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What it Takes to Build a Successful External Developer Platform

Designed for Digital; Platforms; Ecosystems

In previous MIT CISR research on Designed for Digital, we identified five building blocks of digital transformation that "big, old" companies are working on if they want to deliver digital customer offerings successfully. One of these building blocks is the external developer platform that a company provides to third-party developers to develop their own digital offerings for customers.

Building an external developer platform takes more than exposing APIs and providing a developer portal or app store. For example, how do you build a developer community? And how do you monetize the platform?

We will start this investigation with a case study, preferably of a successful and comprehensive external developer platform from a software company with extensive experience in building such a platform. Synthesizing this experience should help non-software companies in building their own external developer platforms.

We will focus on the following research questions:

  • What do companies need to provide—for example, APIs, SDKs, developer community management (including conferences), or trainings—to help third-party developers innovate on top of their external developer platform?
  • Which organizational and technological capabilities—for example, dedicated roles, processes, incentive systems, and IT systems—are required to build an external developer platform?
  • What differentiates successful external developer platforms from less successful ones?

SEEKING: We are seeking participation in the research from executives responsible for external developer platforms and ecosystems at software companies and at companies in other industries (including manufacturing, finance, and others). These executives could be general managers of the external developer platform business unit or the chief architects for those platforms.

CONTACT: Martin Mocker


Martin Mocker, Professor & MIT CISR Academic Research Fellow

Martin is a professor of information systems at ESB Business School, Reutlingen University, Germany and an MIT CISR research affiliate. His teaching and research focus on the digital transformations of big, old companies aiming to stay competitive in an increasingly digital economy. 

Ina M. Sebastian, Research Scientist

Ina studies how large enterprises transform for success in the digital economy. Her current research areas are digital partnering—including strategies to grow with digital partners and partnering strength—and value creation and value capture in digital models.

Related Publications

MIT CISR research is funded by the more than seventy-five firms that sponsor our work and participate in our consortium. 

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