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As a year, the two most prominent themes in 2018 were (1) the dark side of platforms and regulation of big tech and (2) the increasing importance of platform strategy in geopolitics. We also saw the growth in importance of B2B platforms as more industrial sectors started to get transformed in the platform economy. 

This final roundup collection of the year consists of two sections:

  1. Big ideas in my work on platforms in 2018
  2. What to watch out for in 2019

Big ideas in 2018

1. The future of creative industries in the platform economy

Platforms are changing the economics of the creative industries. We’ve seen three distinct ways in which platforms have upended the creative industries:

  1. Reintermediation: Amazon’s impact on publishing, as a marketplace with huge negotiating power. The entire publishing industry in the US was forced to consolidate as a result of Amazon’s margin pressures.
  2. Technical lock-in: Amazon, again, has created huge technical lock-in by making the Kindle format proprietary. This concentrates even more of the market in its direction. 
  3. Value chain migration: Netflix moved from distribution into creation and we may very soon see Spotify launching its own label for independent artists as well. 

The third point, in particular, is hugely compelling. Movies and music are high risk, high investment sectors and both Netflix and Spotify have been learning from consumer data while letting studios and labels take the risk of funding content. Now that they’ve learnt enough, they can themselves enter the studio and label game while taking more informed risks. 

I was commissioned to work on this research by the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and presented this in a keynote at the WIPO’s annual global conference. The video below summaries these ideas and lays out a larger narrative for the impact of platforms on the creative sector.

2. Regulating work in the platform economy 

As more work gets intermediated by platforms, it will be important to understand which platforms empower workers and which ones exploit workers. This has been a big theme with the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO) this year and I was commissioned to work on an exhaustive research on this topic. The full report is long but juicy with detail. Worth reading, in particular, are Section 7 (how platforms like Uber exploit workers) and Section 8.3 (how to regulate platforms). 

And if you’d like a quick overview, my speech at the Danish Parliament in March captures many of these ideas

3. Country as a platform

By far, the most far-reaching idea this year was the idea of country-as-a-platform. I first proposed this in February, taking Singapore as an example, but have since extended it to explain India’s strategy with the India stack and China’s strategy with the Belt and Road initiative as well (Video awaited from the European Platform Economy Summit).

Here’s the original article on Singapore’s platform strategy. 

This will become an increasingly important theme in the coming year from two perspectives. First, more countries will begin to apply the country-as-a-platform strategy. I already see this beginning to take hold in the EU. Asian giants – China and India – as well as smaller countries like Singapore will continue to lead the charge. Second, beyond geopolitics, this will become the new framework for public-private cooperation. In country-as-a-platform strategies, the private sector plugs into the country platform but continues to maintain its unique control points. 

What to watch out for in 2019

  1. China’s growing impact and overall strategy

One of the most interesting themes to follow at the moment, China is pursuing a multi-dimensional strategy to increase its influence globally but platform strategy is one of the key pillars involved. Companies like Alibaba are very strategically putting together the pieces for a global platform for trade and payments, by focusing on markets that lack a traditional financial stack. Worth reading: Chinese fintech planning a global coup 

But this is much larger than this. Over the last year, most of the discussion in the EU has shifted from “How do we think about GAFA?” to “How do we think about Alibaba and WeChat?” 

China’s experiments with social credit systems will also be worth watching. While I’m not a fan of data-driven reputation systems that punish users or inhibit their access, I do believe there’s a lot of value to be created by increasing access for reputable users without punishing the others. 

2. Unintended consequences of BigTech’s advertising business models

Advertising – and making users click – continues to be the dominant model of funding the bigtech firms. And 2018 was the year when a lot of the unintended consequences of optimizing ad revenue came to the fore. We’ve already seen how Facebook and YouTube increasingly polarise users through their efforts to increase clicks. Worth reading: YouTube’s dark side  As investigations increase, we’ll see more of this coming up. 

