Marc Andreessen’s platform play for OSS

Marc Andreessen describes platforms as “a system that can be programmed and therefore customized by outside developers — users — and in that way, adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform’s original developers could not have possibly contemplated, much less had time to accommodate.”

Platform thinking is an important approach for service providers if they want to recapture market share from the OTT play. As the likes of Facebook have shown, a relatively limited-value software platform becomes enormously more valuable if you can convince others to contribute via content and innovation (as evidenced in FB’s market cap to assets ratio compared with traditional service providers).

As an OSS industry, we have barely scratched the surface on platform thinking. Sure, they are large platforms used by many users, we sometimes offer the ability to deliver customer portals and more recently we’re starting to offer up APIs and microservices.

As we’ve spoken about before, many of the OSS on the market today are the accumulation of many years (decades?) of baked-in functionality (ie product thinking). Unfortunately this baked-in approach assumes that the circumstances that functionality was designed to cater for are identical (or nearly identical) for all customers and won’t change over time. The dynamic and customised nature of OSS clearly tells us that this assumption is not right.

Product thinking doesn’t facilitate the combinatory innovation opportunities represented by nascent technologies such as cloud delivery, network virtualization, network security, Big Data, Machine Learning and Predictive Analytics, resource models, orchestration and automation, wireless sensor networks, IoT/ M2M, Self-organizing Networks (SON) and software development models like DevOps. See more in my research report, The Changing Landscape of OSS.

Platforms are powerful, not just because of the cloud, but also the crowd. With OSS, we’re increasingly utilising cloud delivery and scaling models, but we probably haven’t found a way of leveraging the crowd to gain the extreme network effects that the likes of FB have tapped into. That’s largely because our OSS are constrained by “on-premises” product thinking for our customers. We allow customers to connect internally (some may argue that point! 😉 ), but aside from some community forums or annual customer events, we don’t tend to provide the tools for our global users to connect and share value.

In not having this aggregated view, we also limit our potential on inherent platform advantages such as analytics, machine-learning / AI, combinatorial innovation, decentralised development and collaborative value sharing.

Do you agree that it all starts with re-setting the “on-prem” thinking or are we just not ready for this yet (politically, technically, etc)?

[Noting that there are exceptions that already exist of course, both vendor and customer-side. Also noting that distributed datasets don’t preclude centralised / shared analytics, ML/AI, etc, but segregation of data (meta data even) from those centralised tools does!]


A hat-tip to the authors of a Platform Thinking Point of View from Infosys, whose document has helped frame some of the ideas covered in this blog.

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