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TEAMWILLE goes South Korea – Interview with Joffrey Mabuma about “Platform Thinking”


Dr. Joffrey Mabuma, one of our TEAMWILLE colleagues, took part in a large conference in Seoul, South Korea, as a keynote speaker on the subject of “Platform Thinking”. In the subsequent interview, he talks about his journey and experiences when exchanging thoughts and ideas about digital business models with an international specialist audience.

TEAMWILLE: Joffrey, in Seoul you gave a presentation about “Platform Thinking”. Could you please give us a brief insight into the topic?

Platform Thinking is the art of imagining business not just or no longer as the straightforward production of goods, products or services for consumers. Instead, it is about an interaction between different user groups that potentially want to exchange goods, products or services through digital platforms. I consider this approach mainly as a thinking process for innovative digital business models. From my point of view, it is an alternative means to fundamentally re-think economic activities in the digital world.

TEAMWILLE: How did you come up with the idea for your speech on “Platform Thinking”?

About a year ago, I came across a paper about “Platform Thinking”. I thought that this topic was very abstract and general. However, the next morning I suddenly had some great ideas in my head that conceptually expanded my previous experiences and knowledge about the digital platforms. I thought: “This might be the way how it could work totally different. Is it possible to re-organize business models completely?”

TEAMWILLE: What was your role in your “platform” projects? How could you observe and shape “Platform Thinking”?

I was an external consultant supporting different business areas in the field of automotive aftersales conceptually and in operational terms, i.e. testing, requirements management, product development and PMO. I could observe platforms first hand and, therefore, reproduce how my customer organizations understood or misunderstood the topic. However, there was no room for creativity since it was rather my duty to develop and coordinate than to restructure defined thinking processes within the customer organization.

TEAMWILLE: Why is the topic relevant? What kind of benefit does it generate?

Generally, digital platforms bring together providers of products or services and buyers and, therefore, create a considerable benefit for the different platform user groups both in B2C and B2B business areas. For instance, the value added chain can be re-designed highly effectively. Platforms also provide a new and linked experience for the different user groups that has never existed before.

TEAMWILLE: Is “Platform Thinking” a global trend comprising several economic areas or is it limited to certain markets?

From my point of view, “Platform Thinking” is not only a global trend but does also cause sustainable changes. Its impact is similar to agility. This way of thinking is likely to gain even more followers in those markets where digital products and services are frequently exchanged. In other words: Where digital platforms, Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 have already been “rolled out” and fully developed.

TEAMWILLE: Within this innovative cross-linking of suppliers and customers the exchange of data is a central factor. How important is data protection?

Data protection will be crucial. Platforms centralize considerably large amounts of private data. One has to build trust when it comes to the use of data (especially in the B2C sector). Thus, platform providers must assume even more responsibility for dealing with data to avoid any misuse. Data is the new gold.

TEAMWILLE: What is the relation between “Platform Thinking” and project management? Are agile methods useful?

“Platform Thinking” or “Re-Thinking” is important to assure a sustainable project benefit prior to the project kick-off when faced up with digitalization and disruptive business models. This is why the relation to project management is clear at least to the conception phase prior to the project.

I rather see the relation to agile working methods in the implementation. In general, at the end of “Platform Thinking” there is a rough vision of the final product – namely the platform! Since we mostly talk about digital platforms, agile methods are useful, because they work well to build and develop IT platforms in an incremental way.

TEAMWILLE: The International Telecommunications Society (ITS) invited you to their conference in Seoul from 24th June to 27th June 2018 to present your ideas about “Platform Thinking”. How did this contact and the invitation come about?

A former fellow student from Stuttgart was enrolled at the Korean University before he came to Germany. This is how the contact to the conference came about. Of course, as any other speaker I had to assure that my speech met certain quality standards. An evaluation committee had to accept my paper before the organizers invited me to the conference.

TEAMWILLE: Are there any differences between the approach to the topic “platforms” in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world?

I feel that Europeans still hold a quite conservative attitude towards “Platforms”. I’m not sure about the reasons for that. But one thing is certain. If you look at the 30 largest digital e-commerce platforms in 2018, seven are from Asia, four from Europe, and the rest is from America. This means, that there must be differences in approaching this topic.

TEAMWILLE: How did the audience react to your speech?

The audience considered the topic to be late breaking and very interesting. Many liked the mode of business story telling that I chose for presenting the paper and found it fantastic to obtain background information from a business or consulting position. However, some researchers would have preferred a more scientific study. But you cannot satisfy everyone.

TEAMWILLE: What topics and countries were also present at the conference?

Global issues such as digital ecosystems and economy, artificial intelligence, the future of telecommunications, big data and ethics, as well as their impact on governments, societies and industry sectors.

Apart from South Korea, many other countries were present– for instance China, Taiwan, Japan, Chile, Mexico, Italy, Nigeria, India …

TEAMWILLE: Was it challenging to adjust your speech to an international audience?

Not really, since the content of my paper was tailored for an international audience. The challenge was rather that the audience comprised different professional groups such as scientists and professors, industrial representatives, and government advisors. This is why it was not easy to gain a common understanding of the topic.

TEAMWILLE: Did you get new inspiration?

Yes, however rather at personal level. I found it quite interesting to see and experience how self-perception and perception by others can be strongly influenced by cultural backgrounds. In Europe, for instance, I am perceived as a rather reserved person whereas people in Seoul/South Korea perceived me as extroverted. This can lead you to think about your self-perception as over time you need to avoid any inconsistencies between the way you see yourself and the way how others perceive you.

TEAMWILLE: What is your overall impression of South Korea, Seoul and the culture? Were there any challenges?

I really liked South Korea and especially Seoul. From the technological point of view, the country is highly advanced (e.g. the country plans the 5G rollout until the winter games this year!). Compared to Germany, South Korea possibly is 20 or even 30 years ahead. However, the country is also quite interesting from a cultural point of view. I was impressed by the huge part respect plays in social life.

Generally, I think that travelling in countries, which vary widely from your home is extremely valuable. Such an experience provides the opportunity to think outside the box and to reflect and possibly even re-define yourself. For me, this is indeed the greatest personal challenge in travelling: to engage in a personal, positive change when going on a journey.


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