If you’re really keen on the larger impact of BigTech, two reports I’d highly recommend for your Holiday reading: 

Australia’s Digital Platforms Inquiry 

OPEC on rethinking antitrust 

3. Platforms in the industrial world

Finally, we’ll see even more of B2B platforms in logistics, manufacturing, heavy engineering etc. Over the years, I’ve been asked by executives whether platforms are a consumer phenomenon only. Those questions have markedly decreased over the last few months with many execs in traditional industries realising the value of platforms to organise their industry ecosystems. Many companies will move beyond basic digitization and sensor-network installations to platform business models. Blockchain and DLT based initiatives will be an important starting point to creating interoperability in traditional industries and over the coming years, we will see new platforms coming up around these initiatives. 

TWEETABLE TAKEAWAYS

Country-level platforms will determine winners in future trade wars and create a new model for public-private partnership. Share this

Netflix and Spotify demonstrate how tech firms can migrate up the value chain with relatively lower risk capital. Share this

Work is moving to platforms and we need to identify which ones empower workers and which ones exploit them. Share this

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The platform economy today is poised at an interesting point. We have seen the rise of massive consumer platforms, built on information discovery, communication, commerce, and work exchange. But much of the industrial economy, and most business-to-business interactions, continue to work on the traditional industrial model, and haven’t really seen widespread impact of platforms.

All that is about to change.

Over the last four years, a range of technologies have come together to move business-to-business interactions and asset-intensive industries towards the platform economy. This has primarily been driven by the digitization of two things in particular: the digitization of machine performance and the digitization of business workflows.

First, the promise of improved efficiency management and predictive maintenance have driven the digitization of machine performance. Machines getting sensor-enabled allows the creation of a digital twin mirroring the machine performance. 

Second, business workflows are increasingly getting digitized as more of enterprise communication and coordination functions move from in-house systems to cloud-hosted applications. As these workflows move to the cloud, they are increasingly digitized and can interact with other such digitized workflows.

In addition to these two forces of digitization, improvements in technologies like additive manufacturing are creating entirely new manufacturing models.

Going beyond machine performance to process performance: The initial driver for the digitization of heavy industry was machine performance. This is interesting in itself because it allows constant monitoring and predictive maintenance of machines. But the larger opportunity is to connect these digitized machines across a manufacturing process, to digitize the overall process performance and uptime. As more machines get digitized, digitizing machine performance will get increasingly commoditized, and the value will move towards digitizing and managing process performance by connecting the data output of all machines to create one single view of the process.

Moving from marketplaces to interacting ecosystems: Many parts of the industrial economy already apply the marketplace model. For example, different parts of the logistics chain, ranging from trucking fleets to container ships have built platforms to match spare capacity with demand, in an Uber-like system for heavy industry logistics. However, these systems are only partially effective because they still need to plug into a traditional supply chain. With increasing digitization, a digitized manufacturing process could interact with a digitized logistics system, lending itself to greater coordination across the end-to-end supply chain. This is when large-scale network effects can be unlocked on B2B platforms.

The myth of the maker revolution: One of the most common misconceptions around the rise of additive manufacturing and 3D printing is that these technologies will democratize manufacturing, much as desktop publishing tools democratize 2D printing. What these predictions often miss, is that much of industrial manufacturing still benefits from standardization and oversight. In particular, products and materials that require testing to alleviate risk lend themselves poorly to mass customization. As a result, the biggest benefactors of additive manufacturing are ironically likely to be the large industrial firms that own the testing capabilities, not the independent makers. Additive manufacturing will change what gets produced where but the manufacturing function will still largely be controlled by companies that can best manage the assembly and testing capabilities required to take products to market.

