The idea of a hosted platform for software developers to display, sell and operate their wares is not new; it’s been around for a while (at least in the software industry’s time scale) and it would be fair to say that computers themselves are platforms for software (but that’s an unproductive chicken/egg conversation). The history behind the original Platform as a Service (PaaS) idea is muddled, and I would argue it’s futile to attribute it to any one company.
Apttus’ history on the other hand is not muddled, and is directly tied to the PaaS theory. Apttus launched our company and the Contract Lifecycle Management product at Dreamforce 2006, in conjunction with Salesforce’s unveiling of their new application platform and the Apex code. This marked Salesforce’s breakout into the platform model and the last decade has been a crazy journey for us, to say the least. What makes Salesforce’s platform different from a true PaaS company is that it does not rely on their platform as a source of direct revenue, it’s become more of a massive value-add to their
core CRM product, but I digress.
This post is not meant to be a history lesson, but it’s important to know where ideas come from and where they are heading. Now, what I would like to convey here is that platforming has transformed many industries in the past, continues to create new innovations in the present, and has massive potential to do keep doing so in the future.
The Influence of Platform as a Service
Apple iOS is now a household name, but its humble beginnings started in 2008 when they launched their iPhone 3G which included GPS technology, Holy Cow!
“The iPhone SDK allows developers to create amazing applications that leverage the iPhone’s groundbreaking Multi-Touch user interface, animation technology, accelerometer and GPS technology on the world’s most advanced mobile platform.”
By the end of 2008, there were 3,000 native iOS apps. Now with 725,000 applications available for download, it has revolutionized the way we use our mobile phones and mobile media in general. This example of a media platform has spawned countless companies and products. Some have lasted, some haven not. It has also created some heated competition with Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung and Google.
I wouldn’t be doing my homework if I didn’t give credit to Apple for their Apple TV here as well, extending the platform idea to encompass all media including music, movies, TV shows & apps. The main goal here? Keeping consumers logged into the Apple App Store when they are on the couch, staring at the TV instead of their phone.
The video game industry has recently embraced the platform idea for their devices too, and for this post I’ll stick to console games (sorry PC master race), since we’ve already established that computers are platforms.
I play on the Xbox, but anyone who has enjoyed console gaming through the ages can tell you that the Next Gen consoles made a huge leap forward in the way they deliver entertainment. These devices are no longer just a way to play games; both Microsoft and Sony have stated
that they want to become the one-stop-shop when it comes
to entertainment systems. It started by adding DVD and Blu-Ray players, then it included hosting the typical menagerie of popular apps such as YouTube, HBO-GO, Amazon.com, Netflix. But aside from these, each company have developed their own applications such as Xbox Music & PlayStation Music.
Nintendo has a unique perspective on this topic too, because their Wii system is literally a platform for their entire game catalog. Customers can download every single game (even platformers) that Nintendo has ever published across the entire console spectrum. That’s a big draw for long-time customers to stick with the Nintendo brand and an innovative way to leverage such an extensive history of game development.
Game developers have seen consoles as platforms from the start because that is what these systems are at their core. They each have a specific interface, code, experience and brand which developers build upon in order to get their product out to market in the best way possible.
The PaaS model recently broadened, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) movement. Suddenly everyone is putting internet connectivity into objects. Unfortunately, there are many cases where companies were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should. But isn’t that the price we have always paid for innovation? There will be mistakes and useless inventions along the way, then we
learn from them and move on to make whatever it is better
and more useful.
GE’s recent announcement of the Predix.io is confirmation that manufacturing companies need to start thinking about platforms as a way to add value to their core products. Just a cursory glimpse at the market opportunity is enough to get the wheels turning. It’s no surprise that GE, the conglomerate with roots as a household appliance manufacturer, is the first to capitalize on this opportunity, but maybe that’s due to my limited view of the IoT’s immediate utility to the average consumer. There must be far more useful ways to leverage internet connectivity within everyday items than what I envision thanks to The Simpsons.
Salesforce also announced their IoT Cloud platform at the most recent Dreamforce conference. I find it extremely interesting to see an older, more established manufacturing company such as GE, coming at the IoT movement from the product side. While at the same time a newer innovator such as Salesforce.com is doing the same from the cloud side. Where they meet in the middle will be fascinating, but for now that’s all the validation I need to see that platforms are an older idea with room yet to expand and disrupt.
Transportation Platforms – The Next Up and Coming Trend?
Lastly, as an example of how the platform idea will be shaping the future of an industry, I propose that we consider Tesla Motors and the automotive industry. Tesla Motors was raised in the Silicon Valley and as such (though this may not be causation, but intentional), relies heavily upon software. It is a main differentiator for Tesla but besides that, their car’s entire operation relies on their onboard software.
The car’s dashboard is 100% digital and configurable, just like a modern day smart phone. Fluid levels, engine
temperature, tire pressure, radio, air vents, windows, doors,
seats, lights, locks, EVERYTHING is digitally displayed. Software updates can be downloaded just like an app on a smart phone too. That is where the Tesla Motors has moved into the realm of software platform.
Expect the Future…Soon
So what are the applications of this futuristic platform? There are the obvious in-car apps like Google Maps, remote start/stop, security, BlueTooth, GolfNow and calendars, but since this type of software interface in a vehicle is limited to one automaker, the consumers haven’t seen the creative explosion we are used to with our phones yet. Yet I can think of some other interesting applications; ordering food while stuck in traffic, quickly pay for parking once the car enters the space, audiobooks via Amazon Kindle, upload film from onboard cameras onto YouTube, or parental controls over top speed and distance traveled to keep joy riding to a minimum.
As stated earlier however, with innovation comes risk. Telsa Motors and all the other up and coming competitors (and I assure you they are coming) will need to work hard to keep their transportation platforms secure and running smoothly. Regulation of the automotive industry is already prevalent, and regulation on the software industry is quickly picking up the pace.
The Key To These Trends? Digital Connectivity
So we see just some examples here of the transformative effect that the platform trend has had and will have on both new and well established industries. Digital connectivity is where society is headed. Having our mobile phones, cars, and other electronic devices connected in a seamless fashion so that our lifestyles don’t skip a beat is going to be a continuous, top of mind aspect that innovators will be cognizant of. Platforms as a Service are a great way to make this happen and enable consumers the ability to expand their digital capabilities without having to combine numerous applications, tools or software. Expect to see more of this in various industries you wouldn’t think would
step into this realm… But what’s next, platform shoes!? Preposterous.