The rise of platforms is by now well-documented — the most valuable companies in the world are platforms, and even long-established businesses are starting to build platform ecosystems. Well-known platform industries have also fared better than others in the recent economic downturn.
Platforms don’t run themselves, though, and increased demand has put the spotlight on how companies can build a robust platform team, according to Peter Evans, PhD ’05, and managing partner at the Platform Strategy Institute. Evans was co-host of the recent 2020 MIT Platform Strategy Summit, where he gave an overview of a platform talent survey he conducted with platform summit co-hosts Geoffrey Parker, SM ’93 and PhD ’98, and Marshall Van Alstyne, SM ’91 and PhD ’98.
For all the focus on business models and technology, “a key component to successfully launch and run platforms is the talent that you bring on board to exercise and execute on those strategies,” Evans said.
Through tracking platform companies and hiring trends, Evans, Parker, and Van Alstyne identified: a high demand for platform talent — even during the COVID-19 pandemic; six types of platform jobs companies are looking to fill; and suggestions for the future, including platform hiring firms.
Platform talent in high demand
Despite widespread unemployment and an official recession because of the pandemic, companies are still looking to fill a healthy amount of platform jobs, Evans said. Even some companies hit hard by the pandemic, like financial services firms, are hiring.
Recent job postings included a senior manager for platform strategy at American Express, head of product for platform solutions at Walgreens, platform lead for digital strategy and platforms at UBS, and head of platform strategy and operations at Generate Biomed. Big platform companies are always hiring, Evans said, noting that Google posted a job for director of startup ecosystems. Other moves are happening at senior management levels, such as Twitch hiring a senior executive from Spotify.
By analyzing 11,000 job postings over the last year, the researchers found that searching for platform talent is a global trend, and recruiting strategies like posting the same job in multiple areas indicate there’s a scarcity in the market — one job posting for a senior director of developer relations was posted in 16 different cities, Evans said.
Companies looking for platform talent can be divided into three main categories, Evans said.
- Replenishers, or existing native platform companies, that are either continuing to grow, trying to meet surges or demand, or looking to replace employees lost through attrition.
- Builders, or startups, may be hiring when they’ve reached the inflection point where they need to build up more staff.
- Incumbents are actually the biggest players, Evans said, though these types of legacy companies are usually absent from lists of top platform companies. More of these companies have adopted platform strategies and need the talent to drive those initiatives. Nike recently hired a seasoned platform executive — the former CEO of eBay — as its new CEO.
Six key roles, and a search for “T-shaped talent plus”
Looking through hundreds of platform job postings, six key roles jumped out, Evans said.
Platform strategy. Employers are looking for specific knowledge around how to formulate, drive, and create platform road maps, with both market perspective and technology perspectives.
Product management. This multi-disciplinary role involves actually running the platform.
Platform ecosystem managers. This position comes with various titles — “network partner” is another one — and focuses on the inverted firm strategy of managing your external ecosystem.
Platform engineers. Platforms are often big and complex, and they’re always changing as companies evolve and improve them. Many companies are seeking engineers that understand platforms and can run platform strategy from an engineering standpoint.
Platform data management. Data is a buzzword in a variety of industries right now, and companies need people to manage platform strategy around data aggregation and data management — the technology as well as policy and governance internal to the firm.
Platform privacy and compliance. As the regulatory landscape changes and becomes more complex, you need specialized talent focused on this important area.
In addition, Evans said companies are looking for people with not only “T-shaped talent” — deep technical expertise along with broader competencies — but “T-shaped talent plus.” Job descriptions list a wide range of complex traits and skills, which include everything from thought leadership and communication to analytics, coding, and machine learning, plus traditional business acumen and the ability to communicate with executives and external partners.
“The demands on these kinds of roles are quite stunning,” Evans said. “It’s extremely difficult to find one person that can meet all these capabilities.”
As a result, Evans said, companies are increasingly turning to platform teams. One company that successfully did this is Thomson Reuters, which in 2010 established Eikon, a subscription platform featuring financial data on publicly traded companies. The platform later became Refinitiv, and was purchased in 2019 by the London Stock Exchange for $27 billion.
The company has built a broad platform team, Evans said, with more than 65 jobs, from entry to senior levels, posted in more than five countries.
“They’ve been a very active player in seeking platform talent,” he said.
Room for growth: platform recruiting and certification
The platform talent study did not find any recruiting companies that specialize in platform talent. While some firms look for digital talent, Evans said the staff needed to drive platform strategy will likely have unique characteristics.
“There’s an opportunity to create specialty practices to help recruiters,” he said.
In addition, he noted, job postings for platform talent are often poorly written — firms that focus on improving those postings might be valuable.
Large incumbent companies face some of the toughest platform hiring challenges, Evans cautioned. Large companies can’t hire just one or two people dedicated to platforms — that would be insufficient in a large organization. Incumbents intent on pushing a platform strategy should hire in a programmatic way, Evans said, like Thomson-Reuters with Refinitiv. Companies should have well-orchestrated, coherent platform hiring strategies, including internal hiring and internal training.
“People are going to be affected by, and need to come on board with, your platform strategy,” Evans said.
Finally, platform expertise could benefit from a credentialing or certification system. Talent certification for platforms isn’t available now, but big data offers an example of a relatively new field that has created a system to better match supply and demand, Evans said.