Rearchitecture of the supply chain: The larger opportunity, as a result, lies not in democratisation of making, but in the rearchitecture of supply chains. I have written about this extensively while talking about the platform economy’s impact on global trade. The rearchitecture of supply chains will also require new systems for managing B2B workflows and coordination. This will lead to a range of opportunities for companies to provide cloud hosted components for managing these workflows. Think of how the rise of consumer marketplaces and platforms required companies like Twilio to provide the components for managing communication. Similar component providers will need to come up to enable B2B workflows and coordination as well. 

Opportunities for the digital laggards: Finally, while much of the progress on platforms so far has been spearheaded by a few companies out of Silicon Valley and a few more out of China, the opportunity for building industrial platforms can just as likely be captured by relative platform laggards like the EU and countries like Japan. This is a common issue I see in a lot of my work advising governments and planning boards. While much of the consumer platform dominance of the US has emerged outside government involvement, governments are likely to play a much more active role in the industrial platform economy. 

We are still early in this move towards B2B platforms. But the companies that really capitalise on these opportunities will be the ones that think beyond applying simple point technologies that digitize specific parts of the existing system and move to rethinking the very architecture of these industrial systems.

TWEETABLE TAKEAWAYS

Industry 4.0: The maker revolution is a myth, more power will move to large industrials. Share this

Digitization of machine performance and business workflows will drive the Industry 4.0. Share this

Industry 4.0 is less about sensors and predictive maintenance and more about the rearchitecting of supply chains. Share this

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Two conflicting forces are shaping the future of global trade. On one hand, protectionism, largely exemplified by moves like Brexit and the United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is constraining the free movement of global value flows. On the other hand, digital technologies are blurring national boundaries and fostering greater cross-country flows.

The shift from pipelines to platforms has been a focus of my work in recent years. Pipelines are the linear value-creation and delivery models that we’ve inherited from the industrial era. As the world becomes more connected, platform business models create a central infrastructure that enables interactions between producers and consumers. This more open, networked flow of value is affecting globalisation in three main ways.

The changing face of globalisation

First, the power of pipelines in driving global flows is reducing. Advanced digital manufacturing systems lower production costs, favouring locally concentrated supply chains. This is reshaping the trade flows that had emerged between the West and the East in the era of outsourcing. Adidas, for example, announced that it is moving some of its production from China back to Germany owing to the lower costs of robotic manufacturing in Germany. Firms around the world are considering multi-local manufacturing as an alternative to outsourcing.

On a similar note, increased consumption in emerging markets also drives a need for regional manufacturing. The East no longer merely supplies the West – another factor contracting supply chains and leading to the decline of the pipeline-based model of global trade.

Second, the mix of trade is changing in a digital world: Even as goods trade slows down, there is an increase in services trade and cross-border data flows. Digital technologies allow products-based business models to morph into services-based ones. For example, companies like GE and Siemens are increasingly switching from selling equipment to delivering data services, including predictive equipment maintenance and usage-based leasing.

Third, and most importantly, platforms enable much smaller enterprises to participate in global trade without investing in their own supply chains. Alibaba, for example, enables a significant portion of SME trade and has now moved to financing these SMEs in China. Amazon and WeChat have similar ambitions. As these platforms get bigger and benefit from winner-take-all scenarios, we may see control points over trade shifting from political countries to digital platforms.

These three factors together are driving the shift in global trade from pipeline-based globalisation to platform-based globalisation.

Why is this shift important?

First, platforms will become increasingly powerful. Platforms that control social or economic transactions capture data used for wider decision making. For example, data captured by commerce platforms like Alibaba now serves as a financial credit rating system. Data captured by Facebook and other social platforms already provision identity verification and access management capabilities on third-party platforms. Supply-chain actors across industries can use data captured by AI platforms like IBM’s Watson and Salesforce’ Einstein to make increasingly sophisticated decisions. Platforms that facilitate interactions and capture data will have an increasingly larger role to play in the future of global trade.

Second, every company operating a global supply chain today will need to develop a strategy for the platform economy. Which parts of the supply chain will get automated? Which ones will get opened up for external participation? With the rise of supplier management platforms like Tradeshift, the cost of managing external suppliers goes down, allowing firms to outsource more of their activities.

