What’s the point? The rise of the platform

Many blogs comparing point solutions with platforms have been written by someone linked to a platform-based company – as is this one. Evidently, there’s an inherent bias, which I’d like to address up front.

Relatively speaking, we’re not comparing similar cold beverages here: are you a Coca Cola or a Pepsi fan? In this case, they both serve the same function, so it’s down to personal preference. Nor are we equating Microsoft with Apple: greater differences in functionality but a similar purpose. Inasmuch as, like cars, you can compare them and choose what suits your particular requirements. In terms of resemblance, it’s more like comparing kiwi fruit (point solutions) with apples (platforms) because the similarity is about the same. You can’t just throw a kiwi in with anything and it turns out tasting great.

In fact, because we’re talking about different levels of tech capability here, a more explicit analogy would be comparing a 1990s cell phone to a smart phone. It serves a specific purpose without any of the extra functionality. And that’s perfect if you just want to use it as a phone: store some numbers, send (short) text messages and make calls. But if you also need connectivity (and, yes, some 1990s phones could connect via a data card, which cost almost as much as the expensive phone that was needed for this purpose), extra functionality and apps to manage all of your needs, then the smart phone is, you guessed it, the smart choice.

I’m hoping that the inherent bias is more understandable now. And I apologise to any point solution vendors if I haven’t given their product the glory they feel it deserves. But like I said, I’m biased.

Before we continue, let’s start with some questions.

What do you need?

Perhaps that’s the first question to ask:

  • What functionality do you need? Not just for now, but as your business grows over the next few years?
  • Correspondingly, will you need scalability?
  • Who will be using it? Which department has the greatest need now? Is there more than one? And how will that change as your company evolves?
  • Do you need omni-channel support, now or in the longer term?
  • Do you want an open architecture? The freedom of choice to add or remove other software applications and pipeline in datasets as it suits you?
  • Are you looking for information sharing and communication across your entire enterprise or just in one department?

Consider these as we compare point solutions and platforms.

Some definitions

The pcmag.com encyclopaedia describes a point solution as, “solving one particular problem without regard to related issues.” And a point product as providing, “a solution to a single problem rather than addressing all the requirements that might otherwise be met with a multipurpose or multiservice product.”

To my mind this is like resolving the traffic build-up on one route without considering how it impacts the transportation system as a whole. Or treating an on-going physical symptom without concern for the underlying cause. It’s a quick fix to get you through the day but not a sustainable long term option. Eventually, something is going to cause you trouble.

Is your point solution ultimately causing wider systemic issues long term?

The definition of a platform is somewhat more complex to answer because the technological landscape is continually changing and the terminology struggles to keep up with the growing options available. Previously, a platform only referred to “a hardware and/or software architecture that serves as a foundation or base”. This implies that you would build on top of it, extend it with solutions and integrate it with other systems. In other words, that it is incomplete and requires additional input to provide the solution you’re after.

This is not the type of platform we’re comparing here. What I’m referring to is an integrated software architecture that solves a multitude of use cases across your organisation.

You could call it a data analysis platform: “an ecosystem of services and technologies … to perform analysis on voluminous, complex and dynamic data that allows you to retrieve, combine, interact with, explore, and visualize data from the various sources a company might have. A comprehensive data analysis platform incorporates several tools with various capabilities, from predictive analytics and data visualization to location intelligence, natural language processing, and content analytics.”

Though, it’s more than that and it’s more than just unified data analytics, which is “a new category of solutions that unify data processing with AI technologies… Unified Data Analytics makes it easier for enterprises to build data pipelines across various siloed data storage systems and to prepare labelled datasets for model building…”

Now that might make it sound overly complicated (though it actually isn’t) or maybe more than what you need, which, if we refer back to those initial questions, is not necessarily the case.

So let’s take it one step at a time. Amongst other things, this type of platform provides your business with unified data.

Why unify your data?

In many ways, this question seems redundant. Unified data has had a lot of airtime in recent years, especially with regard to enhancing user experience and improving customer service. These two aspects often work hand in hand, so the need for it here is obvious. But when it comes to the rest of your organisation, how does unified data help?

Locstat's Graph Analytics Platform makes sense of your big-fast-connected data.
No more data gaps: a platform unifies your data to provide a holistic picture of your business

For a start, all of your data sources are aggregated into a more accurate and holistic view of your entire digital ecosystem. Instead of a multitude of departmental siloes you have one central data repository, which eliminates data duplication and redundancy. When it comes to comparing and analysing data sets, unified data makes this process quicker and more effective. Plus, it’s easier to retrieve pertinent data and to share relevant data sets or insights with other departments. And that’s only a few of the many benefits.

