In the modern world, nearly everything is interdependent and interlinked. Data plays an essential role in this integration and is the feedstock for platforms. We understand the platform economy as a way of creating value and organizing layered (business or other) activities enabled by digital platforms, information and data. Based on the data, platforms typically are able to offer personalized, timely and optimized services for their users, and better service offerings for the service producers. The higher the quality of the data on the platform, the better it can serve the needs of the platform and its users and producers. Therefore, the quantity and quality of the data play an important role in platforms. Platforms develop new ways to access data across a variety of sources and develop new technologies for analysing and utilising data. Consequently, platforms are becoming increasingly connected and interlinked.
In this signal post, we discuss how platforms play an important role in the integration of the world by discussing examples from different platform categories.
X as a service
The concept of “X as a Service” refers to the delivery of anything as a service. The concept implies the integration of the client’s needs and the provider’s offerings (which at the same time is the basic concept of a platform). The concept has spread from the information technology industry to other sectors and now, with the advancement of digitalization, nearly anything as a service is available. Many of these services have interrupted conventional businesses, like Airbnb and Uber, for example. Some common examples of different XaaS include mobility, information, food, music, movies, manufacturing, security, maintenance, finance, procurement, purchasing, design, car wash, and lighting as a service.
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is one example of how platforms integrate different traditional businesses with new technologies. In MaaS, different modes of transportation are integrated with new technologies like AI, eCommerce, autonomous vehicles, etc. The result is a shift away from the concept of car ownership towards a real-time, customer-centric transportation platform that includes diverse modes of transport, including public transit, ride-sharing, car rentals, and autonomous taxis.
Other “X as a Service” platforms integrate new technologies and aggregate data from other devices like refrigerators, ovens, toothbrushes, smartwatches or even mirrors. This enables the creation of mega platforms that gather large amounts of data on users and make that data available across a network of platforms that offer services and products.
The Smart city concept is nicely described by Aveva: “Firstly, a smart city connects and collects information about itself through sensors, other devices, and existing systems. Next, it communicates that data using wired or wireless networks and databases. Thirdly, it analyses that data to understand what is happening now and what is likely to happen next. Finally, it must act based on this intelligence.” Application platforms can then utilize the data collected by the Smart city. Habibzadeh et al. give some examples of these platforms including Smart home, Smart parking, Smart driving, Smart health, Air quality monitoring and Smart transportation. Obviously, the availability of the data enables new platforms and services to be created. Helsinki has been a forerunner with its ambitious Forum virium Helsinki project and has been recognised in global rankings. Examples of those include second place in the world by the Smart city index in 2020 and the first prize in the “Year in Infrastructure world congress”.
The Smart city concept has been adopted around the world as in Vietnam, Latin America, Cape Town in Africa, for example. While it initially appears counter-intuitive, smart city development is progressing faster in developing countries than in the developed world because the developing cities can jump directly over building “traditional” infrastructure and go directly to the smart era. Once the core Smart city technology has been implemented, it creates opportunities for the continued development of smart city infrastructure as well as for offering new services in the smart city environment.
Resources like materials, energy and data can be recycled. Recycling of goods and materials takes place commonly via platforms. On an industrial scale, ecosystems are formed to allow the reuse of waste materials and energy and to provide related data. The ultimate aim of recycling nowadays is to optimize the operations and to minimize emissions. Platforms having online access to data have the best possibilities in this optimization and are able to manage the operations in an optimal way.
European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform is a joint initiative by the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee. The platform has 85 member platforms, which enable national, Pan European and international collaboration in order to activate a circular economy in all possible ways. The member platforms include ones directed to specific sectors such as the Chemical Recycling Europe, EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste and Furn 360, for example.
Recycling products at the end of their life is more efficient if it is considered as part of the product design process. Many platforms gather and analyse data that provides knowledge to improve product design. On the other hand, materials tracking systems based on AI, RFID, block chain can optimise the entire value chain from the production of raw materials to product production to product transportation and its eventual recycling.
Industrial platforms and technology integration
One of the best-known examples of industrial platforms may be Industry 4.0, which “refers to the intelligent networking of machines and processes for industry with the help of information and communication technology (Plattform Industrie 4.0)”. Industry 4.0 (another example) implies both vertical and horizontal integration of data and operations as well as new technologies and new business models to achieve efficient and sustainable production and personalized offerings. Smart industry is a synonym to Industry 4.0. Smart manufacturing and Integrated Intelligent Manufacturing (I2M) concepts add data sharing and intelligence into the manufacturing chain, allowing better optimization and control over ever-larger operations.
The steel industry has launched its own Smart Steel initiatives and programs. The EU launched the Smart Steel research program, the Swedish-Finnish steel company SSAB collects and provides data on their products along the whole service chain thus helping the selection of materials and recycling of steel, Anstair Smart Steel supports efficient and modern building in challenging circumstances, etc.
A good example of how different production plants can operate together and form a whole self-standing bioeconomy ecosystem is the Äänekoski mills. Äänekoski mills integrates a wide variety of different materials, processes and outcomes. It optimizes the use of materials and energy, producing even excess energy. Its core products are pulp, tall oil and turpentine, and various formats of bioenergy. In addition, it produces sulphuric acid, product gas, biogas and biopellets for its internal use, and biocomposites from pulp for plastic replacement. Moreover, new biofuels, fertilizers and earthwork materials, lignin-based bioproducts and pulp-based textile fibres are in the pipeline. The mill produces electricity, district heat and steam, and solid fuels for sale.
One different example of an industrial platform is the integration of transportation and 3D printing, which would allow for manufacturing components close to the client and thereby decreasing transportation and related emissions.
In the health sector, it is essential to share and integrate data and knowledge in order to enable efficient collaboration between different health providers. New technologies support the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses but also the storage, transmission, and access to sensitive personal data. The Kanta platform, for example, includes every citizen’s health data in Finland and offers different health sector experts access to the data when needed. Broader integration of data and different platforms is developed in the Aurora system, which aims to create the conditions for a people-oriented, proactive society.
DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) molecules define the uniqueness of each of us and are passed from adult organisms to their offspring (NIH). Making use of DNA requires gathering large interconnected datasets, performing complex analysis, and providing a way for scientists and organisations to access the data. A number of platforms have emerged to meet these needs and support the research of inherited illnesses and the development of new treatments. DNA-based platforms are also used when investigating crimes and even when deciding what food “compliments” your DNA. Other use cases include the search for family members by using DNA heritage platforms like MyHeritage or Ancestry.
Platforms and their integration nowadays play an important role in the prevention of communicable diseases like COVID-19. ECDC, WHO and others provide situational awareness data and instructions during epidemics. Many researchers are trying to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. Finnish researchers are developing a ‘vaccine platform’, which could be used to produce a vaccine for COVID-19 and related other diseases afterwards.
The most broadly integrated platforms are so-called Super-platforms. In China, where the government manages the collection of citizen data, Tencent is an ultimate example of a super-platform and it operates also in the health sector. Tencent, in collaboration with other platforms and companies “tries to develop a complete digital representation of one’s biological self – taking into account genetics, epigenetics and other factors, and allowing for a truly personalized medicine to emerge”. Google is collaborating with its partners to do the same and so are the big pharmaceutical companies.
For some years already, universities and private organisations have offered platforms and portals for self-education. Important aspects of learning platforms are presented in a literature summary by the University of Jyväskylä. Verywellfamily listed the seven best online learning platforms this year. The platforms offer education in various areas like IT coding, innovation, child development as well as Shakespeare; the most popular courses being related to ICT. Some universities offer online professional degree certificates, micro or nano degrees.
COVID-19 created a tremendous challenge for education when schools and universities had to rapidly switch from in-person to remote learning. This was a world-wide transition and UNESCO has summarized the national platforms used at schools in various countries. In addition, new educational platforms are continuously being developed. Universities play an important role in this. The Finnish company Gofore aims to develop a meta platform, called Digione, which will integrate different educational actors by allowing the integration of the different systems they use.
Platforms have disrupted the traditional marketing industry. Paper brochures and leaflets are replaced by ads on social media and internet sites. Many subscribers of newspapers and magazines read their papers digitally, which implies that more and different ads can be offered to the readers. Digital advertisement can benefit from new technologies such as 3D, VR, AR and links that offer more data and experience.
