Products Become Services; Services Become Apps: Where Does it Lead?

Technology has changed, is changing and will change business models, it is safe to say Cisco believes. The implications are not always so immediately obvious, though, as the transition itself can take decades.

Many will agree that “technology will fundamentally change business models," as Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins recently said. But note the time frame: Robbins says the 1990s proved the killer app for the Internet was e-commerce. Two decades later, we still are seeing that process unfold.

One might be tempted to make another observation: products are becoming services, but products and services also are becoming apps, with the result that revenue-generating products and services become “features.”

Voice and messaging increasingly are “features” of mobile Internet access services. Look at the way leading mobile operators now price voice, messaging and Internet access. Voice and messaging are provided on a flat-fee, low price, unlimited domestic use basis, while Internet access is the variable component that drives most of the revenue.

It might be one thing for Cisco to note that the way companies make their money is changing from products (or hardware) to services (and software). It is less comforting, in some quarters, that services are becoming apps.

Optimistically, the belief that industry revenue models are changing could mean that one source is exchanged for another.

Pessimistically, revenue models are being destroyed, not merely refashioned. To say that voice and messaging are “for free” apps, rather than “for fee” services, also implies that the incumbent “service” revenue stream is effectively destroyed.

That does not prevent either incumbents or attackers from creating new revenue models in an “app” mode. But the process is far more dangerous for an incumbent.

Google and Facebook have succeeded in becoming the first big technology companies whose revenue models are based on advertising, not hardware and software sales.

We still do not know what fate awaits many big telcos as every major legacy revenue stream becomes subject to product or supplier substitution.
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