The Whiteboard

Re-Imagining the Enterprise with Platform Thinking

In 2013, Swedish molecular biologist Dr. Jonas Frisen reported that all of the cells in our bodies are completely replaced every seven to 10 years. That’s right — at least once per decade, we’re 100% brand new.

An organization is a different beast altogether. If you’re lucky to be around for 10 years or more (like VMware, which was founded in 1998), when should you reinvent yourself? In our case, I’d say that the answer is “now.”

Let me explain.

At our inception, we had one product — VMware Workstation. Now VMware has dozens of products and services. How do customers know what they need or how they all fit together? Maybe it’s time for some reinvention (or at least rejuvenation).

I’ve been reading a lot about “platform thinking” lately. The analyst firm McKinsey defines platform thinking as a focus on making an organization’s core systems accessible, reusable, and modern so that they better enable product teams.

Platform thinking is a focus on common services, design patterns, and standards. In a software company that lived and breathed this philosophy, teams throughout the organization would leverage this central infrastructure, automating activities and promoting the development of standards. On the customer side, this would translate into an experience where they instinctively knew where to access settings, no matter which of the company’s products they were leveraging. They’d know that compliance standards and service level agreements (SLAs) would be consistent across the board. They’d have just one single invoice to pay each month.

Of course, in reality, these aspirations are easy to talk about but difficult to achieve. It’s common for different groups within a large company to want to veer off on their own, resisting centralization because they fear it will hinder their agility. And this might be true for any team at any given moment. But over time, these types of choices add up. One day, you wake up and realize that things have become overly complicated.

The good news is that we don’t have to choose between agility and platform thinking. Done right, platform thinking will actually enable agility. Reusing existing APIs is much faster than writing new ones – fast iteration becomes a way of working. Leveraging existing interfaces is much easier than building new ones. And legal reviews of contracts are quick and easy when the contracts are the same. From the customer’s viewpoint, it’s not even a question: platform thinking for the win!

In a recent keynote, I asked our R&D teams to keep platform thinking top of mind as we go forward — finding ways to leverage our existing infrastructure, collaborating more effectively, and staying conscious that we are all working on one platform (albeit with multiple components). The world has changed. The market has changed. And so we’ve all got to change, as well. Time for some corporate cellular regeneration.




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