Big social media and internet companies like Facebook and Google collect a big part of their income from personalized advertising that improves the efficiency of marketing. Social media companies collect data by offering ‘free’ applications such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. for citizens but also for companies. Their data reserve is huge, which enables them to become super platforms that have a bigger budget and more power than many of the world’s nations.
In addition to the global giants, smaller companies, such as Finnish-based company Smartly, have created successful businesses by specializing in social media marketing.
Banking & Financing
The platform economy requires a trustworthy digital transaction system to operate. That is what banks are offering and, consequently, banks are an inevitable part of successful platforms. In addition to transactions, banks offer a reliable identification system for safe entry to other systems. Therefore, a bank account is a key to most platforms and banks are integrated into most platforms. The revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) has been essential in fostering innovation in the financial services sector as it requires banks to open their payment services to other companies.
Banks themselves are entering the platform business actively and forming alliances to offer a broader variety of services to their clients. As an example, one of the new marketplaces offers “non-financial products from third-party service providers, such as business management services, health-related products, or even e-hailing functionality, aimed at providing a one-stop shop “platform-as-a-marketplace” service, accessed through their banking interface”.
Governments support the trustworthiness of the banking system. In addition to international agreements, some mutual ones aim to guarantee two-sided data sharing and transactions as in the case of Singapore and Australia, for example.
One challenge in developing countries is that many poor people do not have the official identification needed to open a bank account. The Asian Development Bank, for example, is funding the development of a low-cost identification system, which would allow the poorest people to open a bank account – and be a part of the digital economy. About 80% of the Africa’s 1.2 billion people don’t have a bank account or credit history. Banking platforms that offer micro-loans, like Social Lender, are overcoming this by integrating with users’ social media profiles to determine a “social reputation score” that acts as a proxy for the users’ trustworthiness and likelihood they will re-pay the loan.
A Finnish example of a new financial offering is the DIAS platform for the housing market. It combines several actors such as lawyers, inspectors, and bankers along with new technologies like distributed ledger and digital signatures to offer digitized and distant transactions for buying and selling real estate, houses and flats. Zillow is a corresponding platform in the US.
Interconnected and integrated platforms have gained enormous economic and social power in the world. Accessing and aggregating data is the key aspect of this development. Data can be collected from free markets (US-based platforms) or in a centralized way like in China; both ways seem to produce huge super platforms. Indeed, data has become such an important aspect of our economy that the old saying that “data is the new oil” has become true. The power of the platform economy is accepted broadly and companies need to be involved, whether they like it or not, to be profitable. The big question in industry often is “who owns the data?”.
Trust and security are necessary preconditions for a successful platform. Banks – supported and owned by state governments – form a layer above or beside platforms thus securing safe access. The security is supported by international initiatives and agreements such as the Singapore Australia digital economy initiative or the GAIA-X, a Federated data infrastructure for Europe. GAIA-X aims to develop common requirements for a European data infrastructure. The discussion seems to have moved from platforms and integrated platforms to the data economy. Banking seems to have taken an important role as a necessary infrastructure component to guarantee the security of financial transactions and data handling.
Platforms have become a necessity in our lives. On one hand, platforms enable equal possibilities to participate in various activities in society but on the other hand, as platforms grow and become interconnected they have gathered significant power such that they now have more power than most of the world’s nations. Ethics and especially privacy are the prevailing topics related to platforms.
23andMe has sold the rights to develop a drug based on its users’ DNA https://www.newscientist.com/article/2229828-23andme-has-sold-the-rights-to-develop-a-drug-based-on-its-users-dna/
Accelerate drug development https://cloud.google.com/solutions/healthcare-life-sciences/drug-development
Accenture and Merck Collaborate with Amazon Web Services to Launch a Research Platform to Drive Innovation in Drug Discovery and Scientific Research https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180917005201/en/Accenture-Merck-Collaborate-Amazon-Web-Services-Launch#.W5_tKKkh_kU.linkedin
Alustatalous näyttää voimansa – teollisuuden ja kuntien yhteistyö auttaa minimoimaan hävikin https://www.tekniikkatalous.fi/kumppaniblogit/nevel/alustatalous-nayttaa-voimansa-teollisuuden-ja-kuntien-yhteistyo-auttaa-minimoimaan-havikin/c5df0a33-19e6-4b5e-a70d-4be1f2b3db5c
Auvinen, H., & Koivisto, R. (2020). How do Finnish companies view and capitalise on opportunities in the evolving platform economy? Interview study. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. VTT Technology No. 376 https://doi.org/10.32040/2242-122X.2020.T376 , https://www.vttresearch.com/sites/default/files/pdf/technology/2020/T376.pdf
B.Grimm and Amata work on smart city, Banfkok, Thailand, https://www.bangkokpost.com/business/1979135/b-grimm-and-amata-work-on-smart-city
DNANudge Guides Your Grocery Shopping Based Off of Your DNA https://thespoon.tech/dnanudge-guides-your-grocery-shopping-based-off-of-your-dna/
3D Printing: The Next Revolution in Industrial Manufacturing. New research from UPS and the consumer technology association (CTA) https://www.ups.com/assets/resources/media/en_US/3D_Printing_executive_summary.pdf
EdTech in 2025: A glimpse into education’s future https://www.jotform.com/blog/future-of-edtech/
EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/food_waste/eu_actions/eu-platform_en
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en
First Vietnamese 4D digital map released https://vietreader.com/news/22366-first-vietnamese-4d-digital-map-released.html
Food as a Service https://www.blendhub.com/about-us/
Forum virium Helsinki https://forumvirium.fi/en/
Foursquare Launches Location-Based Virtual Audio Guide Platform Marsbot for AirPods https://voicebot.ai/2020/10/19/foursquare-launches-location-based-virtual-audio-guide-platform-marsbot-for-airpods/
GAIA-X: A Federated data infrastructure for Europe https://www.data-infrastructure.eu/GAIAX/Navigation/EN/Home/home.html
Genetic Disorders https://www.genome.gov/For-Patients-and-Families/Genetic-Disorders
Gofore rakentaa uutta oppimisen palvelualustaa https://www.aamulehti.fi/talous/art-2000007615252.html
Hadi Habibzadeh, Cem Kaptan, Tolga Soyata, Burak Kantarci, Azzedine Boukerche. Smart City System Design: A Comprehensive Study of the Application and Data Planes. ACM Computing Surveys, Vol. 52, No. 2, Article 41. Publication date: May 2019. https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/3309545
10 Higher Ed Tech Predictions for 2020 https://www.techlearninguniversity.com/features/10-trends-shaping-higher-ed-tech-in-2020
Hilman, M. H. (2013). INFORMATION SYSTEM AS A SERVICE: ISSUES AND CHALLENGES. Jurnal Sistem Informasi (Journal of Information System), 8(2), 71-77. https://doi.org/10.21609/jsi.v8i2.328
How your social media reputation could secure you a loan https://www.bbc.com/news/business-37224847
Industry 4.0: 7 Real-World Examples of Digital Manufacturing in Action https://amfg.ai/2019/03/28/industry-4-0-7-real-world-examples-of-digital-manufacturing-in-action/
Meriklusteri hiilineutraalissa kiertotaloudessa – ekosysteemin kehittäminen. https://meriteollisuus.teknologiateollisuus.fi/fi/ajankohtaista/uutinen/meriklusteri-hiilineutraalissa-kiertotaloudessa-ekosysteemin-kehittaminen
Music as a Service https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/301361499.pdf
National learning platforms and tools https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse/nationalresponses
On-premises steel AI platform https://www.smart-steel-technologies.com/solutions.html
Powering Beautifully Effective Ads https://www.smartly.io/
Predix Platform https://www.ge.com/digital/iiot-platform
PSD2 Payment services (PSD 2) – Directive (EU) 2015/2366 | European Commission (europa.eu) https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/payment-services-psd-2-directive-eu-2015-2366_en
RFID for the Steel Industry http://www.falkensecurenetworks.com/PDFs/0823_RFID_for_the_Steel_Industry.pdf
SA banks race to transition to marketplace banking https://www.itweb.co.za/content/wbrpOqgY8ok7DLZn
Security as a Service https://www.f-secure.com/en/partners/operators/solutions/identity-protection
Singapore, Australia to collaborate on digital economy initiatives https://www.zdnet.com/article/singapore-australia-to-collaborate-on-digital-economy-initiatives/
