Becoming the orchestrator of the digital ecosystem

This is a guest blogpost by Anthony Finbow, CEO of Cambridge-based biotech firm Eagle Genomics. For data to become truly powerful, we need more collaboration and more data exploration technology, he says.

Jeffrey Parker’s book ‘Platform Revolution’ (2016) contrasts the traditional way of software companies doing business, so-called pipeline business, with this new way of working. A pipeline business has a set of target customers; you sell software to each of those individual target customers and are permanently looking to deal with obstacles to an individual sale in all those customer environments.

That’s the old way of doing business.

The new way is the platform business model. You attract participants on both sides of the platform to create exchange, and the mechanism for more robust long-term interactions. You incentivise the participants and attract them to each other with your organisation sitting as the nexus between them. And that’s how these businesses are achieving extraordinary scale, extraordinary valuations and extraordinary stickiness with their business models.

Data exchange is an imperative in the life sciences, where I work. It’s the glue that enables collaboration between the large enterprises, that are our customers, and the big research institutes. Finally, almost a year into the global Covid crisis, we’ve seen vaccines emerging. That’s unheralded: the time from inception to vaccine is astonishingly quick – and it’s a process enabled through data sharing. Indeed, what Covid-19 has delivered is much more openness and willingness to share data, especially the sharing of vital DNA and RNA data associated with the coronavirus that has enabled us to make such rapid progress on the path to recovery.

There’s no reason at all that enterprises can’t also move towards a business model that exploits similar forms of data exchange. The biggest businesses today, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft are all, when you think about it, exploiting platform business model dynamics. And this is how to build sustainable multi-billion businesses.

It’s an idea whose time has come, and it’s a trend that’s only going to be accelerated by the challenges Covid-19 has created. The winners here are those organisations that identify the most appropriate mechanisms to enable this new digital business environment – and those mechanisms will be based on these new-style platform business model dynamics.

So, the CIO should be looking at data exchange platforms. The venture capitalists certainly are; London-based Harbr is announcing significant early stage fundraising to create a platform business for exchange of data between enterprises, while Gartner predicts that enterprise adoption of data exchanges will increase by 40% over the next two years. Likewise, our business model is about enabling collaboration around life sciences data between the large global brands we work with and the major international research establishments.
However, a note of caution. On its own, data exchange is not enough. The real need is for establishing the best basis for the provision of a smoother, cleaner, quicker mechanism to not only share, but also understand, explore, exploit, navigate, and generate insight from this data. A lead scientist in one of the groups trying to develop the coronavirus vaccine identified and articulated the challenge as the requirement for a virtual cohort of trial participants across the globe, looking for people with particular characteristics, traits and symptoms.

That’s a data capability; and that’s a next generation application that scientists and organisations developing cures will need to utilise and a platform business model can facilitate. Creating a platform business will not only enable you to accelerate your business but will help accelerate your development efforts.

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