Product vs. Platform development: 5 things to consider
Experts Voice
3 March 2021
Product vs. Platform development: 5 things to consider
Experts Voice
3 March 2021

There's a lot for a business to consider when deciding between developing a product or a platform. In short, a product is a consumable or usable piece of software you sell or offer, while a platform is a system that enables a product to work or communicate with another product. Products can stand alone or exist on platforms. The following five considerations can help your business decide which path is correct for your organization at the time, as well as the idealized implementation of what you're creating.

1. Products can become platforms, but platforms can't become products

Creating a platform before creating a product carries a lot more risk than building the product first. From a development standpoint, it is common for a successful product to grow into a platform. However, platforms can't be converted into products. Since products tend to be less work than platforms, it's much better to have a product that doesn't work over a platform that doesn't work.

2. Consider your resources

The scope of the development process is important: it is much harder to build a platform first. Your organization might be looking to build a platform in the future, but currently only has the resources to develop a product. Once having a successful product in the marketplace generating revenue, a business can work on turning it into a platform.

3. Understand the value of a product vs. a platform

How you approach a problem or solution in development can vary depending on the context of the program's value. In this case, a platform creates its value through interactions while a product crates value by selling a feature. Some ideas work very well as a product or platform, but not both.

4. The difference of longevity

Some great products have very long lifespans; however, not every product does. It's okay if a product is only intended for temporary or short-term use. However, any platform designed without longevity is problematic. Platforms should be deeply integrated into the business or customer infrastructure. A platform needs to stick around for a long time, preferably indefinitely. For example, a computer is a product built to last the user for several years. However, the user will use many programs, or products, throughout the lifespan of the device.

5. Be mindful of update ease and frequency

With a platform, you're developing software that needs to be easily updated. It needs to be flexible so you can make changes and improvements quickly and easily over time. While it's a better development practice to design software that's easy to maintain, it is less important with a product that doesn't need to be constantly updated. Your organization should lean towards a product if it doesn't have the capacity to provide a constant update stream.

The decision to develop a product or platform highly depends on the resources available to your organization and the desired business case. When making the choice, go with the option that makes the most sense from a business standpoint.

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