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Why Great Technology Innovators Think About Platforms

Why Great Technology Innovators Think About Platforms

Mark is the CEO of W3.Digital, a Digital Transformation focused consultancy.

There’s one thing that leading tech entrepreneurs have in common, and it’s something that many boards could benefit from following: platform innovation.

Consider the legacies of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Richard Branson and how they all reinvented entire sectors. Closer to my home in Australia, the same applies to Scott Farquhar, Mike Cannon-Brookes, Bevin Slattery and Michael Malone.

For more traditional businesses to follow suit, boards can start by asking how they can elevate whole sectors—and people—with their technology and how technology can reinvent their industry.

The Textbook Platform Plays

Uber’s approach to solving two problems—the shortcomings of the taxi industry and an unused supply of cars—with one platform is the textbook platform play, and it’s the best place to start when it comes to innovation. Developing a platform opens up efficiencies while offering higher margins for an economic sector.

I believe Australia is ripe for this type of platform innovation at a mass scale. We have a range of technologies maturing simultaneously, with the convergence of 5G, IoT, AI and edge computing paving the way for a golden era of platform plays.

5G alone can transform our economy, including our health sector, agriculture, logistics and supply chains. With dedicated 5G networks, security and customer experience, many businesses have an enormous opportunity for innovation.

Cross-Sector Technology

There’s also potential for businesses to branch out and disrupt other sectors. Telstra, for example, delivers infrastructure to the health sector. The right platform play could enable robotic surgery. While it wouldn’t make sense for a significant telco to build surgery robots itself, it could allow others to innovate using its technology.

This isn’t just theoretical. By the year’s end, more surgery robot suppliers will enter the global market. However, with the proper infrastructure in place, that number could explode—reducing the cost of entry to the market, increasing supply chain opportunities and creating a catalyst of related technology.

Knowing Where To Invest

How should Australia’s boards make sense of this new technology and know where to invest? The answer is counterintuitive. Stop thinking about the technology itself and try understanding the human issues at play.

For example, let’s look at the global healthcare system. Covid-19 exposed many weaknesses, primarily because of population density and geography. However, those “disadvantages” are opportunities for technical innovation. With geographical proximity, technology could get specialist medical staff from one remote location to another, saving someone’s life in an emergency.

If that technology is a success, we can export it to other markets.

Time For Action

Highly fragmented markets with many players are ripe for this type of entrepreneurial risk-taking, and the need is pressing.

The global economy has relied on the same siloed sectors for so long that businesses are becoming risk-averse. We need organizations to work together, access international research and find ways for the economy to capitalize on a new era of platform plays.

True innovation comes from bringing diverse teams together and benefiting from each other’s capabilities, skills, networks and processes. However, we’re yet to do that on a big scale.

Short-Term Risk, Long-Term Benefit

Through my experience, I’ve found that some business boards that evolve their business through digital transformation know that 80% of what they try isn’t going to work but that the other 20% could bring success for the next 25 to 30 years. This is the kind of boldness that drives true innovation.

Digital transformation may be painful in the short-term, but the long-term opportunities are too great to ignore. With the suitable investment, I believe Australian businesses can play a huge role in solving some of humanity’s most significant challenges while bringing considerable economic benefits. It’s at the platform level where the most effective space for change exists.

The opportunity is too good to miss for brave tech thinkers and innovators.


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