Product Management: Platform vs. Service

Within the product management world, you hear a lot of discussion about “platform.” In other words, everyone has a slightly different take on what it means. Furthermore, people argue over products that are platforms vs. services.

In the simplest terms, platforms are stable structures that lift things up. For example, Amazon AWS is a massive platform that provides a framework for many different executions. On the other hand, Netflix and Spotify are services that provide users with a very specific experience. With this, I’m sure that Netflix and Spotify have people on their teams who are focused on their “platform.” As a result, they don’t view themselves solely as services.

To differentiate platforms from services, I think that platforms enable solutions at a massive scale. The scalability of a given platform is key, as the product needs to stand up to the demands of its users. In addition, platforms provide users with mission-critical capabilities. Said differently, the foundation of the interface needs to enable an end-user experience that can be self-managed by its users.

Most importantly, platforms build ecosystems and drive economic value upstream. Without a platform to hold everything together, your internal and external partners would exist in silos. Furthermore, good platforms enable services to build on top of them. While services on their own drive revenue, platforms enable these services to be successful.

In summary, product management teams who build quality platforms are enabling the rapid growth of new product solutions. Ultimately, internal definitions of whether your product is a service or platform are less important than understanding how the two complement one another.

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