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date: 03 December 2022

Business Models and Usage of Technology: A New Perspective on Business Model Designfree

Business Models and Usage of Technology: A New Perspective on Business Model Designfree

  • Neva BojovicNeva BojovicKEDGE Business School
  •  and Vincent MangematinVincent MangematinKEDGE Business School


Companies need business models to profit from innovation and technology. However, the success of a certain technology depends on whether and how it is used. Usage is important not only as an indicator of technology adoption, but also as a way for companies to design business models—as a way to create and capture value from technology. Usage is inscribed by the designers in the technology, but users in their ongoing practice can alter the designers’ intentions, which sometimes leads to innovation. Users can also combine different technologies in practice to accomplish a specific usage. In essence, usage is constitutive of technology and its value.

Technology usage-based business modeling is a way to explore business modeling for technology that looks into how different technologies are integrated, either by users or platform actors, into solutions to address specific usage needs. To understand this notion of usage for business model design, one must first understand how value is created and captured from technology. At the same time, it is also important to know different streams of literature that have investigated technology usage: user-centered design, user innovation and lead users, form, function, affordances of technology, and the practice-based view.

While usage-based business modeling has implications for all kinds of technologies, it is of particular importance for emerging, enabling, and embedding technologies, where the value of technology depends on the usage across multiple applications and connectedness between different users.


  • Business Policy and Strategy
  • Technology and Innovation Management


Business models have been a major topic of interest in strategy and management literature since the early 2000s, especially in relation to innovation and technology (Massa & Tucci, 2021; Maucuer et al., 2020; Prescott & Filatotchev, 2021). The literature on business model design has offered many frameworks to explain how firms can create and capture value from innovation (Baden-Fuller & Mangematin, 2013; Zott & Amit, 2010). In essence, designing adequate business models enables firms to create and capture value from technology (Teece, 2018). As of the 2020s, scholars have outlined three important sources of value creation and capture for technology: its emerging, enabling, and embedding aspects (Kapoor & Teece, 2021).

This article explores and outlines a new view on business model design based on usages of technology and how technologies can be an answer for specific usage needs. It uncovers what can be learned when focusing on usage, and how that focus changes the design and implementation of business models.

The usage of technology has been studied in the literature in sociology, philosophy, innovation and technology management, information technology, and strategy and marketing, mostly in an implicit way. Popular methodologies in product development and innovation such as user-oriented designs (Veryzer & Borja de Mozota, 2005) or lead-user methods (von Hippel, 2005) consider usage as a source of knowledge and new ideas to develop product and services. The literature suggests that users innovate not only product attributes, but also can innovate usage (Ansari & Phillips, 2011; Faulkner & Runde, 2009; Hinsch et al., 2014). The focus has been shifting from analyzing users and technology to technologies-in-practice: looking into what people actually do when using technology (Jarzabkowski & Pinch, 2013; Orlikowski, 2000; Orlikowski & Scott, 2015). The usage of technology has also been a topic of interest in strategy and marketing, as scholars have highlighted that users experience the value of technology directly in use (Priem, 2007; Woodruff, 1997). Yet, the literature has not adequately explored how and if the usage of technology can be connected to business model design.

This article outlines the different conceptualizations of business models, elaborates on the connections between business models and usage, and discusses the implications for technology usage. The main lesson is that usage can be a key aspect of business modeling for technology-based ventures, which is illustrated with various examples from the literature and from industry practices. Different aspects of technology usage can provide insight into how firms can create and capture value for emerging, enabling, and embedding technology.

Business Models

The Business Model Concept: Descriptive, Cognitive, Performative

Business models have been largely discussed in the literature in strategy, entrepreneurship, and innovation (Foss & Saebi, 2017). In these discussions, researchers have debated the business model concept across different disciplines, putting forward many different perspectives on what business models are, what their purpose is, and how they work (Wirtz et al., 2016). A brief overview of selected papers demonstrating the approaches in the literature from business models as descriptions to business models as devices is summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. Business Model Conceptualizations and Definitions

Key aspect



Descriptive view

Timmers, 1998

“Business model stands for the architecture for the product, service and information flows, including a description of the various business actors and their roles, the potential benefits for these actors and the sources of revenues.”

Weill & Vitale, 2001

“A description of the roles and relationships among a firm’s consumers, customers, allies and suppliers that identifies major flows of product, information and money and the major benefits to participants.”

Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2005

“A description of the value a company offers to one or several segments of customers and of the architecture of the firm and its network of partners for creating, marketing, and delivering this value and relationship capital, to generate profitable and sustainable revenue streams.”

Amit & Zott, 2001

“A business model depicts the content, structure, and governance of transactions designed so as to create value through the exploitation of business opportunities.”

Mangematin et al., 2003

“A business model describes a category of firm in relation to the market it targets, its expected growth, its modes of governance, and the organization of its activity.”

Zott & Amit, 2008

“The business model is a structural template that describes the organization of a focal firm’s transactions with all of its external constituents in factor and product markets.”

Cognitive view

Teece, 2010

“A business model reflects management’s hypothesis about what customers want, how they want it and what they will pay, and how an enterprise can organize to best meet customer needs, and get paid well for doing so.”

