Do you remember when a platform was a place from which you caught a train, subway, or bus? Of course, today’s growing digital economy has since co-opted the word. But, deep down, the meaning remains the same – a location from which you connect to another person or place. Now, however, those connections exist in cyberspace.

The new digital platform is an environment in which a piece of software is executed. Today’s most common platforms are a set of stable components that allow for various other functionality and connections with other components. For instance, an operating system like Windows 10 and web browsers like Chrome or Microsoft Edge are platforms. So are Zoom, Skype, eBay, and Etsy. Or, more simply, a platform is a system that makes it easier for you to do other things.

At the end of the day, platforms are disrupting nearly every industry across the globe, and as you will see, that includes the office printing space as well! Are you prepared for the digital disruption that is occurring within managed print?

How Software Platforms Began

Disk Operating System, or DOS, is the program without which a personal computer cannot run. Though the terms “platform” and “platform economy” may be new, digital platforms have been around since the development of the computer. As personal computers picked up popularity, more user-friendly operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, and Linux were developed. From there, we began to see word processing, finance, and artistic platforms such as Microsoft Word, Quicken, and Adobe Photoshop.

The development of the worldwide web saw an even more comprehensive array of software platforms. Things like America Online (AOL) and CompuServe allowed people to access and interact with other internet users and rudimentary website pages. Then came the early nineties. Referred to as the “DotCom” era, this period was a hotbed of digital platform development. The nineties brought Prodigy, a CompuServe competitor, along with chat service competitors such as AIM, Yahoo Messenger, and ICQ. In 1995 the first internet search system, AltaVista, was launched, followed by the first social media platform, GeoCities.

While most platforms and websites developed during the DotCom boom have fallen by the wayside, some of these ventures now claim spots among the top five largest US companies. Giants such as Google and Amazon were created during this era. And with them, the age of the platform economy was born.

Platforms Disrupting Industries

As internet software has progressed, platforms have begun to shift into distinctive categories. The most common are also the most disruptive, those providing retail and services. Popular retail platforms include the likes of Amazon, eBay, and Etsy. These popular online retailers have pushed larger physical stores such as Walmart and Target to create their own robust online offerings. But they have also destroyed many smaller retailers who have difficulty maintaining the inventory on internet clout to attract digital customers and sell online.

Similarly, service platforms have shaken up several major industries. Perhaps the most notable are taxis, public transportation, and hotels. Where once a taxi, bus, or commuter train were primary ways to get places, now it is common to “call” an Uber or Lyft. Hotels have suffered a similar fate as Airbnb allows smaller, independent owners to rent out rooms, condos, and homes to travelers at rates that often rival those found for the typical inn.

Today these platforms have gone beyond traditional disruption. In their bid for continued growth, they have begun to cannibalize portions of other industries – including Managed Printer Services. Big names in the printer industry, like HP, are already working to offer online service and maintenance scheduling. Other unrelated businesses such as Amazon and eBay offer a variety of inks, toners, and parts at often ridiculously low prices.

But industries like retail, service, and even managed print services (MPS) don’t need to sit by and watch their businesses get gobbled up. Because the platform economy has grown so much, there are now programs that provide online tools and support to help companies create their own platforms — services like PowerMPS.

Competing At The Platform Level

For MPS companies, it is changing the game on how your company conducts businessBecoming a platform changes the rules of engagement, even in the printing industry. For MPS providers, it often means changing the game on how your company conducts business. Some companies may continue to prefer the brick-and-mortar store and in-person or over-the-phone sales and service relationship. But a growing number of businesses are beginning to prefer browsing online inventories, as-needed or predictive subscription ordering, and online chat and scheduling for service and maintenance. Group these robust interactions with in-depth office printer and copier use and consumables volume reports, and regular platform users have an experience they will grow to love. In fact, they will rely on it!

MPS providers using services like PowerMPS can couple retail and service platforms into one customized e-commerce storefront and service platform. With such a powerful tool, it is easy to keep up with current clients while leveraging the platform to help increase reach to new, more digitally-focused customers.

The platform economy has been steadily expanding and disrupting traditional retail and service spaces for over three decades. Fortunately, new technologies allow even those unfamiliar with e-commerce to build their businesses into online platforms. Tools such as reporting, service scheduling, email marketing, digital storefronts, and more will be the foundation that can support current business while giving these companies a digital mooring for growth well into the future.