As a competition, the Olympics represents the spirit of cooperation and collaboration. Whether taking to the field as part of a team, or alone in the starting blocks, no athlete is competing single-handedly. All participants in the games are backed by a wide range of supporters – from coaches through to spectators – who are on hand to offer encouragement, advice and guidance.
At first glance, this may not seem to have much in common with the way traditional businesses operate. Organizations are used to including business partners only on a need-to-know basis and for specific purposes, such as buying materials, selling through them, or for OEM partnerships.
In many ways, these forms of collaboration are free from competition as they are not the core part of an organization’s go-to-market strategy. This means that the organization in question is free to concentrate on optimizing their own unique selling points to gain an advantage over rivals in the same space – perhaps by offering the lowest cost price, or adding a consultative element.
However, there is an alternative. While the above business model functions much like a pipeline, more and more organizations are embracing a ‘platform’ approach. Spread across the organizations’ entire value chain, platform businesses don’t simply develop a product and push it out – instead they offer freedom for users to consume and develop their product or service in a way that suits their usage. Think of a company that owns a large open space which they decide to convert into a marketplace – though they have nothing to sell themselves, they need to encourage vendors to enter the space and attract customers. This in turn will bring in more vendors to the marketplace.
Collaboration is key, and platform organizations must be ready to adapt and change based on the customer experiences that its user base is demanding. Many technology brands are using this approach: think of the difference between TV channels which use the pipeline approach to offer linear value directly to customers, and YouTube, which provides a platform for both viewers and vendors.
It’s a complete inversion of the model many organizations are accustomed to: value creation is moved from a closed chain and into an open network. And in much the same way as the Olympic Games strives for collaboration, success in the platform model is often shared between users – if it works well for one, then it can benefit others. Consider the Fosbury Flop – one of the most famous moments in Olympic history. Perfected and shared by Dirk Fosbury, it won him the gold medal in 1968’s Mexico City Games. The technique quickly replaced the previous ‘scissor kick’ and has helped propel athlete’s in the discipline to new heights.
It is no longer the case that an organization jealously holds their data and best practice techniques; sharing with others on the platform can help increase the user base and therefore the potential number of customers.
Of course entering into a platform ecosystem means asking a number of difficult questions, specifically:
- How much of your business should be placed on the platform?
- Could your organization build its own platform? Or perhaps collaborate with others in the industry to do so?
- What other values can your chosen platform provide for business?
- How open should membership be?
Moving from a mindset of pipelines to platforms represents a significant shift in how businesses operate. But with a more open sense of collaboration, organizations receive access to knowledge and expertise they may not have ordinarily have found – this in turn can help other organizations, adding value throughout the supply chain. And for consumers, it means a fair and open playing field in which businesses can better address their needs and demands.