When you read tech articles or watch YouTube videos about modern technologies, you've probably come across the word “platform” more than once. For example, it's a term that car manufacturers and airplane builders like to use. To stay ahead of their competition, car companies have established platforms that allow them to develop shared sets for design engineering production efforts as well major components across outwardly distinct models.
We at Virto Commerce often use the word platform in our blog articles and manuals, too. What does a platform in the software industry mean? What set of software and cloud hosting does the Virto team in particular offer as a platform? Let's talk about it, and I’ll share the differences between a platform and a solution for ecommerce.
I also see this article as a guide for business and tech people that can help them understand why they need a platform and formalize the terms if they start to build their own platform.
A vendor software platform is a set of software and a hosting facility built and tested for compatibility, which are designed to allow applications and development teams to work together. Applications can be modified and customized, but are still interoperable without complex integrations.
Recently, more and more vendors have started referring to their application ecosystems as platforms. Therefore, it is possible to misinterpret the term, especially when reading marketing and other promotional materials.
Since we have to start from something we all know, let’s turn to the classic software platform, Windows. As an operating system, it essentially exists as an application platform. In this instance, we can legitimately describe the main property of the software suite as a platform. These are not just products with extended functionality. They represent an entire technological framework with the ability to expand and adapt to market requirements. A true software platform has the flexibility to create applications or services with new features based on existing components or customizations.
Given how many different companies have started to build platforms, there are even classifications of platform types. Right now, however, the boundaries between these types are very blurred.
As for the ecommerce niche where Virto Commerce thrives, we can talk about the ecommerce platform as a mixture of a technological platform, service platform, and marketplace platform combined:
Service Platform, as it provides users with an ecommerce portal to facilitate the online purchase of goods or services
Technological Platform, as an ecommerce vendor attracts third-party developers to build various add-on applications and ecommerce portal customizations
Marketplace Platform, as its marketplace functionality could also be available with an ecommerce vendor’s software, like a Virto Commerce module.
Now that we’ve classified the platform for ecommerce, we can go deeper into how the platform differs from a simple set of integrated applications the vendor offers.
There are four features that will allow you to determine whether a technological component is truly a software platform (or not):
Increases implementation speed. Conditions for client-side platform implementation always vary. The larger a company's business, the more back-office applications it has to integrate with the platform during deployment. Modularity, availability of methodologies, and best practice cases allow vendor and client teams to carry out implementation in a short period of time.
Increases software quality. When applications from the platform are developed together by a vendor, the client gets a quality software product which is constantly tested, while bugs and errors are fixed.
Decreases the cost of development. The platform differs from just a set of applications by the fact of complying with the architecture of the platform to the vendor’s business strategy. Development tools are selected and used according to the strategy, which speeds up the development process, both on the vendor side and on the side of the client or partner IT team, who all work together to customize and tune the software and do their best for the client's business.
Standardizes information. A true platform simplifies knowledge sharing and onboarding. If you are only offered software, but the vendor won’t tell you what technology is inside or how it works, then it's not a platform. Consider Microsoft Windows as an example of a platform close to ideal. Developers and Windows users are given a huge body of knowledge, training courses, certifications, and a community of a billion professionals.
What Is the Difference between an eCommerce Platform and an eCommerce Solution?
Nearly as often as you see the term “platform”, you see the term “solution” in marketing and in technical documents. At first glance, it seems to be about the same thing. Is there a difference between an ecommerce solution and an ecommerce platform?
Yes, there is a difference and it is significant. A solution is the implementation of a software system in a particular client company under their unique conditions. A solution is something that is made and works here and now. A platform, on the other hand, combines resources for the future, including vendor software, proprietary development frameworks, a cloud to host that software, a community of users and developers, an ecosystem of add-on applications, training materials, and support centers.
Let's summarize how a platform can do more for you than a solution:
Analyzes different solutions and implementation options
Extracts common parts, e.g., use cases, AIM
Provides delivery to many clients, bringing business value
A solution works for your business now.
A platform is a software system built for your company’s future.
