The digital transformation and platform economy are expected to herald an era of new growth and a break with existing industries. By platform economy, we mean a new, multi-directional way of creating value, in which producers and users of services are connected by social and technological structures and the distinction between them is blurred. Driven by the digital transformation, the rapid and extensive collection and analysis of information will enable networked activity within the platform economy.
Companies based on the logic of the platform economy have already gained market share from actors sticking with traditional practices. However, the impact of the platform economy is not restricted to new companies breaking into the market, but challenges the current economic logic in general. For example, the concept of the cooperative is enjoying a renaissance, while the sharing economy is creating a new kind of communality. All of this is giving the tax man grey hairs.
What do you mean, security?
Discussions of the platform economy have gradually shifted their focus from technology-orientation and the contemplation of new business models to social impacts. The debate has centred on the transformations in various industries and the workplace. Less attention, on the other hand, has been paid to security – now is the time to consider preparing for the changes being ushered in by the platform economy. Security is about more than information security and privacy issues; it also concerns other challenges and opportunities – related to trust, risks, the distribution of power and the management of complex wholes – that will accompany the new networked practices.
Networks and increasing mutual dependence have led to an entirely new approach to the concept of security. The risks are now much more complex and difficult to identify. In place of hierarchies, organisations are now network-based and temporary venues where traditional top-down control no longer works. This means that we are operating in a complex world of adaptive systems in which chaos theory would be a more appropriate starting point than process models. In this context, concepts such as power, control and trust gain new meanings and dimensions. What does power mean within an interdependent system? Can trust be outsourced to algorithms?
Rather than individual and single players, in the platform economy the focus is shifting towards communities and collaboration. The platform economy is a particular headache for legislators because its business models and the blurring of roles between customer and company do not fit into existing ‘pigeonholes’. Traditional supervision and regulation are difficult to apply when, for example, an accommodation service frames itself as merely a link between supply and demand – and owns no accommodation. Although regulations and restrictions will remain important for networked operations, the related culture will become an even more important source of security.
Will the platform economy take security to a new level?
On the other hand, security could be boosted by the platform economy, digital transformation and networking. Platforms connect people, while communities built on platforms take care of their members, particularly if the platform incentivises them to do so. The design of platforms and networks involves a social as well as technical and business challenges: how can we create platforms that promote security and build a sense of community? In a situation where all interactions leave a digital trace, will the resulting, reputation-based economy build trust or inequality? What role will companies, the state and individuals play in shaping platforms?
The digital transformation, platform economy and many other, corresponding terms refer to the transition from a production-based society to a collaborative one. Instead of focusing on which sector will be the next to be disrupted by a platform economy player, perhaps we should take a proactive attitude and talk about how to create the kind of future we all want. How can the digital transformation and platforms serve common goals and forge security? How can we ensure fairness, the minimisation of risks, and common ground rules?
These questions, among many others, are explored by the foresight, organisational dynamics and systemic change team at VTT in projects such as Platform Value Now.
Mikko Dufva, Research Scientist