Now back to platforms.

One-stop shop or one size fits all?

Whereas a point solution tends to assume what your data needs are (one size fits all), a software platform provides a one-stop shop for you to choose. Even two similar companies with the same challenge can have vastly different requirements (e.g. integrations, regulations). Like people, businesses evolve at different rates and in a variety of ways. Platforms are generative so you can custom make a novel solution for your unique environment.

Another reason to ponder is that some point solutions do not fully deliver on their promises. Perhaps this results from gaps between expectations and reality; underestimating the effort needed during implementation and change management; or maybe due to unforeseen complexity in IT technology and operations.

Whilst it might seem like what you want now, consider what happens if your business grows and you need additional functionality. Will your chosen point solution accommodate this or will you have to start over with something else? Essentially, to solve many problems you would need to implement multiple point solutions that probably need to share common data. This implies complexity, potential inconsistency and risk. It leaves you with the headache of integrating and managing them as well as addressing any security gaps or problem areas. If a critical issue arises, you might have to coordinate with many different support teams to resolve it. Then there’s training on the different systems, licencing costs for each and what happens when the next problem occurs?

As an end-to-end, integrated solution, platforms put you in the driving seat and support multiple processes. So you determine which aspects you need now, whilst the open and extensible architecture caters for potential functionality requirements as your business grows. You have one place to go for any problems, one licence fee, unified data and your staff only require training on one system instead of many – saving you time and money.

Platform synergy or point solution?

We covered many of the benefits of platforms in our blog, “UDAP or CDP? Which will you choose?”, but let’s have a quick recap:

  • A one-stop shop that simplifies the data analytics landscape and eliminates redundancy.
  • Supports all users and provides granular permissions for accessibility.
  • Built-in governance.
  • Faster insights.
  • Rapid ROI.
  • Open and extensible.
  • Easy to insert into existing processes and integrate with existing tools.

So if platforms are so amazing…

Why are companies still choosing point solutions?

Point solutions are specifically designed to fulfil a perceived functionality gap – they specialise in a few use cases but they do so with enhanced capabilities. All the bells and whistles for your particular problem can be a great selling point for a marketing or sales department that have specific requirements and targets to reach. However, once the point solution has been purchased, its limitations can become apparent pretty quickly. Perhaps a strategic adjustment requires new features or processes or maybe another department wants to piggy back on the new functionality.

There are a few main reasons why businesses still opt for point solutions:

  • Speed of conveyance: Platforms are seen as a big investment of time and money, however the industry has caught up on time-to-market and their cost advantages outweigh any delay. Our graph analytics platform, Locstat LightWeaver®, can be implemented within weeks.
  • Budget: When assessing costs, there are a variety of aspects to factor into your decision matrix – and not all of these are evident at the outset. The total cost of ownership (e.g. add-on licences and built in growth tiers) is often higher with point solutions, especially when considering multiple solutions compared with one platform. Conversely, costs for platform solutions are more consistent and predictable – typically, platform vendors also share economies of scale benefits with their clients. We offer flexible subscription models (monthly and annual) to make our graph analytics platform more accessible and ease any concerns over a higher outlay.
  • Fear of data lock-in: We don’t do data lock-in. You are always in control and can easily export data to use and analyse in other systems. After all, it is your data.

Still not convinced?

Regardless of industry, the platform is taking preference. Here are some more reasons why:

  • Agility: Shift as the market and solution offerings change. Add or adapt use cases to suit the situation.
  • Flexibility: With a focus on usability, platforms cater to a variety of technical and application requirements.
  • Scalability: Platform solutions are easy to scale and can be rolled out quickly across multiple facilities. Ultimately, they allow you to grow at your own speed or as circumstances demand.
  • Open architecture: The extensible framework means you have the freedom of choice to plug and play solutions as you wish.
  • Omni-channel support: Seamless data sharing and omni-channel business processes unifies operations and creates a cohesive brand experience.
  • One solution: One system to implement that stores data consistently, supports automatic connections between processes and facilitates reporting across those processes.
  • Growth: Not only do platforms allow you to scale, they also grow with new technology.
  • Visibility: Platforms improve connectivity, control, data collection and visibility across your entire organisation.

Remember, we’re not talking doctors here, hyper-specialisation isn’t always a good thing.

Are you ready to make the smart choice?

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