Jan Bosch is a research center director, professor, consultant and angel investor in startups. You can contact him at jan@janbosch.com.

Opinion

Platform lesson #1: Platforms should focus on speed, not efficiency

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Traditional thinking is that platforms are about efficiency through reuse. Product teams get a bunch of functionality for free from the platform and only have to build the remaining product-specific functionality. The interesting thing about software reuse is that it’s been extremely successful at the inter-company level. The amount of software that’s being reused through operating systems, commercial software products, the open-source community and software ecosystems is phenomenal. Compared to the situation in the 1990s, when I came of age in the software community, it’s incredible what we’ve accomplished.

For many companies, however, the sharing and reuse of software developed in the context of the company itself, ie intra-organizational, still proves to be a challenging and uphill battle. The conceptual idea is to develop a platform that all product teams can use to build their respective products. The reasoning is that by focusing on building common functionality only once, we can save development effort by sharing this common functionality through a platform.

In practice, unfortunately, the interface between products and the underlying platform tends to be incredibly complex and tends to result in a situation where the platform slows everyone down. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is that software is different from mechanics. Although the functionality in the platform might be common, very often product teams find out that they need a different flavor or that some part is missing. The product teams need to request this functionality to be developed by the platform team, which often gets overwhelmed by all the requests. The consequence is that everyone waits for the slow-moving platform team.

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