The Power of Platform Thinking: Finally Getting the Benefit of All This Transformation
October 18, 2023

Nate Berent-Spillson
Launch by NTT DATA

As leaders in technology, we've spent the better part of the last 20 years doing a lot of "transformative" change: Cloud adoption, Agile transformation, DevOps, automation, taking things off-shore, on-shore, then near shore — that's a ton of change curve to absorb. And we're in a tough position. As technology leaders in established enterprises, we're trying to do what's right for the business. Here we are with very real, very unforgiving systems that are running our business today. We're afraid to touch our legacy systems because we're afraid of being in the hot seat if something the business depends on is down.

It's easy to be overwhelmed. It's easy to blame the bureaucracy and it's easy to blame our predecessors. We get to a point where decisions from long ago have piled up resulting in an unforgiving system that is intertwined, difficult to change, and costly to maintain. Many leaders are fine with doing little or moving the problem around and calling that "change". But to realize the value of the paradigm shift, you have to actually adopt the change meaningfully. That's hard work.

You Have 3 Options

Technology change is really about changing behavior — the behavior of individuals and the behavior of organizations. You have three options:

1. Change your behavior

2. Change your structure

3. Mortal peril

The reality is that most organizations won't change until they're forced to. When there's an imminent threat and the house is on fire, the fear of extinction becomes greater than the fear of change. And if you find yourself in that position facing the death spiral, being operationally excellent one more time is not going to cut it. At some point, the operational excellence play bleeds dry. There's a step function that's necessary to get you to a different place.

Changing behavior is difficult because the existing structure resists the change. We often mistake structure for org-structure, but instead replace that with a structure that transcends the siloes of the organization. A platform vision, and technical structural model.

Think of Your Business as a Platform

The most scalable and cost-effective way to get there is to think of your business as a platform. You don't have to be AWS or Microsoft to harness the power of the platform paradigm. It's about getting to what really matters: the business problem first and the technology to support it.

To get in the platform mindset, start with the business problem and then ask, "How much of that do I not need to build?" When you approach the question with a platform mindset, you will find that the build part is very small. It's useful to think of specific technologies and the tech landscape as energy expended.

Where do we want to spend our time, money, and effort?

Do we want to spend it fighting over details?

Building something we could easily buy out-of-the-box from another provider?

The Frictionless platform mindset becomes a meta-structure in our world of technology. It allows us to quickly categorize the types of problems we're trying to solve, get to a decision quickly, and crucially, adopt that decision allowing for change.

Platform thinking is strategic and holistic instead of building things one-off. We can get more bang for our building buck, because we're investing in reusable foundational pieces that can be used to fuel continuous product development. Then you can amortize out the cost of build, and realize lower operating costs, lower construction costs, and shorter time to market. The platform mindset is thinking about your technology strategically in terms of your business, and not the other way around.

Getting to What Really Matters

Technologists can get way too over-rotated on technology as the thing that's important. We're spending time and energy on things that are not the business problem, and not driving value for the enterprise. When you lead with your business problem — that's hard work. But the payoff — the feeling of accomplishment, the endorphin hit you get — that propels you.

Momentum keeps you always moving forward, even when faced with disruption and uncertainty. The promise of the platform mindset is finally getting to realize the combined power of all these transformative waves we've been through over the last 10-20 years. When you adopt the platform mindset as your default, you have a structure to absorb change. It's a way of thinking that transcends the latest technology and disruption waves.

Nate Berent-Spillson is VP of Engineering at Launch by NTT DATA
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