When everything is about platforms and platforms are about everything

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Has anyone not heard of Uber, Facebook, LinkedIn or AirBnB? That platforms are the way to be successful? Our analysis makes some of this hype visible, as it reveals many ways to describe and define the concept of platform.

There is a definite hype around platforms on-going, and many companies are building their own platforms or platform strategies to find their way for success. In our research project IPLATE, we are gearing toward understanding the competencies related to platforms, i.e. ingredients needed to build a winning cake in platform economy. We approach platforms as interactive, collaborative multisided marketplaces with possibilities of networks effects for value-creation.

In order to find the best recipes we go to explore the concept of platform – so that we can understand the resources and capabilities for success – we find that platform has been defined with multiple words. Toward addressing these complexities, we analysed 12 relevant and rather highly-cited journal articles and reports about platforms (list at the end of the blog). In these, the word “platform” was mentioned altogether 1791 times, which correspond to the average of 149 per publication (with a range of 35 to 309 per publication).

With the analysis we found 31 words that were used as a prefix to define platform and 39 words that were used after the word platform. Figure below presents the words in alphabetical order. We can see that supply-chain platform but also platform supply-chain get mentioned. Similarly, technology platform and platform technology as well as market platform and platform market were mentioned. Accordingly, both business and technology are present: the terms related to technology are highlighted in red, the ones to business in blue. The roles mentioned in this platform economy include: platform partner, platform sponsors, platform owners, platform leaders (or leader wannabes), platform entrants, and platform complementors (in green).

Figure: Summary of words describing platforms.

With this analysis, we want to highlight some of the semantics of platform from car platforms and global platforms to platform licencing and platform wars. The breadth of platform approaches is also evident in a recent HBR Insights (from April 2016), which presents 18 articles about the Platform Economy – how online marketplaces are changing the face of business.

So yes, we did find the term platform competence presented as an element of a platform. Still, more interesting and challenging is that these platform competencies should be able to support such as wide arena of platform concepts. In other words, instead of one platform cake there are many different patisseries and therefore there are also many different recipes for success in the platform economy. Moreover, as platform economy is built on network effects and calls for collaboration, companies cannot bake the cake alone.

Kaisa Still, Senior Scientist, VTT

Marko Seppänen, Associate Professor (tenure track), Tampere University of Technology

Katri Valkokari, Principal Scientist, VTT 

List of publications:

  1. Yang, C., & Jiang, S. (2006). Strategies for technology platforms. Research-Technology Management, 49(3), 48-57. (platforms mentioned 220 times)
  2. Gawer, A. (2011) What managers need to know about platforms The European Business Review, July, pp. 40-43. (73 times)
  3. Sawhney, M. S. (1998). Leveraged high-variety strategies: from portfolio thinking to platform thinking. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 26(1), 54-61. (110 times)
  4. Gawer, A., & Cusumano, M. A. (2014). Industry platforms and ecosystem innovation. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 31(3), 417-433. (309 times)
  5. Parker, G. & Van Alstyne, M. W., (2014) Platform Strategy Boston U. School of Management Research Paper No. 2439323. (169 times)
  6. Gawer, A., & Cusumano, M. A. (2008). How companies become platform leaders. MIT Sloan management review, 49(2), 28. (120 times)
  7. Parker, G., & Van Alstyne, M. W. (2009). Six challenges in platform licensing and open innovation. Communications & strategies, (74), 17. (120 times)
  8. Zoric, J. (2011). Connecting business models with service platform designs: Exploiting potential of scenario modeling. Telematics and Informatics, 28(1), 40-54. (35 times)
  9. Basole, R. C., & Karla, J. (2011). On the evolution of mobile platform ecosystem structure and strategy. Business & Information Systems Engineering, 3(5), 313-322. (147 times)
  10. Smedlund, A. (2012). Value cocreation in service platform business models. Service Science, 4(1), 79-88. (123 times)
  11. Kenney, M., & Zysman, J. (2015). Choosing a future in the platform economy: the implications and consequences of digital platforms. In Kauffman Foundation New Entrepreneurial Growth Conference. (159 times)
  12. Accenture Technology Vision 2015 Stretching your boundaries in the digital era. (206 times)

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