Smart cities Africa: Cape Town and Nairobi take the lead https://outsideinsight.com/insights/smart-cities-africa-cape-town-and-nairobi-take-the-lead/
Smart Cities in Latin América https://unctad.org/system/files/non-official-document/CSTD_2015_ppt05_Cartajena_en.pdf
Smart city index https://www.imd.org/smart-city-observatory/smart-city-index/
Smart manufacturing and smart industry in context https://www.i-scoop.eu/industry-4-0/manufacturing-industry/
Smart Steel. Research Fund for Coal and Steel: Supporting steelmaking and use in the 21st Century, Version 2 https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/1b0e4fe9-1d84-11e6-ba9a-01aa75ed71a1/language-en
Suomalainen koronarokote on jo antanut lupaavia tuloksia, mutta sillä on yksi ongelma: rahoitus puuttuu https://www.tekniikkatalous.fi/uutiset/suomalainen-koronarokote-on-jo-antanut-lupaavia-tuloksia-mutta-silla-on-yksi-ongelma-rahoitus-puuttuu/69fc2208-ba79-4c99-9281-e55583855bd4
The 7 Best Online Learning Platforms of 2020 https://www.verywellfamily.com/best-online-learning-platforms-5073725
The Rise Of The Interconnected Mega-Platform https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2020/02/25/the-rise-of-the-interconnected-mega-platform/?sh=4772e46e2684
The Solution for Supply Chain Traceability https://peerledger.com/supply-chain
Tracing the Steel Supply Chain https://mavennet.com/solutions/metaltrail/
Valtakunnallinen liikennejärjestelmäsuunnitelma vuosille 2021-2032 – Suunnitelmaversio 4.9.2020 https://api.hankeikkuna.fi/asiakirjat/f0ca36bc-e740-4ac4-accd-c244746849d5/c1ef61e9-0f7d-45bb-a348-75296008741e/MUISTIO_20200914073336.PDF
Valtavalo – Lighting as a Service https://finland.fi/business-innovation/finnish-valtavalo-sells-lighting-as-a-service/
Vietnam: Developing smart cities one of key tasks in national digital transformation: PM, https://www.vir.com.vn/developing-smart-cities-one-of-key-tasks-in-national-digital-transformation-pm-80193.html
What is Mobility as a Service (MaaS)? https://whimapp.com/what-is-mobility-as-a-service-maas/
World health organization https://www.who.int/
XaaS (Anything as a Service) https://searchcloudcomputing.techtarget.com/definition/XaaS-anything-as-a-service
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how digital platforms are contributing to our overall resilience and allowing large parts of society to continue functioning during lockdowns. In many cases, digital platforms such as video conferencing, eCommerce, or eLearning are being used as they were originally intended. In this signal post we take a look at platforms that are being adapted or used in novel ways during the pandemic.
The entertainment and sports world has been upended as movie theatres, sports venues, and concerts have been forced to close to avoid the risks associated with large crowds. Digital platforms are helping to fill the gap. Gaming platforms, such as Fortnite and Minecraft, are being used in new and innovative ways to host live concerts and music festivals. Over 12 million people watched Travis Scott’s concert on Fortnite and after the South By South West (SXSW) music festival was cancelled, a group turned to Minecraft to recreate the experience and held a Block By Block West festival online. After sporting leagues were suspended, eSports platforms have been used to host professional athletes playing cricket, football/soccer, and even Formula One races.
Maintaining physical distance and sanitizing our hands are two of the mantras used around the world to “flatten the curve”. While the days of side-by-side selfies are on hold for a while, Apple was recently awarded a patent for Synthetic Group Selfies. While they applied for the patent in 2018, well before the coronavirus, it is perfectly suited for physical distancing because it will allow a user to add photos of other people to their selfies making it look like they were side-by-side.
Sanitizing shared vehicles, like taxis and police cars, is time-consuming and difficult. Ford has issued a software update to the vehicle management platform in their Police Interceptor Utility Vehicles to use the cabin heating system to neutralize viruses. Honda and other auto manufacturers are also looking at ways to modify their vehicle platforms to reduce the risk from the coronavirus.
With a large part of the global population staying at home, ride-hailing platforms have seen large decreases in ridership. Companies like Uber are expanding their platforms and re-directing this capacity by rolling out Uber Direct and Uber Connect to allow businesses to send packages directly to home-bound customers and allowing people to send a package from their house to a nearby friend or relative.
eLearning platforms have become the primary vehicles to educate school children and university students. However, some areas of study are more complicated and face additional challenges. Medical students rely on hands-on learning but with hospital access restricted to essential workers, Tokyo Women’s Medical University is using a specially designed Virtual Reality (VR) platform to livestream surgeries to VR headsets worn by medical students at home.
In addition to increasing the resilience of our society during the pandemic, digital platforms are also showing how resilient they are by adapting in novel ways.
Selected articles and websites
How digital platforms are helping us manage through the coronavirus
New norm: Musicians performing on video game platforms
Philly band brings international lineup to live music festival in Minecraft
Coronavirus and the virtual sports revolution
George Russell wins 3rd F1 esports race in a row in simulated Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Apple patents socially-distant selfies
How Ford Turned Its Cop Cars Into Giant Ovens to Kill Coronavirus
Moving more of what matters with delivery
A Tokyo hospital is livestreaming surgeries in Virtual Reality
This signal post summarizes our newest research report on an interview study that explores how Finnish companies view and capitalise on opportunities in the platform economy. The study is based on interviews that were conducted in Finland and in the USA in 2019 with companies from various business sectors such as food, pulp and paper, manufacturing and security.
For more details, read the full report.
The aim of our interview study was to find out how Finnish companies view and capitalise on opportunities in the evolving platform economy, the phenomenon that we broadly define as a way of creating value and organizing layered (business or other) activities enabled by digital platforms, information and data.
The guiding research questions for this work were:
- How do Finnish companies understand the concept of the platform economy in general and in their business sector?
- What opportunities and threats do Finnish companies perceive in terms of the technological, social and political aspects of the platform economy?
- What factors act as drivers or barriers in the process of Finnish companies entering the platform economy?
- How do the findings from Finnish companies compare to those from the USA?
In 2019, a total of 10 interviews were conducted in Finland and 8 interviews in the USA, representing various business sectors such as food, pulp and paper, manufacturing and security. The rationale for complementing the Finnish interviews with a handful of American interviews was to gain a rough overview of the similarities and differences between the two, even if meticulous comparisons could not be made based on these limited samples.
Results and recommendations
The results of the study reveal new aspects of Finnish companies’ attitudes and preparedness for the uptake of platform economy opportunities. For example, the companies appeared to be well aware and informed about the platform economy and platform-based business models even if risk-averse attitudes and the legacy of traditional non-platform businesses were described as significantly slowing progress. In comparison, the interviews in the USA focused more on how important it is to make progress fast and learn from the more rapidly changing sectors. The American companies also seemed less risk-averse, more open to data sharing and more strongly customer-driven in their service development.
We conclude our report with a discussion and analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Finnish companies in the emerging platform economy. These are further processed into recommendations for the Finnish companies and public sector decision-makers.
Key recommendations for the Finnish companies that are willing to capitalise on the opportunities of the platform economy (for details, see the full report):
- Dream big and adopt a bold mindset.
- Identify and address the bottlenecks.
- Build and join partnerships and ecosystems.
- Listen to the customers’ needs and values.
Key recommendations for Finnish public sector decision-makers who are willing to support progress in the platform economy (for details, see the full report):
- Maintain support measures and address gaps in the innovation chain.
- Tap into the positive social and societal aspects and potential of platforms.
- Enable business and safeguard public interest through regulations and improve response time.
- Deepen public-private collaboration.
For more information
Auvinen, H., & Koivisto, R. (2020). How do Finnish companies view and capitalise on opportunities in the evolving platform economy? Interview study. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. VTT Technology, No. 376
The world of healthcare has many facets and is constantly evolving. In this signal post, we look at how digital platforms are driving advances in healthcare delivery, hospital management, and the development of new treatments.