A related strategic question is: Will the digitisation of supply chain flows improve governance and sustainability? Digitisation allows firms to determine the quality and reputation of their suppliers. Platforms that manage supply chain transactions capture data about supplier reliability and performance, allowing firms to make better decisions. These platforms can also track and trace inputs across the supply chain and create more responsible and sustainable supply chains. These factors could very well determine the competitiveness of companies in a digital economy.

Third, platforms will directly impact, and even compete with, countries. For example, freelancing platforms that centralise revenue capture take away tax dollars from countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines with a high concentration of freelancers. But more importantly, platforms like Alibaba can drive SME growth and financial inclusion for a third-party country and have direct bearing on its development. This gives these platforms incredible negotiating power. It also raises geopolitical concerns, especially when the platforms are closely monitored by the home-country government.

Finally, countries themselves will have to think like platforms. I have previously outlined a platform-strategy framework for countries, taking Singapore as an example. Any country that wishes to participate in this new global trade order should think about attracting trade flows from around the world. Singapore is considering the merits of establishing a free data port for this purpose. India, similarly, has built the India Stack platform around the Aadhaar identity system and is considering taking this platform to other countries in a bid to attract data flows. In both cases, the bet is that participating countries will share their data flows to benefit from the unique IP these countries have built.

Make no mistake: The rise of platform-led trade is one of the defining shifts of our times.

TWEETABLE TAKEAWAYS

Global trade is moving from pipelines to platforms.Share this

Platforms like Alibaba have the potential to directly compete with countries in their ability to enable SMEs. Share this

As supply chains contract and platforms become bigger, platforms like Alibaba and Amazon will have greater negotiating power in global trade.Share this

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Singapore’s strategic location has helped the island nation become a hub for global trade. But with digital technologies changing the nature of trade, Singapore’s locational and infrastructural advantages may no longer be as strong a control point as they were in the past. Singapore must reinvent itself as a hub for the age of digital trade.

And in the modern world dominated by platform companies that offer ways for customers and companies to connect with one another, Singapore must think like a platform nation.

It can make use of its innate advantages to develop ways for other nations and industries to connect through it digitally.

Today, digital technologies are changing the nature of globalisation in two important ways. First, automation of manufacturing is moving manufacturing back west. Adidas, for example, is moving production from China to Germany, owing to the lower cost of robotic manufacturing in Germany. As Western companies re-shore manufacturing, East-West physical trade flows, including the ones moving through Singapore’s hub, are likely to go down.

Second, global SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) trade is on the rise, driven by the rapid growth of digital platforms such as Alibaba and Tencent, which allow much smaller enterprises to participate in global trade without the need to invest in their own supply chains.

As these platforms scale further, we may see control over trade shifting from political countries to these digital platforms.

In this changing landscape, Singapore needs to re-imagine its position as a hub, and leverage its current strength in physical trade and its position of neutral governance to create new control points for digital trade.

To formulate these new control points, Singapore must think like a digital platform. To understand this better, let us consider how Google succeeded in dominating the smartphone industry with the Android platform.

THREE-PRONGED STRATEGY

Google used a three-pronged strategy. First, it drove the adoption of Android among smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung by open-sourcing the operating system. This was Google’s entry strategy.

Second, it controlled unique IP (intellectual property) in the form of Google Maps and the Google Play app store. This IP served as Google’s key differentiator. Every smartphone manufacturer needed to license this IP. Google continues to invest in improving its mapping data and growing its app store as these two sources of IP make Android more attractive as the standard.

Third, Google leveraged its neutral position in the smartphone industry – as a non-manufacturer – to allay competitive fears among manufacturers who were using Android.

This three-pronged strategy – an adoption strategy with partners, control of unique IP, and the benefits of a neutral position – established Android as the dominant standard.

