I’m the Platform…Enable Me Already!


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I’ve come to realize that just about everything I do involves communication. I guess that makes me a genius! When I’m creating a Ticket in a CRM application, I’m communicating; when I’m updating my billable time, I’m communicating; when I’m corresponding via email I’m communicating; when I’m sharing notes, I’m communicating; when I’m interacting with email, I’m communicating. My job of communicating takes place in many contexts, as well. For example, some of my communication is between family and friends, other communications take place with my primary employer and its customers, and still other communication takes place in the context of other businesses and hobby’s I’m involved with.

And then, of course, there is the interface I choose; desktop, tablet, phone or SCREAMING REALLY, REALLY LOUD. But that’s really beside the point.

Platforms are all the rage these days. Everyone is talking about how all future business models must be based on platforms; and that’s probably correct. After all, we’ve never had platforms before Web 2.0. Let me think of a few businesses that aren’t platforms;

  • Hospitals – they bring physicians together with patients; but let’s not forget the insurance companies, who make sure the doctors stick around by paying them well. The hospital gets a piece of the action for bring everyone together.
  • Credit Cards – Merchants accept them as payment, consumers promise to pay the credit card company and for bringing these parties together and accepting the risk, the credit card companies take a piece of the action
  • Shopping Malls – these may be dinosaurs, but they bring consumers and merchants together and allow consumers to get more shopping done on a single platform; ensuring traffic for the merchants

The difference with today’s platform models is that they can scale easily at a much lower cost. But they essentially do the same thing; they bring multiple parties together and facilitate something interaction that might not occur otherwise. So what’s my problem with that? Well, another difference between platforms of yore and the new, hip software-based platforms is that location is no longer an issue. I plant my rear in a chair in the morning and proceed to collaborate around the world. That led me to wonder why I still have to jump through so many hoops just to get simple jobs done.

I’m a platform. You’re a platform. So, why are platforms still being designed as though companies should be the center of attention? Sure, they help me get a job done (when I’m at work) and you already know that I’m a fan of jobs-to-be-done and the outcomes that measure them. But, I don’t want to get single jobs done on numerous platforms; I want to get many jobs done on a single platform. Beware: I am not talking about a perceived platform (such as an un-named CRM platform) that is designed around organizational functions; not jobs-to-be-done. Besides, how many of you are in marketing, sales, service, accounting and delivery? These platforms are designed because it’s convenient to sell into organizations that are managed by function. From the company’s mistaken perspective, they are getting more jobs done. What they are really doing is paying for tools they don’t need and/or optimizing a process fragment in a silo (See last post).

Here are some things to think about before I continue:

  • I collaborate in many contexts
  • I collaborate with many interfaces
  • I collaborate within many organizations
  • I collaborate across many organizations

Why do I need a separate tool for everything? I have separate email clients; separate project/task management apps, separate note-taking/sharing apps. No, I don’t have numerous apps because I like it…I have them because not everyone I collaborate with uses the same apps and not everyone is in the same organization, or context.

There is another unnamed product in beta (a good one) that is attempting to solve some of the communication and collaboration issues many of us have. It revolves around email and rightly so; email ain’t going away anytime soon, folks! The problem I’m having is that it aligns me with a single organization and the platform supports the organization. Sure, I can use multiple emails addresses; but that’s only helpful if it’s my personal organization as I’m not going to mix my personal communications with a corporate context. While I’m curious how I might use this with my corporate email account, I see almost no way for them to achieve their viral, ground up strategy of customer acquisition if everyone operates within their own organization; or is required to work in someone else’s – or have to switch between multiple orgs.

How do you collaborate with colleagues in your employer’s organization from your personal organization? How do you share contacts, and topics of collaboration with them? What if you want to pass a lead you picked up from one of your tennis buddies to a colleague at work…email? Will I have to switch to another account just to collaborate in my employer’s organization? It appears that I will, after having some conversation with this vendor. It’s not my place to say, but if I were designing this to be viral I would be evaluating some other apps that may be on to something:

  • Evernote allows personal users to share notes into a business organization without losing control over the content. It started by allowing users to share notes to others via links and expanded from there. The problem is that this is only the context of collaborating through notes. Collaboration is bigger than that
  • Trello (a Kanban-based project management app) allows me to log in once, and participate in as many organizations as I want; whether I created them or someone else created them. Where it doesn’t go far enough is that it doesn’t allow me to share (and control) tasks across organizations; I can only copy or move them. It’s also in that single context of task or project management.

If you are to tackle the problem of managing your inbox as the focal point for transforming collaboration, and you want to develop a viral bottom-up (bring your own software) solution; should you make it difficult for consumers to do what they need to do across many domains? Personally, I want a single account; I want to segregate data (emails, contacts, conversations, tasks, projects) across professional organizations as well as personal circles. If I decide to share a Contact from my tennis circle with a professional organization, it should be simple, secure and tightly coupled. I should be able to terminate that sharing for any subsequent updates, while preserving what I shared with the other organization. If I need many apps to do this, a platform should orchestrate their integration.

I am a platform involved in many things. I’m involved in many revenue generating activities, not just those through my primary employment. Enable me to get more jobs in my life done on a single platform and I will gladly pay you a premium; not the piddly pence paid to apps that really don’t make our lives that much better. Is the concept of a ticket, or case something that lives in many contexts? Yes. So if you are working in a real platform, why can’t this be commoditized to the point where you can manage these across organizations as well? Is one CRM application’s “ticket” better than the next? Trust me, I’m not suggesting an even bigger monolith, but an ecosystem of bringing platforms together (us) to work more effectively across organizations, and with many tools, in a way that is transportable as we shift from one employer to another, or bring new organizations in while discarding others over time.

I’m a platform, which needs a platform, which supports my platform and those of my collaboration partners. My relationships are mine, not yours. If I choose to share them with you, it’s because there is a mutual benefit. If I decide the benefit of that partnership no longer exists, I will take what is mine and move on. If you force me to work in platforms designed for companies, you just don’t know me and what I need. I will pay a premium for something that supports me as a platform. If you don’t do it, Google will probably do it for free (eventually).

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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