Harnessing the power of the cloud
Many organizations have transitioned to cloud-based solutions for key business functions such as accounting, sales force management, and maintaining customer data. Healthcare is a complex industry with many disparate service providers that people interact with throughout their lives. Family physicians, testing labs, specialists, and hospitals are just a few of the service providers responsible for patient care that are likely to use disparate paper-based and computerised systems that don’t talk to each other.
Finland is a world leader in Electronic Health Records (EHR) with its MyKanta platform. While Google and many other large players have cloud-based EHR platforms, a report from Health Europa highlights the benefits and challenges of replicating Finland’s success in other countries. Data privacy is a key issue for EHRs. When Google announced a partnership with Ascension, a large US-based healthcare provider, it triggered calls for oversight and stricter privacy provisions as more healthcare providers look to move their patient records to cloud-based platforms.
Augmenting diagnosis with Artificial Intelligence
Historically, doctors and specialists relied on years of experience, second opinions, and impressive memories to diagnose illnesses and decide on the best type of treatment. New tools are emerging to augment doctors’ ability to diagnose and treat disease.
Simply keeping track of new research and illnesses is a challenge for doctors and patients. Many patient-centred platforms include “symptom checkers” and provide medical reference information in simplified terms to help people determine if they have an illness and how it should be treated. While this can feed into some people’s medical paranoia, the platforms provide valuable information that helps people decide if their illness is serious. Some examples include Duodecim, WebMD, and MedLine Plus. Doctors can make use of more advanced platforms, including platforms like EvidenceAlerts that provide customised alerts when new research is published.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI and ML) platforms can analyse patterns in large amounts of data and build algorithms to make predictions. New platforms like Bering Research’s Brave AI are being piloted in the UK to give family doctors a tool that can analyse patient history and key medical markers to predict which patients are likely to experience a decline in health and need hospitalisation in the future. This allows doctors to start pro-actively managing patient health before a crisis occurs.
The strengths of AI and ML are also being used to interpret diagnostic images, such as ultrasounds and MRIs. While not yet capable of replacing humans, Google Health and Imperial College London have made progress using AI to review mammograms and detect breast cancer. Google has also been behind other advances such as diagnosing eye diseases and lung cancer. In Singapore, Automated Vascular Analysis (AVA) from See-Mode Technologies has been approved for clinical use to analyse vascular ultrasounds, before a final review by a human radiologist.
The Internet of Things (IoT) and the rise of smart health devices
Small, connected devices are making it possible to gather health information continuously and feed it into platforms that allow users and healthcare professionals to access and analyse the data. Many people already wear a smartwatch or carry a mobile phone. Sensors built into these devices and customised apps are being used to track heart rate and blood oxygen levels (FitBit), ensure medication adherence, and monitor the behaviour of seniors to identify cognitive decline (MindYou).
Specialised devices are emerging, such as Oura’s smart ring, that measures general health and can also be used to check for fevers and alert wearers of a potential COVID-19 infection. H2Care’s blood pressure reader resembles a small wristwatch and integrates with an app to provide trend tracking. Researchers have made several advances, such as a metabolite measuring device the size of wristwatch to analyse perspiration and assess the wearer’s body chemistry, a smart contact lens to help diabetics manage their condition, and electronic pills that monitor a patient’s digestive tract.
IoT and mobile communication are transforming hospitals into “Smart Hospitals”. Ambulances equipped with cameras, sensors, and devices like mobile MRIs will allow paramedics and specialists to begin treating complex cases before they arrive at the hospital. Once at the hospital, the Electronic Health Record (EHR) platform integrated with patient diagnostic and monitoring devices, along with AI-augmented care planning will allow entire care teams to provide seamless care. Advanced technologies like Augmented Reality/Robotic surgical devices and 3D printed organs and devices will dramatically improve patient outcomes. However, in addition to issues like data privacy and cybersecurity, most hospitals face fundamental challenges in implementing smart technologies, namely finding adequate funding and IT expertise.
Researching the future
Digital platforms are helping medical researchers manage the complexity, data, and collaboration associated with research while reducing the time it takes to bring new discoveries into clinical practice. Most medical research begins by searching for clues in large datasets from patients with a particular illness, or by analysing genetic data, or by looking for patterns in previous research, or by doing numerous experiments to identify chemicals (or combinations) that are effective. Using AI, Machine Learning, and data analytics, researchers are able to rely on platforms to do a lot of the initial work efficiently and quickly.
UK start-up, Exscientia was able to complete its research and begin human trials of a new drug in 12 months instead of the typical 5 years with traditional research methods. Researchers are hoping for an even shorter timeline to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. Apple is partnering with research institutions and using the ubiquity of its platform and the new Research app to enrol and track thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people in broad research studies.
Once a treatment is in clinical trials, platforms like OpenClinica can manage participants and their data. Given the number of stakeholders involved in the clinical trial process and the sensitive nature of the data, Blockchain-enabled platforms are being considered to ensure the integrity of the trials.
Taking medical research to a more granular level using digital platforms is driving the emergence of personalised medicine. By sequencing an individual’s genome, analysing biomarkers, and considering other medications being taken, researchers can use CRISPR and other techniques to develop treatments tailored to that individual, that also avoid harmful drug interactions.
Selected Articles and Websites
The world of cloud-based services: storing health data in the cloud
Healthcare has many use cases for 5G and IoT but no infrastructure to support it
Finding the future of care provision: The role of smart hospitals
Personalized Medicine Is About to Go Mainstream With Big Implications for Health Care
AI Can Help Scientists Find a Covid-19 Vaccine
Apple launches three innovative studies in the new Research app
In our past signal posts, we’ve highlighted many ways that digital platforms are growing and impacting our everyday lives. In this signal post, we’re highlighting how those same platforms have increased our resilience and ability to adapt to these extraordinary times of the novel coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak. Although our world is currently being turned upside down, in the age of the internet and the platform economy we have many options available.
Early detection and tracking
One of the key aspects to control a virus outbreak is to discover and track it as early as possible. Artificial Intelligence-based (AI) platforms are capable of seeing patterns in large volumes of data and raising early warning flags. China informed the World Health Organization (WHO) about the Covid-19 outbreak on January 9th. However, BlueDot’s AI-driven platform analysed foreign-language news, animal and plant disease networks, and official announcements and notified its customers of the outbreak on December 31st. Other AI platforms have been developed to predict outbreaks of viruses like Ebola and Dengue fever and suggest ways to contain the outbreaks quickly.
A fast-spreading virus with a long contagious period means people may be spreading the virus across a large network of contacts, who in turn unknowingly spread it to their networks. Several mobile phone-based contact tracking apps have been developed to help health authorities isolate an infected person’s network of contacts. Singapore’s TraceTogether app uses Bluetooth to allow a user to store identifiers from other mobile phones they’ve been in close proximity with. The data is encrypted and stored locally for 21 days. If a user becomes a suspected Covid-19 case, they can release their contact data to health authorities.
Dissemination of information and misinformation
Social media platforms and online news sites are common places where people look to find out what’s happening in their network of friends, their city and country, or the world. Trusted news outlets, governments, international agencies, and local businesses have used online platforms to communicate information quickly to many people. This “rapid and broad” communication has kept people informed about the spread of the virus, steps they can take to slow the spread, and where they can turn if they need assistance.
While they are sources for valuable information about Covid-19, they can also be a source of misinformation. In some cases, the 24/7 news cycle is constantly looking for headlines that will make people “click” and they emphasize sensational new content. This was also an issue in the era of non-digital news, but there is a risk that the never-ending online news cycle contributes to people’s sense of panic. Misinformation and “Fake News” can also be rapidly propagated through social media networks. People witness panic buying in Hong Kong or Australia and within 24 hours there is a global shortage of supplies like toilet paper!
Distant socialising, working and learning
In these days of “distancing” and “shelter in place” orders affecting about half of the world’s population, platforms are now essential for daily life. Physical distancing does not have to mean social distancing since social media and free video chat services allow people to maintain contact with friends and family. They also allow local groups to organize and provide support to the most vulnerable and at-risk people in their area.
With many people remaining in their homes as much as possible to help slow the spread of the virus, e-commerce platforms, as well as food and grocery delivery platforms, are invaluable lifelines. These platforms are also helping businesses generate some revenue while their “bricks and mortar” locations have been ordered to close.
