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Hidden Powers Of Tech Platforms
One can only guess that businesses and other institutions will have to follow next. As China reduces its dependence on global suppliers, sales of brands that have been highly successful in the Chinese market will plunge
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Technology platforms deliver diverse and wide-ranging outcomes. They provide massive firepower for businesses to innovate. In several instances, platforms provide political and economic clout. A typical technology platform creates an environment that allows users to build and run applications, consolidate systems, and even operate entire businesses.
An operating system (OS) is an example of a technology platform. And as we already know, it is a powerful one too. We’ll discuss how powerful it is a little later in this article and see how it can be used to tilt the battlefield in the global war for political supremacy.
First, what qualifies as a technological platform? We have cloud compute platforms that are reshaping the way businesses are structured, databases are managed, and applications run.
We have storage platforms for files that could include APIs and backup systems. We have application platforms where developers can execute code, integrate databases, leverage APIs, plug-in analytical engines and deliver web applications. We are all familiar with media platforms that allow us to publish videos, turn speech to text, transcode, stream content, and publish, distribute, annotate and reuse text and images.
Some platforms, such as Amazon, have changed the face of commerce. Others like Twitter have altered the destinies of nations and societies (examples: #ArabSpring, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter).
We could consider the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) as a major platform in India. UPI turns smartphones into debit cards. It makes it possible to transfer and receive money in real-time, with instant confirmations for transactions, without having to reveal your bank details to anyone.
A UPI ID, a mobile number, or even an Aadhaar number are adequate to make the transfer. In April 2022, 5.58 billion UPI transactions added up to a staggering Rs 9.83 trillion. Thanks to UPI, the days when buyers would argue and fight with shopkeepers because they did not return change (or were palmed off peppermint confectionary as change) are over. UPI does not require Internet literacy (which enables net banking). It has, therefore, improved metrics around financial inclusion.
The latest in the line of such innovation is the private sector not-for-profit Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC). Strictly speaking, ONDC is not a platform. Its website assiduously mentions it is “not…a platform”, perhaps to ensure no one confuses it with a pureplay e-commerce site. ONDC aims to democratise the online market for buyers and sellers of all sizes, especially the small retailers and kirana stores, by becoming an aggregator of services.
Customers will find that ONDC matches their demands with the nearest source for their needs. ONDC’s network-centric model digitises the entire value chain and allows suppliers to catalog their products, use efficient logistics and create value for customers. Buyers and sellers are able to transact regardless of which e-commerce portal the buyer is registered on and which portal the seller is available on. Seen another way, the ONDC democratises technology and could end the supremacy of behemoths like Amazon, MakeMyTrip, and BookMyShow.
In a typical e-commerce platform—say PayTM Mall—buyers and sellers must use PayTM Mall (the same platform) to transact. ONDC changes that. It works as an open network. As it turns out, after the exit of Alibaba and Ant Group as investors, PayTM Mall is also busy integrating with ONDC.
ONDC has gone live in five cities-- Delhi NCR, Bengaluru, Bhopal, Shillong, and Coimbatore—and will be available in 100 cities by October 2022. It will expand the choices available to buyers and make it possible for sellers to innovate.
Think of ONDC as an OS, something akin to iOS, Windows, or Linux. Using the OS, software developers innovate. That is how we get a wide variety of applications like Spotify, Photoshop, or the media player on your computer. Expect the same to happen with ONDC—we will see plenty of innovation on the seller side and plenty of choices on the buyer side.
An OS is special. How special it is can be seen from the decision of the Chinese government to replace all its state-owned PCs with machines that run on a local OS. About 50 million government PCs alone will be replaced in the next two years.
One can only guess that businesses and other institutions will have to follow next. As China reduces its dependence on global suppliers, sales of brands that have been highly successful in the Chinese market will plunge.
However, what China is more likely doing is this: It is reducing the risk it faces from sanctions the Global North may impose in the future, such as those imposed on Russia. Qualcomm, Intel, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, Sony, Nintendo, Ubisoft, and Electronic Art are just some of the 400 companies that have withdrawn from Russia in the past few months. China is preempting the impact of such a move.
It is also possible that China believes the imported OSs present an infosec risk. After all, the US and several other nations have banned the China-headquartered Huawei Technologies after its products were considered a security risk. China may have similar suspicions about the imported OS. This is not good news for proponents of globalisation.
The adoption and use of standardised technologies helped the cause of globalisation. It bridged cultures and commerce. With the latest decision of China, other nations may follow. Could we be witnessing the start of globalisation getting unspooled? Will we see an entire era of scale and growth slow down? This may seem like an impossible outcome, but it does make you ponder over the power of platforms, doesn’t it?
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.