By TP Sharafudheen
Technology platforms can be defined as a strategic approach that focused on how to systematically leverage technologies across different applications. With the rise of information technology, infinite growth, and the ever-increasing complexity of the technology landscape, platforms have become the design paradigm of everybody’s choice for today’s complex engineered systems. Platform technology is now the answer to major three questions of what barriers exist for effective technology reuse, how to organize technological knowledge, and how to assess the feasibility of a planned case of technology reuse. A bit earlier the power of the platform model in the personal computer some twenty to thirty years ago as operating system providers built their technology as a platform for software developers to create applications on top. But during the past decade with the widespread advent of the internet, the platform model has truly come of age as virtually every internet company needs it regardless of its size. The magnitude from the biggest search engine giants to the smallest little social media widgets has started to define their solution as a platform as they build their technological edge as more inclusive.
These platforms cannot be called infrastructure. Still, we have to understand that platforms and infrastructures are different, in several situations though, the two might be embedded into each other. In some cases, layers may abound and the situation can be more nuanced platforms functioning as infrastructure to reuse the technological edge and the talents effectively.
By using the platform technology solutions can be built via a service-oriented architecture by connecting up services from different providers, as technology developers increasingly build products on top of other people’s platforms, count this as the first role of the platform.
Secondly, complexity; to deal with this complexity of our technology paradigm will require a move from the standalone solutions of today, into a world of systems where smaller technologies are nested within larger ones in a plug and play, flexible, modular, service-oriented architecture.
Thirdly, user-generated systems; increasingly end-users are becoming producers and to harness this new source of innovation means closed systems have to open up; creating APIs and platforms on which end-users can alter, adapt and innovate while being supported by the core technology for interoperability with others.
Lastly, this platform allows the end-users to draw upon underlying services so that they do not have to reinvent them each time and can thus develop and deploy their buildings more rapidly. Fast-paced technology change and the demands of a new innovation-driven economy require constant product evolution and much shorter technology development cycles for which the platform model can prove well suited. A platform is a group of technologies that are used as a base or infrastructure upon which other applications, technologies or processes are developed for the end-user
Guiding with abstraction
Abstraction is the quality of dealing with generic forms rather than specific events, details or applications. Abstraction means removing the application of the technology from the underlying processes and functions that support that application. The platform is an abstraction, meaning that in itself it does not have application. For example, you might rent a cloud platform from a provider but in itself, this is absolutely of no use to an end-user and they cannot do anything with it. This use of abstraction works to remove the complexity for the application developers. By moving core services down to the platform level application developers can simply plug into these services and build their applications on top of it, thus working to greatly simplify the complexity they encounter, platforms are composed of generic processes that do not have specific instantiation. The application is designed to bundle these underlying resources and turn them into a real instance of an application that can be applied in the real world. In such a way a finite amount of reusable abstract building blocks can be bundled and re-bundled on the application layer
How the technology landscape evolved to this paradigm
Nobody can control the speed of the change. As the pace of change gets faster the requirement to be able to meet that fast-paced change will become ever more important. Adaptive capacity and agility are, and will increasingly be seen as key requirements in the coming decades. In a constant environment, technologies can be built as homogeneous systems without the capacity to change, enabling them to be optimized for efficiency within one environment. But as that environment and the pace of innovation changes gather a predictable nature, faster and faster, this homogenous architecture appears extremely less viable and there is an inevitable pressure emerged to switch to a platform model to enable fast-paced intervention of innovation at the edges of networks. Our needs may stay the same, people will always want food, clothing, housing, entertainment etc. but in fast-paced environments the context stays changing, and thus how we achieve that goal will change, making it important to be able to bundle and unbundle building blocks in new ways, quickly and easily. Platform technologies can be very effective at enabling an evolutionary process of technology development. Applications are instances of technology, an instance is a specific configuration of technology for a specific application.
As trends show that the platform model is emerging in many areas as a solution to the new set of requirements and possibilities enabled by information technology and the services economy. The key role player to the platform model will be the ongoing development of the Internet of Things. As the number of technologies and devices proliferates at an extraordinary rate, new platforms will have to coalesce to provide the integrative structures to such evolving complexity; enabling plug-and-play solutions through open APIs, and efficiency through the provisioning of common services. As the internet comes offline, as predicted, and into the physical world in the coming decades no other choice than it brings with it the platform model reshaping our technology landscape. Although the old world of discrete, closed, monolithic, mono-dimensional technology solutions is well understood this new world of platform technologies is today far from understood. So strategically to all technology companies and end-users, understanding the core dynamics of platform technologies is a critical component to success in today’s and tomorrow’s economy.
The power of interoperability
Unlike traditional technologies Platforms are simply designed as individual physical objects that perform a function, platforms are designed to be interoperable with other systems, they will likely have external applications running on top of them all of which can not be fully foreseen by the developers of the platform. Let us analyze an IoT platform for a house that will have to interoperate and work with many devices and technologies in the house if it has to be successful at delivering the end service. This dematerialized nature makes them non-excludable and non-rivalrous which creates a very different dynamic. The result is one of increasing cooperation as most of the value is no longer inside of the organization or technology but increasingly outside of it; the value is increased in the system’s capacity to interoperate with other systems.
See the case of a smartphone that would not be very valuable if it could not connect to the internet or run other people’s applications on it. Most of the value that the end-user gets from their smartphone is not created by the original technology developer, but instead by other people connecting into that platform and building things on it, or that system connecting to others. With information technology, we can build once and deploy many times, almost anywhere at a very little cost per extra unit.
The typical example is Facebook they can build their software platform once and through the internet, it can be accessed and used as a service at extremely little extra cost, per person, to them. Interoperability and collaboration between systems are the key ingredients, and platforms facilitate this by allowing different technologies to plug into each other and seamlessly draw upon their services. A platform technology architecture – being open – is optimized for user-generated systems
The most successful technology providers of tomorrow will be those who are able to harness this mass of new capacity and capabilities on the long tail by providing them with the tools, know-how, methods, and connectivity to participate, and the platform model is ideal for this.
The capacity of bundling
The abundant blessings of platform technology have been defined as a structure or technology from which various products can emerge without the expense of a new process introduction. This is achieved by defining a core set of building blocks and then configuring them into different bundles depending on the context. Effective platform technologies should work interdependently, where the platform provides the elementary building blocks that are then bundled together on the application level to meet the specific requirements of the end-user. Platform design goes hand in hand with a service-oriented architecture, where developers of applications treat the building blocks as services that they then simply string together in different ways to build their solutions like a Lego kit.
We can explain this idea as mentioned here, within just a few weeks, one could create a new service by building a web application that draws upon services from Twitter, for user identity, Ethereum for secure transactions, Alibaba for sourcing materials, Upwork for staffing, etc. The fact that you don’t have to build all of these core components yourself, you are just plugging them together means that you can easily and quickly reconfigure them when needed. At the heart of the platform, a model is a distinction between the basic functionalities of the technology and how those functions are composed.
In precise technology companies going to be more technological and the individual engineers or end users can join with these common platforms without much financial and technological burden. It inspires us to be more inclusive rather than being exclusive of our own adamancy.