With gyms, fitness classes, swimming pools, and tennis courts closed, people are turning to exercise platforms like Tonal, FightCamp, Mirror, Peloton, Fressi, and Elixia. They offer fitness routines or live-streamed fitness classes to keep healthy and fit while staying in your home. Usage of streaming audio, video and online multi-player games is surging. Some platforms have offered new services to help housebound people simulate familiar group activities like getting together to watch a movie. Netflix Party allows friends to get together virtually to watch the same show with an online chat stream scrolling beside the video so friends can interact with each other.
As companies were told to close their physical locations and workers were told to remain in their homes, many companies accelerated their rollout of cloud-based platforms and virtual workplace platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom. While not every job can be done remotely, these platforms are allowing many companies to keep operating during these unprecedented times.
While e-learning platforms have been changing the way education is delivered over the past decade, change has been slow and eLearning tools have typically augmented traditional approaches to education at most schools rather than replacing them. With schools from kindergarten to university closed in many countries, e-learning is quickly becoming the primary means of education.
The race for treatment and prevention
While the treatment of the virus and the development of a vaccine require a lot of hands-on work, AI and crowd-sourcing platforms are supporting the effort. Because every country on the planet requires large amounts of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment there are widespread shortages. Crowd-sourcing platforms are being used to organize donation drives from businesses and individuals to quickly gather much-needed supplies.
Maker platforms, like Thingiverse, are encouraging makers to “Hack The Pandemic” and come up with ideas to help manage during the crisis. NordicBaltic.Tech is a new platform created by the Nordic Council of Ministers and GovTech venture company PUBLIC to showcase organisations and entrepreneurs that are developing technology responses to COVID-19.
Crowdsourcing is also being used to support the development of treatments and vaccines. Individuals are donating their home computer’s idle time to platforms like Folding@Home so they can perform complex analysis on the proteins in the Covid-19 virus in the search for better treatment options.
The ability of AI to make sense of large amounts of data is being used in several ways. Researchers are using AI to analyse protein structures, develop 3D models, and look for areas of weakness so new treatments can be developed. The effort to fast-track the development of a vaccine is using AI to determine the best way to safely trigger an immune response and build immunity to future infection. Finally, AI is being used to sort through the thousands of Covid-19 research papers that have been published since January. The Covid-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19) has over 44,000 articles and papers in machine-readable format so natural language processing AI platforms can connect the dots between studies to suggest hypotheses and areas for future research that might otherwise have been missed.
What does the future look like?
The platform economy and digitalisation have been growing so rapidly and changed how we live our lives in fundamental ways that it’s easy to take it for granted. Imagine if the Covid-19 crisis happened only 25 years ago. In 1995, there were less than 50 million internet users in the world, Amazon was barely getting started, Google was still several years away, and smartphones and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were about 10 years away.
The impact of the Covid-19 crisis will be severe, but digital platforms have introduced enough resiliency into our economy that large portions of it are continuing to function.
Below is a selection of past signal posts that highlight digital platforms helping us deal with the Coronavirus pandemic:
Deep learning and neural networks (2016-11-30)
Platforms for education and learning (2017-12-08)
Food in the platform economy: Consumer apps, production chain management and visionary ideas (2018-06-07)
Tackling fake news and misinformation in platforms (2018-04-04)
Platforms for active transport, fitness and exercise (2019-06-11)
Selected articles and websites
An AI epidemiologist sent the first warnings of the Wuhan virus
AI joins the fight against diseases like coronavirus
Singapore says it will make its contact tracing tech freely available to developers
Online learning gets its moment due to COVID-19 pandemic
Can The U.S. Crowdsource Its Way Out Of A Mask Shortage?
Folding@Home – Coronavirus – What we’re doing and how you can help
AI can help scientists find a Covid-19 vaccine
This signal post gives a short summary of a literature review on GDP and it’s usability as a measure in the increasingly digitalised economy. For more details, download the full report.
A measure for the manufacturing age
Gross Domestic Product was adopted in the 1940s, the age of manufacturing, to measure the strength of a country’s economy and it also became a proxy for well-being. It’s a measure of the monetary value of all goods and services produced by a country. A rapidly increasing portion of today’s economy is technology services, including platforms that offer “free/add-supported” products or act as international online intermediaries to facilitate the exchange of goods, services or information. By definition, the GDP doesn’t measure “free” products. In economic terms, the value a consumer gets from the “free”, and potentially higher quality products is measured by utility or consumer surplus, which is also not captured in GDP.
The slowing of GDP growth
While the GDP of most of the world’s economies has been increasing since its inception, the rate of GDP growth has slowed recently. More importantly, the growth rates of GDP per capita and GDP per hour worked (labour productivity) have also slowed. While the root cause of the slowdown in GDP growth has been debated for several decades, most economists agree that a portion of the slowdown is real and not solely an issue with capturing the growth of the platform and technology sector. Structural issues like demographics as well as the fact that past innovations like the electric motor likely had a larger impact on productivity than recent innovations are all contributing factors.
The uniqueness of the platform economy and the technology sector
While the reasons above partially explain the slowdown in GDP growth, many agree there is a growing proportion of the economy that isn’t being captured as part of GDP. There are a number of unique aspects of the platform economy and the technology sector that make it challenging to measure, manage, and ensure fair taxation. These include: ability to scale at low cost; “free/ad-supported” pricing models; borderless reach; blurred lines between consumers and producers; venture funding that encourages long-term market capitalisation over short-term profitability; digital services that replace physical products; and there’s a decreasing marginal contribution to GDP as the technology sector grows.
Given the unique aspects of the platform economy and the technology sector described above, it is possible that some aspects are having a negative influence on GDP growth while other aspects are having a positive influence that is difficult to capture using the current definition of GDP. The growth of the platform economy has been partially based on a culture of “free/low cost” products and services that provide utility and happiness to people beyond their economic value. This consumer surplus adds up to substantial uncaptured GDP.
This additional utility and happiness create a positive feedback loop that drives growth in the technology sector and the platform economy. As people seek to increase utility and happiness, they consume more in the platform economy which leads to its continued expansion as well as growth in uncaptured GDP.
Soft Innovation Resources
Understanding how to encourage the expansion of the platform economy may be key to increasing the rate of GDP growth. Watanabe, et al., postulate that countries (and companies) can increase their rate of growth by diverting a portion of their resources away from R&D and towards enabling Soft Innovation Resources (SIRs) as a complement to traditional R&D. These are soft resources that can be harnessed to drive innovation and growth at individual companies, which rolls up to growth at the country level.
Enablers of Soft Innovation Resources are listed below:
- Supra-Functionality: People seek out products and services where they experience satisfaction beyond utilitarian functional needs. They desire social, cultural, aspirational, tribal, and emotional benefits.
- Sleeping or Untapped Resources: These are existing resources that are under-utilized resulting in an unused capacity that may be spread sparsely and difficult to access without technology.
- Trust: People’s level of trust in various aspects of their lives, society, and the economy can affect their participation and contribution to innovation and the creation of economic value.
- Maximizing Gratification: Seeking gratification of needs is a key pillar of Maslow’s theories about motivation and human behaviour. As increasingly sophisticated needs are gratified, there is a desire to maintain and build upon the increased level of gratification.
- Assimilation and Self-Propagation: Sustainable growth can be obtained when past innovations are assimilated into future innovations, effectively creating a self-propagating cycle of innovation.
- Co-Evolution: The coupling of two or more items which then innovate and evolve along a common path.
The future of GDP measurement
Although the GDP measure has been revised over time, there is widespread recognition that more changes are needed if it’s to remain relevant as the digital economy grows. There is debate about how platforms and the digital economy are contributing to GDP and the amount of uncaptured GDP. For example, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) concluded uncaptured GDP would increase the rate of GDP growth by less than 0.01% per year. On the other hand, Brynjolfsson, et al. developed a measure they call GDP-B and they concluded that the consumer surplus from Facebook alone would increase the rate of US GDP growth by 0.1% per year and platforms such as internet search, e-mail, and maps would contribute significantly more. And somewhere in between, an independent study commissioned by the UK government concluded that annual GDP growth is understated by 0.3% to 0.6%, largely due to the platform economy.
It’s clear there are wide-ranging opinions on the magnitude of uncaptured GDP. International organisations such as the OECD and World Economic Forum are also trying to bring clarity to the situation. Additionally, a number of measures are being developed such as the Human Development Index (United Nations) and the Better Life Index (OECD) with a focus on well-being to augment GDP.
