) within “value-creation networks.”  I believe that, in this context, there is much, much more that we can study and learn about what we are calling “platforms,” how they can arise, how they can function, and how they may spawn different outcomes overall in aggregate across a realized “value-creation network” as well as for the different, specific, networked “service systems.”

Link to PDF: Part 1: “Modern Platforms” and “Service Science:” New Ways of Understanding “Platform” Mechanisms, Interests, and Outcomes

The Age of the Platform: Phil Simon Serves An Epic Feast To Business Readers

Phil Simon’s recent book, The Age of the Platform: How Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Have Redefined Business, is an excellent, much-needed — almost epic — overview of (what I would term) “modern platform businesses,” with particular focus on four of the largest and most well-known.

I would highly recommend this book for business people and students of business and economics who are new to understanding this modern form of business that continues to evolve and take shape.

Simon asserts that while “platforms” of different kinds have been exploited for business purposes for a very long time, it is only recently that (a) a new generation of platforms has emerged from a confluence of information technology and other trends/factors and (b) a new generation of businesses have and are emerging/evolving by leveraging these new platforms in radical and often extraordinarily successful ways.

The examples of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (the “Gang of Four”) are held up as archetypes, and their courses thoroughly charted. Some less successful modern platforms (for example, Yahoo) are also cited and commented on here and there, and a set of potential “up and comers” (for example, Foursquare) are catalogued.

I particularly like Simon’s differentiation of the platforms themselves and the businesses that have developed and steered them to their business advantage. This is perhaps one of the essential points that define what makes “modern platform businesses” unique and different from traditional businesses (i.e., the openness to/enablement of integration and interactions with customers/users and a range of ecosystem collaborators, the varying degrees of ownership and control of the business over “platform assets: and what is created out of them, etc.).

Simon offers a very robust, comprehensive, general definition of this entity, called a platform, which modern businesses are establishing and leveraging (and which, at best, is barely separable from the ecosystems they engender):

This text defines a platform as an extremely valuable and powerful ecosystem that […] scales, morphs, and incorporates new features (called planks in this book), users, customers, vendors, and partners. Today, the most powerful platforms are rooted in equally powerful technologies—and their intelligent usage. In other words, they differ from traditional platforms in that they are not predicated on physical assets, land, and natural resources.
 
The most vibrant platforms embrace third-party collaboration. The companies behind these platforms seek to foster symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationships with users, customers, partners, vendors, developers, and the community at large.
 
Even though a great deal of potential commercial appeal and applications inhere in them, platforms do not exist simply as a means of vendors to hawk their wares. At their core, platforms today are primarily about consumer utility and communications.
[…]
Platforms comprise individual components, features, products, and services—collectively referred to in this book as planks. Put simply, without planks, there are no platforms. […] First, useful and popular planks give platforms their power. Second, today a company’s platform need not consist of only its own tools, applications, and innovations. On the contrary, platforms can easily and quickly integrate extremely powerful planks from the outside—that is, developers, partners, prosumers, and other third parties. (Simon, The Age of the Platform, pgs. 22-23)
 

Modern platforms and the businesses (companies) that succeed at mastering them are a different species from what has gone before, not just an evolutionary extension. Simon addresses this subject of “modern platform businesses” without entanglement in the earlier literature of product platforms, etc..

On the one hand, I think the book could have been stronger had it drawn selectively on the platform research within economics and management science over the past decade. But on the other hand, by not doing so, it is able to present a perspective on “modern platform businesses” in a clear and “bracketed” way that allows readers to contemplate this phenomenon, without distraction from past generations of concepts and from academic theories and ideas that may be obtuse for business readers.

The book dissects its vast subject matter in a series of rapier stokes — reducing it to a set of concatenated, bite-sized tableaus, each treating some aspect or facet of this complex, evolving business phenomenon. And this approach and lively style is, I think, well-tuned for business readers.

