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Platforms, present and future II

A possible classification of platforms based on business models. Source: Platform Hunt
  1. There are platforms and then there are platforms

In the opening post of this series I considered the “big nine” mostly from the point of view of their capability to offer storage, processing and access (this latter mediated by Internet). These nine platforms are quite different from one another, as an example:

  • Amazon is probably the biggest one in terms of capabilities. Actually, one might say that is a few platforms in one. It is offering pure storage/computation services (AWS) but it is also a marketplace (also managing payments), it is a media distributor (music, video, books…) and it is a logistic delivery platform;
  • Google is a mail platform, a service platform (e.g. Google Maps), an advertisement platform as well as supporting storage and processing (Google used to offer free storage, recently their policy hanged. If you want more than 15GB you need to subscribe to their storage service, starting at 1.99$ a month for 100GB of storage). Its strong points are clearly services (new ones are being added continuously, like real time translation, voice interfaces…) and they are sustained by indirect revenues through advertisement;
  • Apple is a marketplace platform (selling billions of apps) but it is also a development platform (for apps), it is a media distributors (music and more recently video and television), provide back up, storage services, it has become a payment (and credit card) platform. Apple is also a platform of devices, all their devices (in the billions) share a common OS and this creates a huge marketplace fully orchestrated by Apple. Google is also offering a de-facto standard operating system, Android, but its grip on the market is not as strong as Apple.

As one can see, in the case of the big nine, there is a common denominator formed by the huge capacity and global access of the data centres each of them own. Their strength is that each of the variations of their platform space (services) reinforces the other.

An alternative way of looking at platform is from the business viewpoint, as shown in the figure (created by Platform-Hunt).

Here we can see 8 types of platforms:

  • Technology: these are the platforms offering pure storage and processing resources. Azure (Microsoft), AWS (Amazon) are the ones that come to mind, but also Bluemix (IBM) and many platforms offered by Telcos;
  • Computing: these are the very well known platforms that once upon the time we called “Operating Systems” like Android and IOs, MacOS and Windows, and the less successful Tizen (Samsung) or HarmonyOS (Huawei). Linux would obviously fit in this category but is seldom address as a platform since it lacks the commercial halo that is characterising the other platforms in this area;
  • Utility: these are platforms we use every day for specific services, like Google Search, Google Maps or Kayak (fare aggregator);
  • Interactions: these are the platforms creating social networks and supporting interaction among their members, like Facebook, Linkedin, Snapchat, as well as those supporting specialised focus groups like DPReview or the IEEE Collaboratech;
  • Marketplaces: these are the ones providing companies (and single people) the way to offer goods with Amazon leading the pack, eBay,  AirBnB, Kickstarter…;
  • On-demand: these are the platform supporting the Gig economy, like Foodies, Uber, Makespace …
  • Crowdsourcing: these are the platforms harvesting people contributions to create value, like TripAdvisor whose strong point is the reviews provided by people who ate in a restaurant or visited a location. These reviews are used by other people to decide what to do and what to buy. Other crowdsourcing platforms are the ones where people provide content, like YouTube and Pinterest or Yelp;
  • Data harvesting: these are also platforms that capitalise on people contribution but in terms of data, like Waze that let people send info about traffic situation or Moovit (transportation availability)…

There is also another classification, by the capability of attracting vertical sectors, i.e creating ecosystems:

  • IoT platforms
  • dats platforms
  • industry platforms
  • smart cities platforms
  • healthcare platforms:
  • device/product platforms:
  • knowledge platforms:

The list is clearly long, and growing. i chose this particular list, that I will be addressing in the next posts, because it allows me to touch on several aspects of the roles played by platforms in the digital transformation.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.