Not Machines, It’s the Service

If your company builds agricultural, power, construction, healthcare, oil, gas or mining machines you’ve probably heard about the Internet of Things.  All of us in the tech community are excited to tell you about our cool technology to run on your machine, connect it to the Internet, collect data from it, and then make predictions from that data using advanced machine learning technology.

But maybe the question you’re asking as the CEO of one of these companies is why should I care?  Isn’t this just stuff my geeky R&D staff cares about? How can it be meaningful to my business?  

I’ll be making the case that with IoT software; you can not only double the size of your business but also create a barrier that your competition will find difficult to cross.

Next generation machines are increasingly powered by software.  Porsche’s latest Panamera has 100 million lines of code (a measure of the amount of software) up from only 2 million lines in the previous generation.  Tesla owners have come to expect new features delivered through software updates to their vehicles.  Healthcare machines are also becoming more software defined. A drug-infusion pump may have more than 200,000 lines of code and an MRI scanner more than 7,000,000 lines. On a construction site a modern boom lift has 40 sensors and 3,000,000 lines of code and on the farm a combine-harvester has over 5,000,000 lines of code.  Of course we can debate if this is a good measure of software, but I think you get the point.  Software is beginning to define machines.

So if machines are becoming more software defined, then maybe the business models that applied to the world of software will also apply to the world of machines. Early in the software product industry we created products and sold them on a CD; if you wanted the next product, you’d have to buy the next CD. As software products became more complex, companies like Oracle moved to a business model where you bought the product (e.g. ERP or database) together with a service contract. That service contract was priced at a derivative of the product purchase price. Over time, this became the largest and most profitable component of many enterprise software product companies.  In the year before Oracle bought Sun (whilst they were still a pure software business) they had revenues of approximately $15B, only $3B of which was product revenue, the other $12B, over 80%, was high margin, recurring service revenue.

In the world of machines, you might wonder why General Electric is running ads on Saturday Night Live talking about the Industrial Internet.  Why are they doing this?  All you need to do is download the 2016 10-K ( and look on page 36.  Out of $113B in revenue they recognized $52B, or nearly 50%, as service revenue.  Imagine if GE could move to 80% service revenue, not only would the company be tens of billions of dollars larger, but also margins for the overall business could easily double. And let me remind you this is all done without connecting the product (software or machine).  Once connecte you can provide even more service and ultimately deliver your product as a service.  As we have already seen in high tech software and hardware moving to product-as-a-service is transformative.

So if you’re an executive at a power, transportation, construction, agriculture, oil & gas, life science, or healthcare machine company, how big is your service business?


Timothy Chou, Ph.D.

Timothy Chou has lectured at Stanford University for over twenty-five years and is the Alchemist Accelerator IoT Chair.  Not only does he have academic credentials, but also he's served as President of Oracle's cloud business and today is a board member at both Blackbaud and Teradata. He began his career at one of the first Kleiner Perkins startups, Tandem Computers, and today is working with several Silicon Valley startups in roles from investor to executive chairman. Timothy has published a few landmark books including, The End of Software, and Precision: Principals, Practices and Solutions for the Internet of Things, which was recently named one of the top ten books for CIOs.  He's lectured at over twenty universities and delivered keynotes on all six continents.