Thursday, December 12, 2019

What is a Platform?

This month I'll deliver several keynote addresses.  In my presentations, I'll use terms such as platform enterprises, platform thinking, and platform strategy.  But what is a platform?

Is it just a collection of standards?   If so,  is a USB flash drive a platform, since I can transfer a file from my Chromebook to someone else's Macbook using it, in a low effort, low cost fashion?

Not exactly—in the USB example, there is no agreement about what file types are preferred, what data those files may contain and what security controls will be used to protect the integrity and privacy of the data.

In my view, a platform is a combination of technology (data standards, APIs, security controls), policy (who can do what for what purpose with what privacy controls), and process (what workflow is supported by what people and what automation).   In short, it is a way to use knowledge and technology to facilitate connections, and create value in the process.

For example, Unity Farm Sanctuary is entirely controlled with the Google Home platform. My locks, lights, thermostats, cameras, and mobile devices are linked via a set of APIs and security controls (OAuth). I can delegate rights to use selected devices for selected functions to authorized collaborators but the general public cannot gain access to my heat, light and power controls.     I use a combination of approaches to support device and workflow integration - Google Assistant routines, proprietary apps, and secure websites.     The end result is that I can monitor and manage the well being of 250 animals from my phone.

How does this apply to healthcare?

We know that the CMS Interoperability Proposed Rule and the ONC Information Blocking Proposed Rule  are likely to be finalized into active regulations. This means that in 2020 or 2021, hospitals and clinician offices will be required to exchange data via APIs to patient controlled apps. Increasingly healthcare must be a competent data business as well as an empathetic care delivery business. Supporting new regulations with point solutions will create a chaotic collection of heterogeneous user experiences and security vulnerabilities. Why not create a single, managed and well supported front door which enables quality, safety and efficiency solutions to be deployed more quickly?  That's Platform thinking.

The transition from a collection of products to a platform strategy is a journey.  How will technology services be delivered - via Google Cloud platform, Amazon Web Services, Azure, or other provider? How will access be granted, managed, and monitored? What workflows for what use cases will be supported and when? How will it be paid for? How will the effort be communicated so that all stakeholders understand privacy protections, ethical use of data, and possible participants in a platform ecosystem?

There are many questions to be answered while on the road to becoming a platform enterprise.  Over the past ten years, I've written nearly 2000 posts about Life as a CIO.   I feel the next 2000 posts about the platform transformation of healthcare, my dispatches from the digital health frontier,  will be even more important.

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