Nobody should be surprised if Cisco remains consistent in its belief that business models in technology as well as the broader economy are shifting from “products to services.” Cisco has been saying that for at least a decade or two, and pushing its sales partners towards a “sell services” mentality.
If one believes that the whole “telecommunications” and Internet service provider businesses, as well as the computing business, therefore now are part of the broader Internet ecosystem, there are some important potential implications.
In a broad sense, products become services, and services become apps.
Manufacturing companies selling elevators or jet engines can move from selling those products once to providing ongoing service, said Chuck Robbins, Cisco CEO. That is an example of the “products become services” trend.
Over the top voice, messaging, audio, video and most other content is an example of the latter “services become apps” trend.
The transition from selling products to selling services is an evolution Cisco is itself making, as some 28 percent of Cisco's revenue is now from recurring sources, said Robbins.
As a purely practical matter, business and industry fortunes will hinge, in substantial part, by how well each affected industry segment adapts to either, or both, challenges. Will cloud computing, for example, allow channel partners to “sell computing as a service” to traditional clients, or will online provisioning become so simple that the “sales” function is automated, to a large extent?
How far can suppliers push the “hardware as a service” model, where enterprise or mid-sized businesses rent hardware and services, rather than buying and owning such hardware?
As always, how much incremental value can be added, creating new revenue possibilities?
The existential danger for incumbent service providers, of course, is that the “connectivity role” becomes something akin to the “PC hardware” role. Some might argue that this “dumb pipe” role will be hard to escape, and that the future belongs to access providers able to transition to additional roles within the computing and Internet ecosystem.
At the same time, new possibilities will exist for providers in other parts of the ecosystem to “vertically integrate” access, functionally displacing the incumbent access providers. That might not emerge as the main trend.
Still, the “products become services, services become apps” trends will, at the very least, result in new pressures to realign cost structures, revenue models and ecosystem roles in new ways.
So gross revenue and profit margin pressures on incumbent suppliers are bound to remain in place.
One might speculate that the same business dynamics that have made indirect sales a foundation of computing and communications sales to smaller and mid-size businesses might be extended further.
Tier one providers might retrench in the parts of the business (global and enterprise services) where they have advantages. Suppliers with large enough potential audiences might extend their “content” operations.
On the other hand, specialists might come to play a bigger role in serving the needs of rural and small market customers, much as specialists have been necessary for information technology sales to the mid-market business segments.
The shift to services, and away from products, should actually make it easier to do so, as provisioning, for example, becomes far easier. It is going to be an interesting time.