Singapore can leverage a similar three-pronged strategy to establish a standard for digital trade. Such a standard would enable multiple participating countries to collaborate, while enabling Singapore to establish itself as a hub for digital trade.

Much like Google’s strategy outlined above, Singapore’s road map to establishing a standard will involve an adoption strategy with partners, control of unique IP differentiators, and the benefits of a neutral position.

We elaborate further on these three initiatives below.

1. Drive adoption by licensing the SME trade platform to emerging economies

The first part of the three-pronged strategy serves as the entry point.

One such entry point could be digital SME trade, which has been growing with the rise of digital platforms. In the first quarter of this year, Singapore will launch its own SME trade platform, built on the blockchain, to allow SMEs to conduct digital commerce securely and seek new business partners and distributors, while managing a common audit trail between counterparties on the platform.

In the first instance, this platform allows Singapore SMEs to participate in digital commerce and grow their businesses. However, it can also serve as an entry point towards a larger strategy.

Once the success of the SME trade platform is demonstrated within Singapore, the country could open its platform technology, know-how and processes to emerging economies that are seeking growth driven by digital SME trade. These partner countries understand the importance of digital SME trade but do not have the capabilities to create such a platform, nor do they want their SME sector to become over-reliant on commercial platforms such as Amazon and Alibaba. When multiple countries start using the same platform, they start subscribing to the same data standards, leading to greater cooperation and interoperability among them.

This serves as a first step towards creating a standard for collaboration in digital trade. However, it does not yet position Singapore as the hub. This leads us to the second part of the three-pronged strategy.

2. Invest in IP

In order to create the right control points and be a hub for digital trade, Singapore must invest in creating unique IP that other countries using the SME trade platform find valuable. It needs to create and control unique IP that adds value to users of the SME trade platform.

Singapore already has a head start here with its financial technology (fintech) strategy. By creating a regulatory sandbox, the country is already encouraging innovation in fintech.

The fintech innovations emerging from Singapore can be used as value-add plug-ins to the SME trade platform.

For example, a data-driven credit scoring system could be used to extend trade financing to SMEs based on their trade activity data gathered on the platform. Similarly, insurance premiums for trade shipments could be personalised based on proprietary data from the platform. Other countries using the platform may not possess the technology or financial infrastructure to build these capabilities themselves, making the platform even more attractive for them to adopt.

As more countries use the platform, other IP creators could find it more attractive to create IP for this platform, owing to the higher demand. This growing IP, in turn, leads to greater usage of the platform. This creates a virtuous circle.

This would position Singapore as the central and most powerful point for processing digital trade data from participating countries, making it a hub for digital trade.

Other countries using the platform would send their digital trade data to Singapore using the platform’s secure APIs (application programming interfaces), in order to benefit from Singapore’s fintech innovation that plugs in to the platform.

This IP creates a unique and inimitable differentiator. It also allows Singapore to monetise digital trade activity in other countries, positioning it as a virtual hub over trade flows.

3. Become a free data port and set a standard for digital trade

As Singapore becomes the hub for digital trade, it can also leverage its neutral position to allay fears among partner countries.

In the past, Singapore’s creation of a free trade port attracted physical trade flows to the country. We believe that Singapore would be well served by establishing a similar free data port that positions it as a neutral country for processing global trade data.

A free data port – an idea also proposed by former civil service head Peter Ho at the IPS-Nathan Lectures last May – would allow data from other countries to be stored and processed in Singapore, but in accordance with their individual country-specific data jurisdictions.

A free data port and neutral governance further position Singapore’s SME trade platform as a superior alternative to other commercial platforms that facilitate SME trade.

We believe this three-pronged strategy will help Singapore to establish a standard for digital trade. As locational advantages become less relevant in a digital world, Singapore can re-position itself as a hub by constantly investing in and controlling unique IP that other trading countries value, while maintaining a neutral stance through a free data port.

