There was aninteresting article in the WSJ the other day about “platforms” and how companies can succeed or fail based on their strategy and actions. While it is never as simple as just having a few rules, the basic arguments are sound. Overall, platforms need a high degree of openness around them. They also require ways for others to both compete and add value.
In the past, many “platforms” were based on technology like DVD’s, Windows or Mainframes. More and more, we are seeing the rise of what I would call web “information platforms.” Most social networking sites are simply information platforms. Their value as a platform is not in the technology itself; they provide value because they have a collection of information. Platforms naturally evolve here simply because there is greater information leverage by being able to operate across the most complete set of information. No matter if it is searching the web, connecting with others, or buying and selling stuff, there is value in the depth of information found in platforms that have scale.
What is a bit ironic is that many if not most companies actually are behind in building information platforms for their own information. It is not because they don’t want to or because they would fail to add value. On the contrary, the same leverage that we see from information platforms on the Web can be applied to leverage corporate information.
I believe the primary reason why we are where we are is simply that most corporate IT systems evolved in what I would call the “application era.” The focus at the time was on building a given application and, principally, data was considered to belong to one, and only one, application. Consequently applications evolved to use silos of information and we have been working ever since to integrate applications to try to improve business processes.
What I believe is required, however, is to shift focus towards creating information platforms for business data. Unfortunately, there are also more complications to creating business information platforms. Unlike much of what we use on the web, corporate information must remain secure and often private. Information use often will need to be tracked and meet various regulatory requirements. Notwithstanding, I believe that there is great value in companies building information platforms.
Building corporate information platforms is not going to happen overnight and it is not just about putting information in a single place. To be effective, companies will need to adopt and information-centric view towards their overall IT architecture. This means that information will need to have security and protection built in at the data level. It also means that more metadata will need to be maintained and tracked.
Clearly at EMC, our primary strategy is to help our customers build information infrastructures which will then enable the building of information platforms. Imagine the leverage a company can get by having all of its information available to any application for any valid use. I believe the competitive leverage is enormous!