The final difference is that a solution-oriented development team focuses on implementing business features, not building their own platform.
How Can a Platform Benefit Your Business?
When choosing a platform for your niche (for example, ecommerce), it makes sense to look at the level and pace of innovation by the vendor of a particular software. It can be difficult for business people to get to the bottom of platform technologies through marketing gilding, but your CIO and other IT colleagues should be able to help.
Check how quickly you can launch a platform that fits the size of your company and your business processes. While there is a practice of rebuilding your company's processes for "innovative" software, this is only appropriate for the first phase of digitizing your business. You should not constantly rebuild your business to fit every new platform you think of buying (i.e., do not get into a constant replatforming scenario). This means your platform needs to be flexible and have a lot of room for future improvement.
The platform's clean architecture, modularity, and ability to form large components from smaller ones with a variety of reusability helps. Look at Virto Atomic Architecture™ as perhaps the only example on the market of such a logical coherent platform architecture. Learn more about this architecture in our article, Reusing and Recomposing as Key Benefits of Virto Atomic Architecture™.
An important factor in the longevity of a platform is regular and fast updates from the vendor. In a mature platform, updates accumulate not only the ideas of the vendor, but also the experience brought by partners based on client projects. At the same time, the update should not disrupt the work of customized modules, and its application should be simple, literally accomplished with a few clicks.
Software platforms are strategic tools for businesses, not mere architectural logics in software. An efficient platform prioritizes your business needs, so you don’t have to worry about architecture. You can focus on developing great business processes without getting overwhelmed by the technical implementation.
In fact, using a software platform brings tremendous benefits to client companies:
Results in higher quality of software
Increases productivity of employees
Has fewer environmental issues
Incorporates better testing, fewer bugs
Heightens security of software
Includes OOTB (out-of-the-box) settings
Offers advantage of multiple options
Uses best-available technologies
Includes delivery innovations
Optimizes business processes
Incorporates case studies/best practices
Reduces cost of ownership
Realizes budget savings due to scale
Eases cost management
Offers more recruitment options
This list of benefits is not definitive or complete. Your business may also see additional advantages, such as increased business contacts at vendor events and communities, or an overall increase in corporate culture, etc.
When Is It Impossible or Unreasonable to Use a Software Platform?
When it comes to building complex software products or systems, a software platform can be an invaluable tool. It provides a flexible, scalable foundation that enables you to quickly add and remove features as your business evolves, saving you time and money in the process.
However, there are some scenarios where using a software platform may not be feasible or practical. For example, if you are working on a small-scale project with limited resources, building everything from scratch might be more efficient than relying on an existing platform.
Additionally, if your goal is simply to test out an idea without any long-term commitments, using a custom-built solution may be more suitable than investing in a pre-made platform.
Another instance might be if there are no commercially available platforms on the market for your task and you decide to build your own platform.
Overall, when considering whether to use a software platform, it is important to carefully consider your needs and the constraints of your project. If a software platform can help you achieve your goals more easily and efficiently, then it may be well worth investing in. But if not, there are other options available that may work just as well for you.
Software platforms provide a number of benefits to businesses, including higher-quality software, increased productivity, the best technology, and fewer environmental issues. In order to thrive in today’s ecommerce industry or in any market niche, it is important for businesses to understand the different features of platforms that are available. It's a good idea to make a checklist of your preferences and write down information on each platform you're considering.
I hope this article has helped you understand the importance of a platform’s flexibility and future potential when making your decision. In order to future-proof your online business and avoid ending up in a constant replatforming scenario, it is important to consider the following points. First, make sure the platform you choose has the flexibility to grow with your business. Second, ensure that there is room for improvement on the platform, so that as your needs change, you can adapt without having to start over from scratch. Lastly, be sure to partner with an IT team who understands your long-term vision and can set you up for success well into the future.
At Virto Commerce, we specialize in helping businesses operate as an ecommerce platform provider. If you're looking for a platform that can help your business grow, contact our team today. We'll partner with you to find the best platform for your needs and get you up and running quickly.