We are shifting our focus of attention toward key partnerships in order to explore the level of organizational interdependency required to make a business model “work.” The authors of Business Model Generation suggest that “it is illogical for a company to own all of the resources or perform every activity by itself.” Various types of interdependency exist, including cooperatives, alliances, and joint ventures (each of these could be its own inDepth series).
Exploring key partnerships provides an opportunity to revisit a concept I introduced to Winebrenner almost a year ago – beginning to think in terms of developing “platforms” instead of “pipelines.” You can read the initial post on this topic by clicking here. Some of what I’m writing today reflects a more detailed understanding of platform thinking when compared to what I wrote a year ago. Origins matter and the lineage and development of ideas matters. It’s worth noting that I was introduced to the concept of “platforms” in my own quest to better understand Winebrenner’s growing commitment to collaboration.
I’m generally cautious about over-utilizing technological metaphors but I find that they are helpful for this particular conversation. There are primarily four types of software development – operating systems, programming, applications, and utilities. Exploring platform thinking most directly references operating systems and applications (although there are ways to incorporate programming and utilities into the discussion as well).
For Winebrenner Seminary, a simple way to think about our “operating system” is in terms of the interaction and interplay of low fixed costs, creative curriculum, and a recurrent payment (you can click here to learn more). These are all in 1.0 configurations and will likely evolve as we move toward 2.0, 3.0, etc. How we express them may adjust as well as we begin to see how their interactions create new understandings of their integrated importance. At its fundamental level, an operating system provides the framework for what’s possible and the spoken and unspoken limits and opportunities.
“Programming” is primarily concerned with the language (e.g., BASIC) and emerges from the operating system as well as instructs the operating system how to function. We have academic units that we bundle into “programs” such as the Doctor of Ministry, Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Practical Theology, and Master of Arts in Clinical Counseling (we don’t often think about the use as metaphorical but it has that dimension).
One way to think about a platform is as a series of applications that are built upon our operating system and utilize our programming, bundled and/or unbundled. This is one place where our strategic plan (which identifies collaborative relationships as one of three strategic priorities during 2018-2023) is most evident – a platform makes the most sense when viewed through the lens of collaboration. Imagine if Alexander Graham Bell only ever invented one telephone. As a series of applications a “platform” reveals its benefit and strength when a growing number of “apps” are built using the platform. Three current examples:
- Winebrenner Seminary is collaborating with a church in Pennsylvania in their development of a “Leadership Institute” in which they are planning to utilize Winebrenner’s fully online MAPT to enhance their internal leadership training. Winebrenner’s operating system and programming make this possible – the unique expression at this particular church functions as its own “app” built upon these items.
- We are working toward collaboration with a Christian High School in the development of a course within our Institute for Christian Studies (ICS) so that their students can apply the ICS toward undergraduate credit (while not accredited to offer undergraduate education Winebrenner entered into an agreement in December 2020 that provides this possibility for students). Again, our OS and programming make this possible – their unique expression is its own app.
- Winebrenner is working toward a “course sharing” agreement with another seminary that would permit their students to take Winebrenner courses and provide the same opportunity for Winebrenner students to enroll in their courses. Both schools are now offering $300/month recurrent tuition as an option for graduate students.
Platforms exist in contrast to “pipelines” – in a tradition seminary setting, the school itself is responsible for all aspects of the pipeline – an “admissions office recruits, faculty instruct, and administration follow-post graduation for placement. A platform permits shared responsibility and enhanced levels of overall collaboration. Each of the above examples are clear expressions of collaboration and help illustrate the role that platforms can play in identifying key partnerships.
– Dr. Brent Sleasman, President
– Image from Pexels, accessed on Adobe Spark