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Local Researcher Helps Companies Embrace Digital Economy

UMass Lowell

A UMass Lowell expert in strategic management is winning praise for her research into how companies can transform their ventures to better compete in the digital marketplace.

Elizabeth J. Altman, an assistant professor in UMass Lowell’s Manning School of Business, is an authority on what’s known as “multi-sided platforms,” businesses that can be matchmakers, facilitating online transactions, often between buyers and sellers. Airbnb, Uber and Facebook are prime examples. Other companies, such as Amazon, have various elements to their businesses, some of which function as platforms. In Amazon’s case, their Marketplace is a great example of a multi-sided platform, Altman said.

As these ventures play an increasingly larger role in the global economy, Altman – who teaches courses in managing in the digital economy, strategic management, organization theory and organizational behavior – is examining how more traditional businesses can compete – or whether they should even try.

The article “Finding the Platform in Your Product,” which shares her work, has been singled out by Harvard Business Review and included in the book “HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Business Model Innovation” and an edition of “HBR’s 10 Must Reads of 2019.”

“The digital economy is enabling more and more companies to operate online and many companies are founded to be multi-sided platforms. But, there are many companies out there that aren’t. This research provides a framework that helps those companies transition to more platform-based business models,” said Altman, who co-wrote the piece with fellow researcher Andrei Hagiu, a Boston University associate professor of information systems.

The LEGO Group and General Electric – two traditional, longstanding businesses that now invite the public to submit ideas for innovations via online platforms – are examples of enterprises that are incorporating a digital presence into their identity, according to Altman.

“It doesn’t make sense for all companies to transition to platform-based models, but all companies should think about it and know about them because they need to understand their potential competitors,” Altman said. “If you are going to operate in a platform-based ecosystem, the more you can understand about the dynamics of that ecosystem, the better off you will be.”

The research and associated article are making an impact by becoming popular reading in business schools and as a foundation for other academic research. The work has also been well-received by professionals in the working world, according to Altman.

“People tell us that the ideas in the article are helping them to look at their businesses a little differently and that they would like to hear more. As a business school professor, that’s as good as it gets,” Altman said.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe.

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