Earlier this week I did a podcast with my colleague Steven Sinofsky talking about the management structures of Google, Apple. Facebook and Amazon ('GAFA'). These companies now have around 10 times more employees than they did a decade ago, yet they still manage to function, and function extremely well, producing a stream of great work. The interesting thing is that the management structures that they've used to achieve that are actually very different.
Amazon, at one extreme, is radically decentralised, with hundreds of different small teams all operating independently on top of common platforms - reflecting its need to scale across an indefinite number of different product categories. Apple, at the other extreme, is a deeply structured and systematic company - reflecting its need to produce a hundred million of this new product in three months, three years from now. And Google and Facebook, in turn, have their own highly specific structures that reflect their own capabilities and needs.
So, we call these companies 'platform companies' because they own technology platforms - chips, operating systems, data, networks, infrastructure, user bases and so on. But the organisation structures and the people and skills within them are themselves platforms that give these companies specific capabilities (and specific limitations). They can point the company at some things, but not others.