Baden-Fuller & Morgan, 2010

“Business models play a central role in progressing management thinking.”

Baden-Fuller & Mangematin, 2013

Business models are “cognitive instruments that embody important understanding of causal links between traditional elements in the firm and those outside.”

Lehoux et al., 2014

“...value creation and value capture mechanism are hypotheses that need to be fleshed out and validated, but which allow entrepreneurs to shape and refine their innovation.”

Martins et al., 2015

“Business models are reflections of managerial schemas.”

“Business models are cognitive construct that has the potential to create distinct conceptualizations and innovative reconceptualizations

of environmental situations.”

Aversa et al., 2015

“Business models are, first of all, cognitive devices that mediate between managerial thinking and engagement in economic activities, and so represent complex economic environment in simplified forms, facilitating reasoning and communication to third parties.”

Mikhalkina & Cabantous, 2015

“This perspective moves away from the idea that business models describe actual phenomena toward conceptualizing them as cognitive instruments that help economic actors make sense of (and classify) firms’ economic activities”

Performative view

Doganova & Eyquem-Renault, 2009

“Market devices–one of the many intermediaries that circulate in the techno-economic networks of innovation.”

Perkmann & Spicer, 2010

“Narratives that persuade, as typifications that legitimate, and as recipes that instruct.”

Garud et al., 2018

“Perlocutionary speech acts, i.e., attempts at securing the support of stakeholders in efforts to constitute initiatives through various kinds of discursive-material practices including conversations, stories, and dialogues.”

Bojovic et al., 2018

Devices to signal value in experimentation with other stakeholders.

Initially, definitions of business models emphasized how they described the operation of the business (e.g., Timmers, 1998), and its systems, logics, and architectures (e.g., Amit & Zott, 2001; Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2005; Weill & Vitale, 2001). This perspective considered the business model to reflect the reality of the organization, a “depiction of the content, structure and governance” (Amit & Zott, 2001; Mangematin et al., 2003), and a “structural template” (Zott & Amit, 2008).

An alternative approach emerged subsequently, which outlined the business model as a dynamic instrument: a model and a cognitive device to enable the effective commercialization of technology and value capture (Chesbrough & Rosenbloom, 2002). Tikkanen et al. (2005) described the cognitive aspects of business models as the systemic meaning structure or the belief system of a firm, suggesting that individual and organizational constructions of meaning are crucial in the structuration process of a business model and its evolution. An individual’s cognition—and consequently their interpretation of events—strongly influences the creation and development of organizational processes and plays a central role in the dynamics of business models (Cavalcante et al., 2011). The cognitive aspect of a business model is perhaps best summarized by Teece (2010) as reflecting “management’s hypothesis about what customers want, how they want it, and how the enterprise can organize to best meet those needs, get paid for doing so, and make profit” (p. 172). Business models are cognitive structures that provide a theory of how to set boundaries for the firm, of how to create value, and how to organize its internal structure and governance (Doz & Kosonen, 2010). This literature also connects business models with other cognitive concepts, such as belief systems (Tikkanen et al., 2005), dominant logic, and sense making (Chesbrough, 2010).

The move to the cognitive perspective also moved the discussion on business models from what they are to what they do, and why and how they are useful. Baden-Fuller and Morgan (2010) outlined three roles of business models as models: (a) as classifying devices, which help managers (and academics) to understand business phenomena and develop ideal types; (b) as instruments of inquiry, similar to models in economics and biology; and (c) as recipes that managers use to follow and innovate. As cognitive devices, business models are vehicles for manipulation, prototyping, and experimentation in different combinations of business activities and of the outcomes of different types of models (Baden-Fuller & Morgan, 2010).

Consistent with the cognitive perspective on business models is a view which includes performativity in its analysis (Doganova & Eyquem-Renault, 2009; Garud et al., 2018; Perkmann & Spicer, 2010; Snihur et al., 2018). In this view, business models are narrative and calculative devices, which not only play the role of an instrument of inquiry, but also contribute to the construction of the environment (Doganova & Eyquem-Renault, 2009). Business models have a potential to shape the environment (Bojovic et al., 2018; Martins et al., 2015). They can be used as tools to create the field (i.e., through framing (Bojovic, 2022; Doganova & Eyquem-Renault, 2009; Perkmann & Spicer, 2010; Snihur et al., 2018), or construct a particular value of technology (Perkmann & Spicer, 2010). The way the business models do this is in the process of experimentation, where it is through interaction with actors in the real business setting that the business models are realizing their performative potential (Baden-Fuller & Morgan, 2010; Bojovic et al., 2018, 2020; Garud et al., 2018).

Business Model Design for New Technologies

Business models and technological innovation are intrinsically connected (Massa & Tucci, 2021; Maucuer et al., 2020). Companies need business models to benefit from innovation and technology (Chesbrough, 2010; Massa & Tucci, 2013; Teece, 2018), as the role of business model design is in translating a potential value and usefulness of a technology into a market success (Teece, 2010; Zott et al., 2011). Furthermore, novel technologies often require novel business models (Baden-Fuller & Haefliger, 2013; Chesbrough, 2010). However, creating business models able to unlock the value of technology is a challenging issue for managers, as many business models may fail before the right one is designed (Massa & Tucci, 2013).

