Let’s take a look at that last one: cost-efficiency. With the economic impacts of nations favouring isolationism amid the ongoing pandemic, many businesses are looking to cut costs or restructure – even in large pharma. This means that expensive individual ‘tools’ are no longer that attractive, especially if there is a competing tool with more functionality – or functionality that other parts of the business can use. This year, businesses will be looking for Swiss-Army-knife solutions, to avoid paying a subscription for dozens of individual tools.

Same software, new positioning?

By developing (or at least announcing) this horizontal expansion of tools into new capabilities and business areas, vendors will hope to be seen as having a more comprehensive offering. We’ll see an even greater increase in the use of phrases like ‘end-to-end’, ‘comprehensive’, ‘360-degree’ and the other usual suspects, as vendors try to convince customers of their broader value.

We’re also seeing the start of ‘work’ and ‘workspace’ solutions, with Google, Monday, Asana, and ClickUp all describing ‘workspace’ solutions. This is doubtlessly also driven by the work-from-home phenomenon, since many of us tend not to have a workplace at the moment.

In all cases what we’re talking about are typically a mixture of foundational platforms (build solutions for your work processes) or collaborative productivity solutions (share and create stuff). Vendors are simply trying out shiny new words to describe these offerings.

Which leads us on to this increased desire to appear ‘foundational’ to a customer. The idea that a vendor’s software is somehow a core building block of what you do is important to persuade customers to keep using it. So with a mixture of cost-cutting pressures, and the inevitable Swiss-Army-knife expansion of solutions, vendors will be looking to persuade the market that their ‘platform’ offering holds the unique key to unlocking broad and indispensable business value. If you had to choose whether a ‘tool’, ‘solution’, or ‘platform’ would provide that, I’m betting that you’re going with the platform.

When is a ‘platform’ not a platform?

So how will we filter out the 2021 platform noise and identify which are true platforms, providing companies with the limitless potential to roll out new solutions for business cases across the organisation?

Well, let’s identify what a platform really should be. Here’s one take on it:

“Where we used to think of a platform as the underlying computer system, we now probably have to accept the fact that the industry considers a platform to be anything that you can build upon.” (What’s the Difference Between a Software Product and a Platform?, Adrian Bridgwater, Forbes, 2015.)

To separate the reality from the noise, then:

  1. A platform should at least let businesses build apps or solutions. A single, broad out-of-the-box solution is not a platform, no matter how collaborative it is or how integrated with other systems. For example, Google Workspace is not a platform (to be fair, nor does it claim to be) – it may well be the very nice evolution of a set of tightly-integrated productivity solutions to a more integrated overall experience – but it’s not a platform, because you can’t build stuff on top of it (as far as I know).
  2. A foundational platform provides the core framework to support both domain or contextual solutions. (A domain solution would be a piece of software that supports a specific and defined business process. A contextual solution would be an adaptable tool that can be used, ad hoc, during daily work.) This being the case, only a foundational platform gives your business a future-proofed and flexible solution to implement new business capabilities and processes.

I’ll be talking about what makes a great foundational platform next time, but in the meantime, you can discover more about what Generis and our partners – including Qdossier, intilaris, DCL and Extedo – are doing with CARA™, our Intelligent Content Services platform, to transform business processes in life sciences and other regulated industries.

-Max Kelleher, COO, Generis