Strategies for future growth
The slowdown in GDP growth is complicated and multi-faceted. Perhaps some of the structural impediments to growth can’t be mitigated. Perhaps because digital platforms and their ecosystems function as highly efficient intermediaries that increase the flow of goods and services at substantially lower costs, we’re experiencing a temporary downward adjustment and growth will resume from a new baseline. As a result of this complexity, strategies to encourage future growth are challenging and diverse.
At the country level, the literature suggests strategies such as: developing economic measures to supplement GDP and better inform public policy in the digital age; create policies to increase skills training and corporate technology purchases to increase adoption of new technologies; develop policies to encourage experimentation in new technologies and business models; focus on improving the quality and lowering the cost of healthcare and education; increase immigration; enable Soft Innovation Resources; and refine international taxation and shipping practices to increase fairness in the shipping and taxation of digital goods and services.
At the company level, the literature suggests strategies such as: lagging firms should invest in skills training and increase the adoption of new technologies; leading firms should include the enablement of Soft Innovation Resources into their R&D and product development activities; and expand current products and services into platforms and expand platforms into platform ecosystems.
Selected articles and websites
The Economist – Measuring Economies – The trouble with GDP
Harvard Business Review – How Should We Measure the Digital Economy?
OECD – Are GDP and Productivity Measures Up to the Challenges of the Digital Economy?
Robert Gordon – Declining American Economic Growth Despite Ongoing Innovation
Watanabe, et al. – Measuring GDP in the digital economy: Increasing dependence on uncaptured GDP
Tou, et al. – Soft Innovation Resources: Enabler for Reversal in GDP Growth in the Digital Economy
MIT – GDP-B: Accounting for the Value of New and Free Goods in the Digital Economy
British Government – Independent Review of UK Economic Statistics: Final Report (2016)
US Bureau of Economics Analysis – Valuing ‘Free’ Media in GDP: An Experimental Approach
Investopedia – Definition of consumer surplus
OECD – Measuring the Digital transformation
World Economic Forum – Welcome to the age of the platform nation
Forbes – Uber will lower GDP
United Nations – Human Development Index
OECD – Better Life Index
OECD – Unified Approach to taxation in the digital economy
In this signal post we discuss the opportunities and threats in how the platform economy is changing the gaming industry. While digitalisation and the internet have already transformed the sector in many ways, technical and business models innovations are continuously giving new shape to the market. Legislative and regulatory approaches are also changing, with a strong need to address the risks and negative impacts involved. Consumer protection and money laundering are just two examples of the societally and economically important challenges in the core of gaming.
In simplified terms, gambling means wagering of money on an uncertain event and uncertain outcome, with the aim of winning more money. Gambling entails consideration and risk-taking as well as the promise of a prize. The word ‘gaming’ is typically, and in this signal post, used in reference to legal gambling, i.e. gambling services (not computer, video and mobile games, although connections to those will be discussed in the last paragraph) offered by companies in compliance with the law. These laws do, however, differ greatly between countries and regions, ranging from total bans to strategic gambling tourism as in Monaco or Macau.
Good (and not so good) use of platform strategies
Online gambling providers employ the same strategies found in other areas of the platform economy. Their systems are based on an eCommerce platform upon which various games and offerings are built. While many operate in a business to consumer (B2C) model, others also offer products and services in a business to business (B2B) model. By gathering feedback from their user base and testing new products and services, the online gambling providers create an ecosystem around their platform to drive innovation and build their customer base.
Providers that are licensed through countries with strict regulatory frameworks, such as in Europe and North America, are obligated to operate in a transparent and responsible manner. There are other countries with less robust regulations and in some cases, online gambling providers operating there use platform technologies such as blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and smart contracts to both build trust with their customers and to operate without complying with regulatory and tax laws.
A recent study prepared for the European Commission paints a picture of the European regulatory landscape for online gambling. Taking into account the growing consumption of online gaming, the report addresses the many challenges that urgently require a stronger regulatory response, such as gambling addiction, protection of minors, consumer protection, integrity of sports, money laundering and crime. What makes regulating and enforcing regulations extremely complex in the online environment is that gambling services are offered across borders, often by virtual gambling facilities that may consist of layered eco-systems of service providers. Services are also available 24/7, their use is made extremely convenient, transactions take place immediately and the user may perceive the game experience as being anonymous.
The study emphasizes the importance of European level action. However, specific European Union (EU) level regulation is not suggested, which is in alignment with previous communications by the European Commission. National policies, and therefore national regulations, share a lot of objectives but have also major ideological differences. Harmonisation would, therefore, be a step too far at this point, but joint efforts in effective enforcement, for example, is in the interest of all parties.
The online gaming and betting operators established, licensed and regulated within the EU have organised themselves as the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA). The aim of EGBA is to ensure a safe and reliable European digital environment for online gaming by working together with national authorities, EU authorities as well as other stakeholders. The association is committed to a high level of consumer protection while developing regulated services with the goal to be attractive enough to channel users away from unregulated offers.
According to EGBA, the online gambling market in Europe has an annual growth of around 10% and the gross profits of the sector are expected to grow to €24.7 billion in 2020. Comparing online and land-based gambling, in 2017 the ratio between the two was 21:79. The top three most popular online offers are sports betting (40%), casino games (32%) and lotteries (13%). Interestingly, Europe is the leader, with the share of European services accounting for 49% of the global online gambling market in 2017. The international business opportunities for European gaming services is expected to grow further, especially in several US states where sports betting was recently legalised.
Case of Finland
In Finland, the gaming system is based on the exclusive right principle, and since the merger in 2017, all gambling games are being offered by one single operator Veikkaus Oy. The company is owned by the Finnish State, and the offering covers lucky games, slot machines, instant games and skill games, with one-third of its activity taking place online. Veikkaus has a strong obligation and commitment to operate games responsibly and mitigate risks, and the revenue generated is used for societal causes in its entirety. This means that roughly one billion euros per year is distributed, via the relevant ministries, to beneficiaries in culture, sports, science, youth work, etc.
Even with the long tradition and strong value basis, debates about Veikkaus and the Finnish gaming system in general get heated from time to time. For example, last autumn Veikkaus’ new strategy aimed to address the public discussions about whether the fact that revenues benefit the common good justifies the problems caused, and typically these problems are being borne by those in the weakest position. Building a safe and more responsible gaming environment is one of the big strategic goals of Veikkaus, and the decision to speed up the adoption of compulsory identification on slot machines is one practical step. This means that starting in January 2021 Veikkaus will introduce new technology that will better prevent underage gaming as well as enable players to set a ban on their own gaming.
When it comes to the digital and online world, Veikkaus is a pioneer in esports solutions, and it was among the first companies in the world to offer legal esports betting in 2014. Service development in the esports domain is continuous, and products, services and platforms around esports have been developed in collaboration with Veikkaus and others using a unique concept, the Innovation Challenge Week. The winner last year was German GameBuddy, with their innovation of a social community platform for gamers.
Interesting insights into the Finnish case are also found in the survey commissioned by Kasino Curt in 2019 that gathered citizens’ views on the monopoly, political decision making and negative impacts around gaming. One clear finding is that Finns are not fully content with the current mitigation actions to fix problem gaming: 27% of respondents said enough was done, whereas 44% disagreed. 58% went so far as to agree that gambling machines should be removed from everyday environments such as grocery stores, but 29% would not make such changes. A majority of respondents also thought Finland should break away from the monopoly and introduce a licensing system instead, totalling 40%, whereas 29% disagreed on this. The gaming market and industry implications of such a change would be significant. Public discussions comparing future alternatives are active, and the pros and cons of the licensing system option should be studied carefully in order to see if licensing could be a viable approach in the increasingly global gaming environment expressed in the platform economy.
Connections to computer, video and mobile games
Millennials and Generation Z have grown up in a digital world with easy access to computer, video and mobile games. They have a preference for entertainment where there is skill involved and there is the option to play against other players. Not only are online gambling providers catering to this preference, but physical casinos are starting to replace traditional slot machines with games that resemble video games in an effort to attract younger customers. Additionally, these younger generations grew up playing on multi-player game platforms like Fortnite, CS:GO, and Defence Of The Ancients (DOTA) and are now driving the demand for professional esports tournaments and esports betting.
