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


What it means to have a platform

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Recently, I participated in a discussion set in the automotive realm. At some point, the conversation turned to platforms. After a while, I realized that there were several definitions of platform getting mixed up. Having worked with platforms since the 1990s, it has been really interesting for me to see how the very notion of platforms has evolved. Here, I’ll discuss three types: platforms for reuse, for DevOps and for ecosystems.

Initially, the primary role of platforms was to share commodity functionality between different products in a product line or portfolio, ie a platform for reuse. The train of thought was that if we could avoid each product team building the same functionality over and over again, it would allow for higher R&D efficiency as the product teams could work on the product-specific, differentiating functionality whereas the platform team would serve all product teams.

Having done work on software product lines for the better part of 25 years, it’s clear to me that this simple argumentation can work, but that there are many ways to mess up the benefits platforms can provide. Especially the coordination cost between platform and product teams and the difference in priorities between them can cause so many inefficiencies that the benefits of reusing functionality can easily be nullified.

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