A platform is a versatile buzzword, which has gained popularity along with other tech industry terms like “technical debt” and “unicorn.” It’s used in so many different ways, though, that it’s easy to confuse its meaning.

One of the most popular ways that “platform” has become used is to describe a business model. Companies like Uber, Didi Kuadi and Alibaba control ecommerce, search and transportation markets respectively by building an underlying technology that allows other businesses to create value on top of their own. This model has become particularly popular in emerging economies, where the ability to tap into a global workforce with a single app is invaluable.

Software can also function as a platform, but only if it has a flexible design that lets teams easily add or change functionality. For example, Datadog’s systems monitoring platform started as a point solution that could autonomously track activity on cloud and on-prem servers, but it has since grown to include user experience metrics, revenue flows and other information.

The most important thing to remember is that not all platforms are created equal. John Hagel1 describes how some platforms have the potential to trigger powerful forms of increasing returns, while others have little or no power to do so. When it comes to creating a platform, it’s critical that the business understand what kind of impact its decisions will have on its adopters and how those impacts can be mitigated. That way, they can ensure that their platforms grow to be a powerful resource for their users. platform

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