The near-ubiquitous presence of tablets and mobile device platforms means young people have unprecedented access to mobile games. In many cases, these are simple entertainment. However, there is a growing segment social casino games that are introducing young people to virtual gambling. Social casino games simulate typical card and table games but players wager virtual credits and no money changes hands. The games are often integrated into social media platforms and the outcomes are not always random. Instead, they are based on psychological theories that increase engagement and player satisfaction. In some cases, online gaming providers also produce social casino games and there is growing concern that the use of social casino games amongst young people is a “gateway” to money gambling in adulthood that may contribute to gambling addiction.
Selected articles and websites
Alison Drain: White Paper, The Converging of the Gaming and Gambling Ecosystems
Esportsearning: Top Games Awarding Prize Money
European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA)
Hackernoon: What is the Future of Gambling Industry?
Hyoun S. Kim: Social Casino Games: Current Evidence and Future Directions
Kasino Curtin tilaama tutkimus osoittaa: suomalaiset eivät luota kansanedustajiin rahapeliasioissa
MintDice: How Cryptocurrency is Changing Online Gambling in Europe
NewsBTC: MECA Coin – Creating a Democratized Online Gambling Ecosystem on Blockchain
Publications Office of the European Union, 2018: Evaluation of regulatory tools for enforcing online gambling rules and channelling demand towards controlled offers
Veikkaus: German GameBuddy wins Veikkaus Innovation Challenge Week
Veikkaus: Responsibility for the individual in focus in Veikkaus’ new strategy – compulsory identification on slot machines brought forward by a year
Veikkaus: Veikkaus – a Finnish gaming company with a special mission
Veikkaus: Veikkaus to hold an Innovation Challenge Week to find startups and begin collaboration – focus on esports
In this signal post I will share my takeaways from attending the Platform Economy Summit Europe in Frankfurt, September 17-18, 2019. The summit brought together business leaders, investors, policy makers and platform strategists to discuss opportunities and threats of platform-based business models. Political, technological and societal dimensions were also explored, especially from the European perspective, and a wide range of strategies to harness the potential of the platform economy were laid out.
The two-day summit featured inspirational in-depth talks by the platform economy experts and gurus, most notably by Professor Marshall Van Alstyne from MIT IDE and co-author of Platform Revolution Sangeet Paul Choudary. Success stories, lessons learned as well as future aspirations were shared by companies and organisations from all walks of life, such as Alibaba Group, Deutsche Bank, European Commission, World Economic Forum, Apigee, FoundersLane, MaaS Global and Amadeus. Lively panel discussions occasionally evolved into profound debates, and the interactive participation of the audience ensured all points of view were being heard.
Next I will summarise my main takeaways under the following statements:
- “The platform game has only just begun.”
- “There is no ONE platform strategy.”
- “Emerging technologies will rule in round two.”
- “The bold yet patient mindset will succeed.”
These statements reflect the overall tone of discussions at the summit, and I will explain them using what was heard and seen in the presentations, talks, panel discussions, message board conversations and polls, written materials and networking activities.
”The platform game has only just begun”
As discussed in one of our previous signal posts, the platform economy is still in its infancy, and we have only seen the very first success stories. This was also the message at the summit, and future potential across different sectors and industries was widely discussed. In fact, platforms have potential to transform all and any traditional industries but also to blur sectoral boundaries. Platform business is all about ecosystems (not egosystems) that allow different fields to collaborate and innovate something new.
Expected next steps in platform development assume tighter B2B ecosystems to form and blossom. Platforms and “platforms of platforms” will enable business relationships among competitors as well as complementors to evolve. From the European perspective the regulatory harmonisation and solid foundations in public digital infrastructure provide a good breeding ground for this. Unlike what we often hear in the mass media, various speakers at the summit saw European public sector initiatives as profoundly productive support actions to foster responsible and healthy platform business. Examples include national and EU-led actions to re-regulate and de-regulate, such as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and PSD2 (Payment Services Directive 2). European Single Market was also seen as an encouraging environment for European platforms to grow in and scale up from, on the path from local or national to global business.
Silicon Valley may be the mecca of technological innovation, and China has recently established itself as the leading business model innovator. Europe can learns from these, but also highlight its own strengths, such as its special focus on social and societal value creation. Awareness of the various pros as well as cons of the platform economy is high in Europe and keeps growing, and this attitude supports balanced and responsible development of platform activities.
”There is no ONE platform strategy”
All companies, organisations, business sectors, industries and markets have their unique qualities, and consequently there cannot be one single platform strategy that would fit all. The “digital natives” that have grown into global platform giants are obviously very different from moderate-sized incumbents in traditional industries, local markets and long business traditions. Understanding of what types of platform strategies fit with different situations is growing, and an integral part of it is also to find your own role relative to other actors in the so called ecosystem economy.
The strengths and weaknesses of an organisation help determine the best platform strategy. The size, maturity, traditions, legacy, resources, capabilities and skills are all important factors. Not everyone needs to set up their own platform, and an important step is to assess which one of the basic roles in the platform economy could suit you: the orchestrator, partner or contributor. You also need to consider who you want to join forces with and experiment and collaborate with. And who do you want to challenge and compete against?
”Emerging technologies will rule in round two”
Discussions on the platform economy are often coloured with technologically visionary ideas on AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning, blockchain technologies, big data and APIs (application programming interfaces), cloud computing, IoT (internet of things), etc. These technologies will improve functionalities such as identity management, ecosystem coordination, fostering of openness and trust, decision assistance and anomaly detection. These and more opportunities were addressed at the Platform Economy Summit, and amazing future aspirations were laid out by speakers on how these advanced technologies will be harnessed in the future.
However, the message was also pretty clear that there is no need to procrastinate and wait for all of these technology solutions to mature, even if they will be game changers later on, in the “round two” of the platform economy. Currently available technologies are more than enough to get started with, and the first round of the platform economy game is in full swing. To get your platform strategy ready and implemented is the thing to do right now, and in practice this could mean for example getting a good understanding of what is the potential with data in your branch of business. There is static and dynamic data, and there is also primary and secondary data. APIs are an important tool in ecosystem building, and B2B API activity correlates well with business growth and success.
”The bold yet patient mindset will succeed”
The often repeated message of the summit was, that companies willing to embrace the platform economy should get started and crystallise their platform strategy as soon as possible. Studies show that even a “failed” platform strategy results in better financial outcomes than no strategy at all. Developing a platform strategy necessitates boldness, radically innovative thinking and support from the top management. A platform strategy needs to go beyond digitalisation and incremental improvements, with the aim to operationalise new business models enabled by platforms. It needs to be integrated into the overall corporate strategy and show willingness to change and rethink the old ways.
But even if a platform strategy requires risk taking and changes in many aspects, including the company culture, it does not need to mean suddenly abandoning the core business. Instead, the platform strategy could be implemented, for example, in a separate business unit that is granted the resources and support to explore and develop the company in its new role as an actor in platform ecosystems.
Lack of boldness and leadership were mentioned as the common delimiting factors in platform strategy uptake. But along the next steps, if platform opportunities were being explored, the consequent challenge was often the lack of patience in fostering platform business growth. We are so used to hearing the overnight success stories of global platform corporations that our expectations of the pace of growth may be unrealistic. Instead, a patient mindset is needed, so that innovation horizons are conquered one step at a time. Also, monitoring the development of platform initiatives may often require different performance metrics and KPIs than what the traditional business is measures with. Therefore new approaches and patience will be also needed in follow-up processes.
Selected articles and websites
Jacobides, Michael G. (2019). In the Ecosystem Economy, What’s Your Strategy? Harvard Business Review
MIT: Marshall Van Alstyne
Platform Economy Summit Europe
Platform Strategist: Sangeet Paul Choudary
In this signal post we will discuss some examples of platforms for (1) active transport, e.g. city bikes and scooters, and (2) fitness and exercise, e.g. on-demand online classes. These platforms are enablers for transport and mobility but also contribute to health and wellbeing. For the time being many suchlike applications remain somewhat limited in openness and interlinking with other services. But in the future, when integrated by e.g. wearable devices and overarching platform umbrellas, we can expect to get more insights and encouragement to help us lead healthy, active lifestyles.
