You might ask, “Why do we suddenly need new staff on hand to steer our ship of technology? We’ve been using software applications for years. Our IT people handle that.”
But in fact, we’re not talking about software applications anymore, nor traditional IT. There is a new layer of technology in play now -- the platform layer.
So what is the difference between an application and a platform?
As you probably know from using applications on your phone or computer, an application is pre-built for a specific use. Listen to music. Scan your receipts. Edit your photos. Microsoft Word is an application. It does what it does. Pull it up, type up a document.
A platform, however, is a toolset that you can use to custom-build an application that fits you perfectly. It can do pretty much anything you want it to do, but you have to decide exactly what that is. It's kind of like a Lego set. You can build a house with it, or a boat, or a robot. You have to decide what you need, and then build it around those needs. Same goes for building your platforms around your organization’s unique processes.
Good examples of platforms in wide use these include a CMS (content management system) for a website such as WordPress or Drupal, or a CRM (constituent relationship management) database such as Salesforce.
These platforms give us amazing new potential to do things better, work more efficiently, be more in control of our communications, stop siloing information, get smarter analysis because all your data is in one place, and banish shadow systems that were a necessity before, removing constraints left and right.
But with this new power comes a new responsibility. It requires a new core competence within your organization, a new type of management, in order to steer the development of those platforms. Developing, maintaining, and managing the product roadmap is the core responsibility of the product team in general, and of the product manager specifically.
Why? Because, a thoughtful, carefully considered roadmap is what brings sanity to the wild west of technology opportunity. Development of your platform could go any which way, but chances are you have limits on your capacity and resources. Meanwhile you have a mixture of urgent fixes, exciting opportunities, and new experiments that all need their oxygen and focus.
Without a roadmap -- and the entire ecosystem that goes into generating it -- you’re stuck in reactive mode, and you risk going everywhere and nowhere. You can end up wasting your resources on relatively lower priorities, or overlooking big opportunities, or confusing and frustrating staff who are waiting on essential fixes to get their work done smarter and better.
There is a new layer in town. A powerful, exciting new layer. Now it’s time to get yourself some new sheriffs in town who are up to the task of managing it.