A platform, according to Parker, Van Alstyne and Choudary, in Platform Revolution, has the overarching purpose of consummating matches among users and facilitating the exchange of goods, services, or social currency, thereby enabling value creation for all participants. Simply put, the “why” of platforms is to facilitate interactions within producers and consumers. Or creators and users.

In my view, this is also the why of the future city; to facilitate interactions between providers and users through the development of enabling policy that will ensure all parties can move around the city to transact and create economic activity in the most fluid and secure ways possible.

There are requirements, according to Platform Revolution, to building a platform that provides valuable experiences for both producers and users. The “how” of platform design is in three buckets.

  • 1. Pull: is the work of attracting producers and users to the platform to enable the interactions that both sides seek. The great thing about where cities stand is that the pull is already central to the way things work, as all residents and businesses have to transact with the city. There are set processes and requirements that any new person or business must adhere to, and this ensures an inherent pull in interactions with the city. The best approaches to building services and tools ensures that residents come to trust and rely on the city platform and that the city will never need to pull. Since there is no need for much pull, the next step, and where cities are currently failing and need to utilize technology better, is to facilitate the interactions between the producers and the users/residents of the city.
  • Facilitate: Most traditional technology platforms do not really control value creation. What they provide are the infrastructure and policies to ensure that interactions between the producers and users do create value on the platform. Once again, this is another area where the city already has a baked in approach. Policies and policy development can be considered the core function of city leadership. What is missing, and can be addressed by taking the platform approach, is to provide the enabling infrastructure, and this includes policies, that facilitate frictionless interactions between producers and residents in the creation and delivery of value. This includes reducing barriers to access while maintaining security for residents and users on the platform.
  • Match: The city’s mechanisms for matching the vendors/producers with the needs of the residents are far from ideal. There are recurring and never ending jokes about how the DMV, in any city, works. Taking a platform approach, utilizing cutting edge technology that is available through open source, enables the city to better match needs to serving those needs by producers and vendors. Platforms efficiently ensure that the most relevant service can be made available to the user at the appropriate time, increasing the activity on the platform and creating economic value and resident satisfaction.

There are very few entities that are organically structured to perform this pull-facilitate-match role like cities. The first interactions individuals have when they establish their existence in a place is with the city government; birth certificates, permits, drivers licenses, utility set up for new homes, business licenses, etc. They all start with filling out forms within some city department. This gives cities an innate advantage towards developing robust platforms.

City As A Service

How can cities use this innate advantage? I propose that most cities build a platform or partner with tech entities that build platforms in order to become a digital hub for vendors – utilities, transportation service providers, healthcare, etc. A platform that can provide services to residents. This ‘hub’ enables the city to analyze all resident needs in real-time, identify areas with issues and analyze the consequent effects of interventions due to the relationships between the city systems. The city would be able to map, predict, and make decisions to address resident issues at a pace that matches the speed of our lives. Essentially, a more intelligent business model for the city, informed with data, and infused with empathy that enables the city to serve the marginalized through a platform that has little to no bias. Cities should bring like-minded vendors to the their APIs to enrich the quality of their data and enable operational capabilities, without cost increases, and discover new revenue streams.

As it was in the past, as it is today and as it will be in the future, people will be at the center of the development and the thriving of cities. The cities that will thrive will have to provide environments and situations that attract talent. The cities that thrive will have to take on a new ‘business model’.

Join us in San Antonio Feb 25-26th to hear more about the work that is being done to move San Antonio – the fastest growing city in the US – towards this platform future. Come hear speakers like Bianca Wiley (who is the voice of the people in Toronto vs Sidewalk Labs), Jessie Bounds Innovation Director at the City of Houston (who will talk about Building Back Better after the storms in Houston), Brian Dillard the Interim Chief Innovation Officer City of San Antonio and many more speakers from Lime, Uber, Greenlots and some of the innovative companies improving the landscape of our cities.