In Finland, springtime means that city bikes reappear in the urban scene. In the recent years, city bike systems have grown very popular, and more and more cities and towns are setting up these services. The online platforms make using city bikes easy, as real time information and maps of stations and available bikes is readily available on mobile apps. Although most services are suspended in the winter, the growingly biking-friendly attitudes, and the fact that cycling is a ‘citizen skill’, explain the success of city bikes in Finland. In fact, Helsinki with their Helsinki city bikes has been shown to be the number one biking city in Europe, if we compare the number of trips per day and per bike (totaling 8.7 in Helsinki).
A newer thing in the urban environment is the emergence of electric scooters. In Helsinki, like many other cities around the world, these gadgets appeared rather suddenly and are already very visible in the streets. In spring 2019, already two commercial electric scooter service providers are present (TIER with planned 150 and VOI with planned 200 scooters), and the public transport authority HSL will pilot their own system (with 300 scooters). Operated with similar service platforms as city bikes, electric scooters are another fun and affordable way to move about in the city. There have been some minor challenges in the introduction though. After use, the scooters can be left anywhere in the city, and oftentimes poor parking decisions are made by users. Also, traffic safety issues have been raised, and not all users are aware that scooters are in most cases comparable to bikes when it comes to traffic rules.
Although these new transport services are often brought to the market as standalone offerings, they have already been integrated to wider mobility services. This makes sense especially because city bikes, scooters, etc. work well to solve the first and last mile parts of trip chains. For example, city bikes have been successfully implemented around the world in combination with public transport and MaaS packages (mobility as a service). In the future, the digital integration of different services beyond transport could also involve applications tracking health and environmental impacts. Aspects of and further potential with entertainment should not be overlooked either; many already seem to treat the GPS enabled hunt for the electric scooters as a fun game.
Wearable devices, such as the wristband market giant and pioneer Fitbit or the Finnish smart ring design award winner Oura, are one of the most known examples of platforms relating to exercise and wellbeing. There are also numerous smart phone apps that use the phone or user input to track and guide healthy and active lifestyles. Interestingly, almost one half of Finnish youngsters aged 11-15 told in the LIITU 2018 study that they already use a smart phone app that tracks their activities.
But also more concrete linkages of the platform economy to physical activity exist already. Future potential in this sector is vast, and as one visionary tweet suggests, we should probably have a service and app that would give you access to gyms, swimming pools, fitness classes, climbing, etc. with one monthly payment. It is also worthwhile to acknowledge that even in Finland, where organizing sports and exercise has a long tradition of voluntary work and not-for-profit associations, the trend is towards business logics and profit making.
One example of digitalization and platforms entering the fitness sector can be found in the new service Les Mills On Demand by the internationally successful fitness brand Les Mills. They are better known for their pre-choreographed workouts that have been commercialized since the early 80s, by licensing instructors to lead classes in fitness centers around the world. The new on-demand service cuts corners by making online videos of customized workouts available for in-home use.
Another example comes from Peloton, again a well-known company in the fitness sector for many years. They are famous for their bikes and treadmills, but the new service Peloton Digital provides online access to live and on-demand classes, such as cycling, running, bootcamp, yoga and outdoor workouts, via their app. This new app doesn’t even necessitate purchasing a Peloton bike or treadmill, but is available to anyone, meaning that Peloton has now embraced business on the fully digital domain too.
Our third example is Mirror, an interactive reflective surface offering and streaming a wide range of fitness classes and one-on-one training. When exercising, the LCD panel, stereo speakers, camera and microphone are in use, and you can for example practice your boxing and even sync your heart rate monitor with the system. At other times the device simply works as a mirror on the wall.
Selected articles and websites
Aalto Maija, Helsingin Sanomat, 28.3.2019: Helsingistä kehkeytyi sähköpotkulautayritysten taistelutanner: Uusi tulija polkee kilpailijansa hinnat.
Ahonen Anton, Urhes: Liikunnan kansalaisyhteiskunnan muutokset 80-luvulta tähän päivään.
Alue-ennakoinnin seminaari 21.-22.3.2019: Tulevaisuus liikuttaa! [Seminar materials in Finnish]
Auvinen Heidi (2018). Wearable devices, data and the platform economy.
Fastcompany: This $1,495 connected mirror turns your bedroom into a boutique fitness studio
Helsinki Regional Transport, 22.03.2019. City scooters to be available in Vuosaari this summer.
Helsinki, 2.4.2019. Helsingin kaupunkipyöräjärjestelmän suosiovertailututkimus.
Kokko Sami, Martin Leena (2019). Lasten ja nuorten liikuntakäyttäytyminen Suomessa LIITU-tutkimuksen tuloksia 2018.
LaVito Angelica, CNBC: Peloton launches an app that’s available to anyone—regardless whether they buy a bike or treadmill.
LES MILLS: LES MILLS On Demand.
Merle Karp on Twitter, January 2019.
Mirror. The nearly invisible home gym.
Peloton: The Peloton Digital Membership.
This signal post discusses the experiences gained by interviewing different platform experts in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, California, in April 2019.
What is different in Silicon Valley?
Silicon Valley and the Bay Area are known as the birthplace of many technological achievements and innovations, including the platform economy. The biggest platform companies – Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Airbnb, Uber and Slack, for example – have their origins and headquarters in the region. There are clear reasons for this development: investment funds, expertise and networks are available all in the same place. It is possible to get the attention in the start-up phase, get funding and support and build networks to grow the company. The good reputation of Silicon Valley certainly also contributes to its importance.
Even though Silicon Valley is known for its B2C (business to consumer) platform giants, other types of platforms also flourish there. One could say that the innovation and business networks are also organized like platforms. For example, the start-up incubator SVAdvantage connects innovators and companies that need solutions. They also offer facilities to develop and test technologies. Suchlike B2B (business to business) platforms are not as well-known as the B2C platforms.
The other difference between Silicon Valley and Finland is the mindset. In the Bay Area, trust is born from success and from sharing it. This in turn creates a positive feedback loop resulting in even more success. It is pure business even though there is often an element of tribal – referring to fostering of loyalty between employer and employee – culture in technology companies too. In Finland, emotions – reflecting traditional responsibility culture – are important also in creating business. In the US, to set up a company with the intent to quickly sell it to a larger company interested in their technology versus grow the business themselves, is a popular strategy, whereas in Finland we may regard such exit strategies even as treachery or failure. The same difference appears in the attitude to going bankrupt: in Finland, it is a shame, but in the US, learning from ones failures can be viewed as a precondition for success and people are encouraged to try again. The cultural differences appear also in the attitude toward copying or emulating business ideas and strategies from others in the US, whereas it is not at all a popular ideology in Finland.
Security, privacy and ethics
Freedom is a distinctive feature in the US, and it applies especially to business. Data – the essence of a platform – is a free resource to be exploited. However, security is an important issue for a company as well as for the whole nation. One of the crucial preconditions for safety and security is situational awareness, which can be the essence of a security platform. The fast grown platform company Slack is a good example of a platform that has developed new security related solutions. They are using their own product in-house, “drinking the company Kool-Aid”, and pioneering in showing how Slack can be used in security.
The traditional physical security business, on the other hand, is heavy with old risk averse thinking and legacy. Culture change is needed, and platforms can offer a solution. The physical environment is being digitalized. For example, ID batches or keys are disappearing and replaced by biosensors and the need for human physical presence in a space for surveillance and monitoring purposes is being replaced by robots. Integrating security data on a platform, will allow for any situation to be shown, monitored and controlled on a single pane of glass. On the regulatory level, the role of government is to provide safety and security for the citizens participating in the platform economy.
Due to some local privacy and ethical cases (e.g. Facebook and Uber) and due to the developments in Europe, the privacy and ethics discussion has started also in US.
What next? Future of platform economy
The typical thinking of rapid and continuous growth seems to dominate the platforms economy discussion. New technologies enable capacity to integrate more and more functions and operations at lower cost and thereby advance integration. Platforms can also be integrators forming “platforms of platforms” or “meta platforms”. For example, traditional safety and security services may be disrupted by new platforms, which offer the situational awareness in the digital form on a single pane of glass.
The giant US based platforms have lately got negative publicity for privacy and ethical reasons. A new attitude in platform development seems to, however, be about to emerge, aiming to offer trust, ethics and empowerment.
References and links