A New World of Platforms – Insights from the Vizions Platform Conference 2017 by Zalando

On April 20th,  I had the chance to attend the first ever conference focusing on digital platforms and ecosystems, hosted by Fashion Tech giant Zalando in the inspiring “very-old-tech” Kraftwerk location in Berlin. World-class speakers from Uber, Google, eBay, Zalando, Alibaba and many other innovative companies and startups shared their vision of the digital future. A small group of colleagues from our digital Swisscom ecosystem including siroop and Admeira followed the vivid panel discussions and solid deep dives that shaped this new conference.

To be honest, if you regularly follow trends and movements in the digital tech world, the conference would not have surprised you with completely new and disruptive ideas – but it was very inspiring to feel the intensity and hear the common view of this entrepreneurial community regarding open, distributed and intelligent digital platforms. Let me share some takeaways with you that are still stuck in my mind.

First, one key aspect of the conference was about Commerce, evidently, with a slightly dominating fashion focus due to its host Zalando. Most speakers concluded, that the Future of Commerce will no longer be about “old” terms such as eCommerce or Webshops, but about a truly melting and holistic experience of consumption in a digital, natural and distributed way. So let’s rephrase eCommerce to:

  • Digital Commerce, because new technologies, data and business models will exponentially improve shopping experience, inspiration and fulfilment, e.g. by using AI and data analytics to assess and adopt product pricing in real-time (www.edited.com), reduce return rates by better size fitting and predictions (www.fitanalytics.com, www.truefit.com) or improve the parcel delivery experience especially on the last mile (www.bringg.com, www.centiro.com) to name just a few examples
  • Natural Commerce, because product search, discovery, ordering and fulfilment will become more and more natural, conversational and realistic, again by data, AI and UX technologies. Visual product recognition based on user generated pictures and videos in social networks will be part of the shopping experience (www.fashwell.com, www.picalike.com), conversational shopping bots will become more sophisticated (shopbot.ebay.com) and AR/VR will seamlessly merge into commerce as Facebook just recently demonstrated on its F8 conference
  • Distributed Commerce, because things are spreading even wider now. Until now the eCommerce industry spoke about “Open Commerce”, i.e. by providing product and shopping APIs to other shops like www.aboutyou.de or www.zalando.de already do. The new paradigm however is Distributed Commerce across multiple, multichannel platforms. Brands and retailers will “publish” their product offerings to all types of marketplaces, shops and platforms such as messaging apps, home speakers, content magazines and even wearables in a multi-to-multi relationship

Second, Artificial Intelligence was another main pillar of the conference that dominated many speeches and discussions. Some stories may be close to our daily business in which we experiment with Chatbots, still mostly in a rule-based, unintelligent way. eBay’s new shopping bot or the conference’s own Slackbot seem to be in the earliest infancy stage. And some other stories may still be super-far away from us. Or as Vivienne Ming, founder of the educational analytics and tech company www.socos.com said: “Well this sounds complex, and yes the hell it is. If you are not scared of what I am talking about regarding AI and Cybernetics, well, then you are not listening close enough”. In two more sessions, this future uncertainty and fear was also discussed with in some case quite polarizing hypotheses about the distinction of the human race, for which politics and science must prepare and set clear boundaries.

Third, the New World of Platforms that has been kicked off by the “GAFA Team” (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple) is driven by pure digital minds and entrepreneurs who are obsessed by connecting as much as possible with all other types of business and services. Cindy Gallop, the advertising expert, famous TED speaker and founder of www.makelovenotporn.com clearly summarizes what has been said many times throughout the day: “If corporates want to play a role in this “New World Order Business”, top management must really want a drastic change, hire the best talent in the market, give them a clear vision what they want to achieve, give them the resources they need and double it, then step back, let them work, trust them, wait, and do not intervene. All other “Old World Order” management behavior will kill innovation straight away”. Platforms is the new mantra, speakers concluded, but they also warned, such as Alexander Graf from Spryker, the open shop framework company: “It does not mean that all of you should become platforms yourselves – you will barely have a chance. But it means that you leverage platforms, connect them, bring partners and products onto them and benefit from their reach, in short: you sell the access to platforms”.

So what for us? We in Swisscom already discuss the right topics on the right levels, and in some cases let action follow. But when I observe these digital leaders and the enthusiastic community around them in Berlin, I would say we are still a bit away from a truly digital business. However, compared to telco competition and our customers especially in the traditional Swiss economy, I believe we are quite well advanced and should leverage this to our advantage. This means, that we could try to help our customers as an Enabler who is capable of translating the New World to the Old World and supports them to bring-in new concepts and technologies. Telcos are not a natural home for this, but in Switzerland we might have a fair chance to cover this local sweet spot.

More information on https://vizions.berlin