Sometimes a “Platform” is just a platform


A closer look:

This past week I had the opportunity to be the first guest on Determine’s new podcast series, “Determine OutLoud,” hosted by Constantine Limberakis. If you missed it – listen here – the fast-paced conversation was far more fun than talking about procurement is supposed to be.

During the podcast, Constantine presented me with a terminology challenge: to be specific about what we mean when we use the word “platform” in the context of procurement technology. The challenge is that, like so many other terms and phrases within the field of procurement, there is no industry-standard definition of “platform.”

That said, I think there are some generally agreed upon characteristics:

  • Platform technology has an underlying framework that makes it possible to move from sourcing to contracts to supplier management, etc., without logging in and out of multiple systems.
  • Platform technology looks the same in terms of branding or user interface regardless of which module or application you are using at the moment.
  • Platform technology has consistent functional logic throughout, creating similarity for functions such as how to get help, how to search for something, or how to expand to display more options.

Unfortunately, these characteristics are more of a problem than they are a solution. For the most part, they are all just skin deep. In the podcast, I talk about the thought process behind selecting ski gear as an analogy for the range of meanings of “platform.” Some skiers select their gear and equipment based on color, wanting to look coordinated on the slopes (or in the lodge). Other skiers disregard color and select their gear based on performance, getting the best equipment available at their price point but looking like a hodgepodge as they ski by. Finally, you have the professional skiers in high-performance AND coordinated gear, sometimes made just for them.

The point of this analogy is that there are all kinds of shared characteristics: color, cost, quality, etc. When you select something that comes as part of a functional set, a platform as it were – whether ski gear or modular technology – you need to make sure that the defining characteristics of that platform meet your immediate requirements and can advance you towards your goals.

Let’s say you select and implement a platform that can handle the whole S2P process and offers a sleek interface, but when you try to use it, you find out that everything under the surface is held together with chicken wire and duct tape. Or, it lacks the depth of capabilities to go beyond the basics. The characteristics in this case – the platform’s appearance – has nothing to do with performance, scalability, or security.

Now, let’s look at a better case scenario: a platform that has a consistent user interface and shared functional logic but is designed on a native code base and has strong centralized access to a single source of data. This combination of characteristics offers a great deal of value to procurement, whether you intend to implement the entire set of solutions/applications at once, or just a portion in the short term and add as needs dictate.

And that brings us to the final important characteristic of platform technology – its flexibility. A basic definition of platform from the Oxford Dictionary is “a raised level surface on which people or things can stand.” A platform is really just the beginning; inherent in the term is the idea that you’re going to build on top of it. In procurement’s case, that is a series of functional components that will draw from the same pool of data and facilitate collaboration and process continuity.

No matter where your procurement needs are today, the right platform offers you the opportunity to grow.  With the characteristics to meet your immediate needs and provide the flexibility to realize your long-term goals, there is no limit to the range of strategies you can bring to bear on an ever-broadening pool of spend.

Learn more about what makes a platform — download the three-part Spend Matters series.

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