Diving platform on Graveyard Hill in Kabul from TV-Hill, Afghanistan. Sven Dirks, Wien

The significance of digital platforms to the business

Reda SadkiLearning strategy, Thinking aloud, Writing

Business gets done by groups in workshops and meetings and by individuals in private conversation. There is an undeniable cultural advantage for diplomacy that comes from looking your interlocutor in the eye.

Emerging digital platforms are in the margins of this business.

The pioneers are creaky in their infrastructure and, ironically, playing catch-up. They have long lost the initial burst of enthusiasm that led to their creation. Yet they are still here, alive and kicking with funding that can support, in principle, their reinvention. For this, they need courage and creativity, especially if they function in a bureaucratic environment.

Then there are new platforms in search of purpose and the users it would bring. Sometimes, it is the other way around.

No platform is perfect. All of them have strengths, experience, insights, and the potential to be more in the future than what they are now. Some have already achieved individual impact and continue to do so.

There is no doubt in my mind that, sooner than we think, our platforms – or the ones that will replace them – will be core to achieving the strategy being defined now for the coming decade.

Digital transformation has swallowed enough industries that we now understand how it works.

If you think about the newspaper industry, their web sites started in the margins too.

Digital technologies provide a new economy of effort. In our context, we now have the means to address professionals working in the very communities where targets are either achieved or not. In fact, two-thirds of the Geneva Learning Foundation’s cohorts do not work in the capital city but in the regions and districts.

Bypassing established gatekeepers and pyramidal hierarchies to go “straight to the customer” undeniably brings new challenges.

What is the incentive for collaboration between digital platforms? We are all competing for the same resources, jostling for recognition, striving to demonstrate that we are contributing to the business.

There are practical, operational reasons to share content, ideas, lessons learned. This can help each platform improve, for the benefit of the network that we all want to serve. Such service improvement is necessary and important.

We can imagine a collective effort in which platforms rally around a shared goal and establish a shared measurement system to track progress.

Yet, this too would be short-sighted.

Yes, through a process of accretion, digital platforms will move from margin to center. They will not only be relevant to the business, they will be the business.

The opportunity is for us to harness this process and accelerate the transformation so that it serves the strategic goals that are being defined today.

To seize this opportunity, we need to start with the reality check:

  • Access is no longer the problem. (There is still a border beyond which there are no cell phone towers, but this border keeps receding.)
  • Digital literacy is the problem.

Many learners in these platforms are discovering key online resources, available for years on the open web. A small but significant proportion may be part of the next billion of Internet users, joining to learn, not to surf.

For this, we need a “no wrong door policy”. Wherever people enter the system, they need to find the pipes or pathways that will connect them to the destination that will help them solve the problem they are tackling. This is not about finding content, but the process of discovery that comes from connecting with others.

The quality of the pipes will determine how quickly platforms become core business, rather than a nice-to-have.

Image: Diving platform on Graveyard Hill in Kabul from TV-Hill, Afghanistan. Photo by Sven Dirks, Wien.