There are a few specific nuances to consider here. First, digital trade allows Singapore to be location-agnostic. In physical trade, Singapore benefited only from trade flows towards Asean. But in digital trade, the SME platform could be licensed to small nations in Africa, Central America and Eastern Europe.

We believe that Singapore’s head start with fintech IP, coupled with its neutral stance as a free data port, will make the SME platform attractive.

Second, in addition to providing a free data port, Singapore could also act as the neutral convener and facilitator for driving digital and data policies across participating countries. To the extent that many of these countries are emerging economies and have still not fully evolved their data policies, this proactive facilitation further strengthens Singapore’s position as a neutral hub.

Third, to be a strong hub for digital trade, Singapore must continue to invest heavily in machine learning and data-analytic capabilities to gain intelligence from global trade data flows.

On a final note, physical trade will continue to be important as well. In addition to preparing for digital trade, the country should strengthen its hub position in physical flows by capturing and controlling important data.

For example, one way to exert greater control over supply chains may involve digitising warehouses and other supply-chain assets across South-east Asia.

Much as platforms like Airbnb create a market by digitising spare accommodation, Singapore could create new digital markets around the trade taking place through its port by digitising spare assets that lie further upstream and/or downstream from its port.

While others try to compete with the port only at a physical level, this could enable the country to combine flows through the port with these new data points to exert more control over the supply chain and make itself a preferred port.

We are entering a new phase of globalisation, where digital technologies rapidly change the nature of trade. With the starting points of this strategy in place, Singapore is well positioned to create a hub for trade in this new world across physical and digital trade. But to succeed in this new phase, the country needs to think like a digital platform.

Sangeet’s note: This is an op-ed, co-authored with Tan Chin Hwee, where I propose how SIngapore could gain power in future trade flows by structuring the country as a digital platform

TWEETABLE TAKEAWAYS

A five-factor framework that explains why Uber is bad for drivers. Share this

Global trade is moving from pipelines to platforms and countries need to shift strategies in order to stay competitive. Share this

In a world of data flows, countries will compete on the basis of Intellectual property. Share this

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Sangeet’s note: In Nov 2017, I addressed a high level delegation at the International Labor Organization (ILO) comprising, among others, the Vice Prime Minister of Belgium and the Director General of the ILO, on a fraemwork to regulate platforms like Uber. This article lays out the framework that I presented.

Just a few days before Christmas, Uber was told by the European Union’s top court that it was, in effect, a cab company and ought to be regulated as such. This opened up the possibility that the ride-sharing company would no longer be able to consider its drivers as mere partners, but be forced instead to provide them with employee benefits.

Aside from legal questions, some have raised concerns about the moral aspects of these new ecosystems in which humans can be called for work at the press of a button. One former believer in the virtues of the sharing economy, Elaine Ou, a California blockchain engineer, recounted how she had signed up as a provider on TaskRabbit, Lyft and Airbnb. Mired in demanding customers and callous house guests, her “career never felt as empowering as advertised”. Referring to a popular service on TaskRabbit, Ou noted that “nothing underscores wealth inequality like paying someone to hold your place in line”.

I would argue that, to answer the question of empowerment or exploitation, it would be best to use a checklist based on platform mechanics, without reference to law or morality. How do these platforms actually work? Is the actual business model giving providers a real shot at long-term success?

The three functions of digital platforms 

The sharing economy is comprised of a variety of platforms that mediate interactions between service providers and customers. They perform three specific functions:

1.      Match workers with demand.

2.      Provide a common set of tools and services that enable the delivery of work in exchange for money or other compensation.

3.      Set governance rules based on which good actors are rewarded and poor behaviour is discouraged.

These platforms may be viewed as benevolent enablers of an ecosystem of workers. After all, they enable entrepreneurship and growth of their ecosystem by providing workers – some of whom were formerly living on the margins of the economy – with a common infrastructure and efficient market access. They may also provide feedback and education that allows workers to improve their service delivery.

