For years, digitisation has gradually opened up opportunities to provide new goods and services in existing markets, perhaps even creating new ones or making processes more efficient. In the music industry, the film industry or in general trade, entire elements of value chains have disappeared. Streaming services and platforms have established new markets and influenced the usage and purchasing behaviour of various groups of buyers. And, of course, B2B processes are being digitised whenever and wherever possible. Meanwhile, various manufacturers are working hard to develop digital business models and, for example, in order to offer digitally-supported predictive maintenance services. A few even go so far as to sell the Operator not a machine, but the performance of the machine.
IIoT platforms (Industrial Internet of Things) are being established to get even more out of data and information. These platforms offer access for various data providers, data analysts and operators or end-customers, and thus enable the monetisation of existing data. An example of this is 365FarmNET: a Multi-Sided Platform that can almost completely manage farms. Here, for example, the data and routes of the agricultural machines can be read out and evaluated. This makes it possible to optimise routes, plan fertiliser concepts for individual routes and much more. Companies such as CLAAS use this platform to provide their customers with data from their own agricultural machines via a functional module. A seed producer can then offer another functional module that uses CLAAS' data to determine the optimal seed distribution.
The proliferation of such platforms will increase and in the end, only a few such platforms will exist on the market. This principle is quite old and can also be found, for example, at a weekly Farmers' Market: the municipality makes the marketplace available for a fee (i.e. the platform). Farmers, producers and traders pay a fee to the municipality and are permitted to set up their stand and offer their goods for sale. Ideally, many people come and buy these goods.
The attractiveness of such a platform increases with the number of participants on both sides. If the weekly Farmers' Market offers a large selection with many different suppliers, it attracts a large number of customers. If many customers come every week, it becomes attractive for even more suppliers. Economists speak of network effects with such "Multi-Sided Platforms".
So-called Multi-Sided Platforms also exist in the digital world and everyone is familiar with examples such as Ebay. In the digital world, however, network effects scale much faster and more comprehensively. While I might prefer to go to the closest weekly Farmers' Market rather than to the larger one in a bigger city, there's no reason to choose the second-best provider for online services.
An exciting topic, but what do digital business models and Multi-Sided Platforms have to do with Technical Documentation? Nothing! Not yet – but that can change. Imagine the following scenario: You're a manufacturer of agricultural machinery and together, we're setting up an information portal. This information portal will then be integrated into an independent platform as an independent functional module. For the fact that end customers pay for the use of this functional module, they receive access to an intelligently-searchable information portal, in addition to their PDF or paper-based documentation. For example, this also offers the appropriate solution directly if a sensor on the product reports an error to the platform. So the appropriate information comes to the user, he or she doesn't have to search for it. Users may also be supported interactively during their troubleshooting. Third-party providers could also develop their own functional modules that can address the information portal directly for a fee. The seed producer could, for example, call up how the parameters for the purchased seed could be optimally set on the agricultural machine.
In addition to the contribution to the digital business model (i.e. the monetisation of portions of technical documentation), there are other advantages: Anonymous user statistics can be used to find out what information users are really looking for and where something might have to be passed on or where products could be improved in the future. New communication channels or processes can also be established in which feedback or maintenance protocols flow back directly to the manufacturer via the information portal.
Whether the path outlined is the first, second, or second-to-last step towards the digital business model remains a question of the digital strategy of the respective company. In any case, it is indeed a step forward.
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