When they come to bury me, the epitaph on my headstone will read, “Here lies Euan Davis – the platform guy.” Any conference that I attend or speak at, I always stress that the number one rule for work in the data age is the platform. Some will roll their eyes; others are keen to learn more. But I really think platforms are fundamental to understanding value in the second machine age.

Platforms will drive the future of work. Companies need to reorganize work and their teams around them. Why? Because winning business models live or die through their ability to build, scale and partner through platforms. Quite simply, platforms are layers of software that catch data and allow products, processes, people and experiences to be connected. They can take many forms, like a car, a home or even a jet engine, but what they do is prescribe a much more fluid approach to talent and innovation. Get this, and you will begin to see platforms growing everywhere and then understand why they are so important.

Read any of my work about the future of talent or leadership in the second machine age or Europe’s digital imperative, and you’ll see my view on how developing platform-style behaviors are critical to any organization’s future survival. They allow firms to embed the innovation happening at the edge of their business right into the heart of what they do. In short, platforms are the building blocks of digital success, linking digital assets, products, partners and customer demand together to make new services available.

LinkedIn, Spotify or Uber are the easiest platforms to understand and the most visible because we see and use them every day. The good news is, the world of platforms doesn’t just belong to the digital steampunks anymore; established companies are now working their big-company advantages and starting to build and organize knowledge work around them.

Platform Thinking Has Infiltrated Business

The message is getting through, I think. I tested this out in a recent workshop we ran with an old-school publisher in Germany. I won’t share their name in the interests of client confidentiality; however, the company has north of 10,000 employees, with many old- and new-school multimedia brands in play. I asked the attendees (who were from the business side of the house) to describe what they thought a platform was, and the results were heartening to see:

  1. It’s a virtual place online.
  2. The place where information is found.
  3. A space for exchanging information.
  4. The place to meet and collaborate.
  5. A data-driven place to exchange information.
  6. A corporate tool to share data, information or processes.
  7. A virtual space to connect and collect data and head toward for a certain purpose.
  8. A space where people/technologies/innovations can be connected or shared.
  9. A way to bring people together supported by technology.
  10. The place where we connect with our users and offer our values.
  11. A set of concepts, frameworks or facilities compressed together to make goals possible.
  12. A content distribution channel.
  13. A place for marketing and communications. (Editor note: OK, OK, we obviously had marketing in the room.)
  14. A fundamental basis for work. (Editor note: Nice …)
  15. A base that everything can be built upon. (Editor note: Spot on …)
  16. A standardized basis for day-to-day work for ANY new products (software or our customers or a car or one of our publications.) (Editor note: They must have read my presentation.)
  17. A content distribution channel.
  18. The basis for a services-based ecosystem. (Editor note: Sounds like a consultant has been in …)
  19. A service ecosystem. (Editor note: Again, wow.)
  20. A hub providing services and giving users a place to satisfy their needs.
  21. A piece of constantly changing software whose rules are important to a certain community. (Editor note: Yep.)

My point is that if you asked this question a year ago, I doubt you would get this level of understanding into the concept of the platform and why it matters for the future of work, and why it matters for the next wave of economic value. What struck me is that these business people outside tech are really getting it; they are starting to see how platforms will help their organizations capture value in the future. Get your survival kit now.

PS. One definition that didn’t make the cut: “Platforms are used to extract oil from under the sea.” I like that because when I try and put together an image of a platform, this is what comes to mind – an oil rig!

This blog originally appeared on the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work website.

Euan Davis

Euan Davis

Euan Davis leads Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work in EMEA. A respected speaker and thinker, Euan has guided many Fortune... Read more