Phil Simon has set the table well and offers an expansive, small-plate feast for business readers who are newly developing a taste and sensibility for modern platform businesses. His book brings into focus a significant transformation in business models that is now happening and which we will try to understand for years to come.

Bon Appetit!

“Connecting the dots” between Service Design and Service Science

I highly recommend, Service Design – a conceptualization of an emerging practice, Katarina Wetter Edman’s licentiate thesis.   This is a much-needed and superbly articulated study of the relationship and potential positive interaction between two important emerging disciplines, Service Design practice and  Service Science theory. 

Abstract from study: Service design is an emerging design practice with an interdisciplinary heritage. Most previous research has been based on what service designers do; with the increased academic interest in service design over the past decade, the time has come to conceptualize the underlying discourses. The main purpose of this thesis is to contribute knowledge to the emerging service design discourse through conceptual comparisons of key concepts in the design and service management literatures…. The conceptual framework encompasses areas of design research, including design thinking, service design and design management. These areas are related to management research, with a specific focus on service marketing/management,including Service-Dominant logic and service innovation. The thesis includes an interdisciplinary literature review with a specific focus on how user involvement is conceptualized in service design and service management respectively, and develops a conceptual framework of service design based in descriptions of service design practice in the literature. The framework presents service design through five characteristics, as an 1) interdisciplinary practice, using 2) visualization & prototyping, and 3) participation as means fordeveloping the design object, seen as 4) transformation, and 5) value creation. This framework leads to an understanding of service design practice as a continuously repositioning activity. The thesis argues that the relation between service marketing/management and service design is complementary, particularly in tools and methods for user involvement and co-creation,and therefore the relation is mutually productive. It further argues that design practice can help realize Service Dominant logic, and a service perspective can help open up new positions fordesign practice. In sum, this thesis contributes knowledge that enriches the understanding and relevance ofservice marketing/management for the design discourse and vice versa.

“Platform ‘Language Games’ ” – A working paper on how we understand “platforms”

My focus on “platform” phenomena in business and other domains has led me to wonder about how we (as people trying to comprehend the world in late 2011) use and understand the term and concept “platform” .  That is how I came to work on this write-up, (link to PDF)  “Platform ‘Language Games:’ Is Clearly Defining and Classifying What We Are Studying A Serious Or Trivial Pursuit For The Research Community?

“Platform” is a term that has appeared — ever more frequently over the past 25 years or so — in literature and discourse within economics and management science research, business management, scientific, and government circles, technology marketing, and business, scientific, and popular press and media.  “Platforms” are much discussed, today, in errantly-released internal Google emails, in a recent informative business book of Phil Simon (proclaiming that we have entered The Age of the Platform).  “Platforms” are being discussed in conference rooms by managers, investors, and entrepreneurs as well as written about and talked about in the trade and popular press and social media. 

“Platforms” have been and continue to be analyzed and discussed by economic and management science researchers, who are responsible for our achieving a scientific understanding and knowledge of “platforms,” even as the term/concept “platform” proliferates and evolves and various “platforms” (communication, publishing, social media) lead to an intermingling of discourse in the research community, the professional community (e.g. business practitioners, et al), and the general public. 

So while my write-up is addressed to the research community, it may also be of interest to others in business and other disciplines (though I am doubtful that it will be looked at, to say nothing of read through, by many in even these communities).  While I realize few will find it of any interest, I am hopeful that it may be helpful to some in thinking about how we understand “platforms” in late 2011.

I start my write-up, tongue-in-cheek, with the paradoxical quote by Wittgenstein, “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen” (“Of that which one cannot speak, one must remain silent”).  There seems to be no shortage of those who will speak about “platforms” within different contexts, and we are speaking about “platforms” in different ways. 

Has our speaking about this captivating phenomenon/idea outrun our clear understanding? If so,  I’m not sure if this gap is of interest or considered to have any importance to anyone besides me.  In any case, my write-up is available to be read and reviewed, and I welcome all comments and suggestions.

Link to PDF: Platform “Language Games”

In the Cloud: Wireless technology and behavioral change in birds