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Platforms and Developers

August 10, 2016

Thirty years ago the term platform was used almost exclusively to mean operating system.  As the underlying software layer, operating systems provided the “platform” on which applications ran.  However, it’s been a long time since the term was restricted in that manner.  Today, there are many types of “platforms” including servers, devices, Cloud services, and the use of various APIs.  In fact any company that publishes an API can be said to have a platform.


Last month I was invited to give a presentation at M.I.T.’s Platform Summit.  The name of my talk was “Platform Wars: the Battle for Developers”.  You can download a copy of it here:


The theme of the summit, now in its third year, was that platforms are proliferating everywhere at a tremendous rate.  The Center for Global Enterprise did a study recently that cited 170 different companies with a market cap of over a billion dollars that each has a software platform.  That’s just the largest companies.  Consider those many many more that are smaller but still significant and it’s very clear that the world is swimming in platforms.  The world is interconnected by software, and Cloud plus IoT are technologies that are enabling this new way of interacting in commercial enterprises.  If a company wants to be competitive in driving innovation in its industry, if it wants to be a part of a larger interconnected whole, or if it just wants to modernize its supply chain, it has to publish APIs and that means provide a platform.


But platforms are nothing if developers don’t adopt them, and that is where the battle comes in.  Companies today that were never before concerned with software developers must now find ways to recruit them, support them, and maintain and – yes – grow a thriving developer community.  That’s where developer programs come in.


In our latest Global Development survey from Spring 2016, the largest plurality of developers said that the main reason to chose a platform was the quality of the developer community support.  Two-thirds of developers only access APIs that are supported by a formal program.  Three quarters say that lack of a program makes the development process harder or significantly longer.


The importance of a developer program can no longer be ignored.  It is no longer a nice to have.  Now a good developer program is a strategic competitive asset, and one that is critical to the future success of any company.

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