Moreover, these platforms scale much faster than traditional labour-intensive organisations by virtue of the fact that the fixed costs associated with managing labour are not borne by them. This also allows them to benefit from network effects – a virtuous cycle where access to a larger labour pool attracts more customers and more customers attract more workers. Hence, these platforms may often be viewed as having a much greater impact on job creation than traditional firms.

The potential commodification of workers

However, this broad picture of platform-mediated work isn’t nuanced enough. Not all platform-mediated work is the same.

As gatekeepers of demand, platforms may commodify workers to varying degrees. As labour is commodified, the platform ceases to be the benevolent enabler of entrepreneurship and free agency. Instead, gig economy platforms may tend towards exploiting the workers in their ecosystems.

To understand the sharing economy and its challenges, we need a checklist to monitor the degree to which work is differentiated and free agency is enabled on a platform. To this end, I propose five factors that may determine whether a platform commodifies labour or allows workers to differentiate and grow.

A five-factor checklist

Nature of work: Platforms that enable the exchange of highly substitutable and/or highly standardised work are more likely to commodify workers. In the absence of differentiation, price may be the dominant factor driving consumer decisions, which often sends workers on a race to the bottom or removes pricing power away from them. We observe these contrasting dynamics on a platform like Uber (highly substitutable and standardised) vs. a platform like Toptal (highly differentiated).

Price setting: Platforms that allow the exchange of highly standardised work also often set the price for the work. The more the work can be standardised, the more the platform benefits from standardising pricing as a way to ease consumer decision making. However, from the perspective of the worker, this leads to a loss of free agency and can even lead to exploitative scenarios. We observe this dynamic on platforms like Fiverr and Uber.

Ability to encourage repeated exchange: Platforms that encourage repeated exchange between the same worker and customer may grant greater power to the worker over time than those that repeatedly match customers with new workers. Often, this is determined by the nature of the work. When the service delivered is commoditised, customers do not care about repeated exchange. For skilled and highly specialised services, customers may prefer repeated exchange once a worker demonstrates her ability to perform. This lends greater power to the worker and moves power away from the platform. We see this dynamic on freelancer platforms like Upwork, which improves pricing for workers involved in repeated exchanges with the same customer.

Network structure: Platforms can also empower workers if they are allowed to build network loyalty. Though they do not technically enable the delivery of work in exchange for compensation, platforms like Twitter and Quora do allow knowledge workers to build a following. Workers can then create unique and differentiated brands and gain greater influence. Again, these dynamics are often observed for knowledge work and specialised craftsmanship.

Structure of the reputation system: Platforms rely on reputation systems to govern their ecosystems. Reputation systems reward workers with high reputation and punish the others. However, not all reputation systems are equal. On certain platforms like Airbnb, reputation systems prioritise highly rated hosts in search results: The greater market exposure then allows these hosts to increase their pricing and earning potential. On other platforms like Uber, reputation systems are primarily employed to remove the poor performers from the ecosystem.

Systemic effect

When the overall efficiency of the market is at odds with the ability of workers to exercise agency, differentiate themselves or improve their earning potential, the platform may exploit workers instead of empowering them.

When more than one of these factors is observed on a particular platform, they end up reinforcing each other and have a larger systemic effect.

This checklist helps to evaluate sharing economy platforms and whether they truly enable free agency and business growth or drive commoditisation of their ecosystem workers. In general, digital platforms empower workers with differentiated skills that can be signalled, demonstrated and branded, while often exploiting workers with highly substitutable and standardised skills.

TWEETABLE TAKEAWAYS

Insurance companies are moving to creating multi-sided ecosystems. Share this

Hosts on Airbnb or drivers on Uber: Who’s winning? A five-factor framework. Share this

Does the sharing economy help or hurt workers? The five factors that resolve this dilemma. Share this

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