The literature has tackled business model design for new technologies in different ways. One stream of research has looked at business model design themes (Climent & Haftor, 2021; Zott & Amit, 2010). In this view business model design is about the design of boundary-spanning transactions (Zott & Amit, 2008) that constitute an activity system of the firm (Zott & Amit, 2010). When designing a business model, managers make decisions on the parameters of the activity system: its content (what activities are performed), structure (how activities are connected), and governance (who is performing the activities). Value creation is driven through design themes, which serve to link together the activity system elements. Proposed design themes are: novelty, lock-in, complementarities, and efficiency (Zott & Amit, 2010).

Another perspective is a configurational approach to business model design (Aversa, Furnari, et al., 2015). Within this view, a business model design can be seen as modeling, which comprises representing business activities in a form of a model, and manipulating this model to explore potential ways in which it could be designed (Aversa et al., 2015). When designing a business model, managers can think about different business model configurations. For instance, the business model design framework by Teece (2010) is comprised of a selection of technologies to be embedded in the product/service, determining the benefit to the customer from using the product/service, identifying market segments, confirming revenue streams, and designing value capture mechanisms. This perspective puts the value for the customer first by addressing what kind of benefit the customer gets from using the product or service. In designing this benefit, the company creates value for the customer, which is then translated to value for the company.

As Baden-Fuller and Mangematin (2013) categorized it, there are four dimensions which can provide a large set of possibilities in business model design. The first is identifying the customers: Are there one or more customer groups? Who is a paying customer? The second is understanding customer engagement: How is the company interacting with the customer—as a generalized “bus” or individualized “taxi” system? The third is defining monetization, and the fourth is looking at value chain and linkages (internal governance). This way of approaching business model design is putting customer sensing at the core of business model design—thinking about who the customer is, if there is more than one group of customers, how they interact, and how the company can create and deliver value to these customers.

Even though previous research on business model design has opened the discussion on what kind of activities managers undertake to design business models as well as what kind of possibilities they can explore, the main questions about the relationship between technology and business models and how business models can unlock the value of technology in use (Priem, 2007) still remain unanswered. The aim herein is to provide another perspective on business model design, which can help managers and researchers consider business models in a new way by envisioning the interaction between customers and technologies (or products/services) and between different groups of customers. The usage of technology is viewed as a key element for business model design. The aim here is to provide an understanding into how business models and usage are connected and how thinking about and designing usage can inspire, inform, or enable business model design.

Technology Usage or Usages of Technologies

Understanding how products and technologies are used is critical for the process of innovation (Katila et al., 2017) as the impact of technology can only be assessed by looking at its use (Orlikowski, 2000). However, most studies across different disciplines start with the notion of technology usage in an implicit way, considering it to be part of the user–technology dyad. In this sense, the literature looks into the usage of a specific technology as prescribed by the technology designers or envisioned by users. This kind of view limits the potential for understanding the link between the usage of technology and business models. Instead, different technologies can fulfill the need in usage; in other words, usages of technologies can accomplish a specific need in practice.

Usage as a Notion Implicit in the Notion of a User

In product development and innovation, users (and their usage) are a relevant source of information and innovation. Learning through usage means learning from users about different aspects of usage and possibilities of amelioration (Alhusen et al., 2021). There are many methodologies of assessing user-needs and involving them in the design and development process. Two prominent approaches, which address different types of user-involvement, are users as central to design, and users as a source of innovation.

“User-centered” approaches (Norman, 2013) to design have gained immense popularity, as they are considered to improve the product development processes in the companies, as well as lead to the design of product fit to satisfy user needs (Veryzer & Borja de Mozota, 2005). This approach puts user needs and usability in the center of the design activity. Even though understanding users for design means the designer needs to get a deep understanding of how people will use the technology, this stream has been critiqued for its rigid and static view on actual practices of usage (Norman, 2005; Redström, 2006, 2008). Even Donald A. Norman, one of the founding fathers of “user-centered design,” wrote provocatively about how blindly following a user-centric approach might harm the design when it considers only what is perceived to be the characteristics and needs of individual users (Norman, 2005). He called instead for the focus on activities as complementary to the focus on users, and activity-focused design as one which should include a deep understanding of users, tools, and reasons for activities (i.e., usage).

Another way of involving users in design and development is user-innovation (Bogers et al., 2010; von Hippel, 1976, 1986, 2005). This stream of literature looks at users as a source of innovation in that users are actually leading the innovation process. Users innovate to fill their own unmet needs (Chatterji & Fabrizio, 2014). As they are using products and technologies, they are developing valuable need-related and use-related knowledge (Jensen et al., 2014). Depending on the trend leadership and benefit from innovation, there are two different kinds of users who innovate: user innovators and lead users (Hienerth & Lettl, 2017). User innovators have unmet needs for which they are developing solutions for themselves (usually the market does not respond to their needs because they are too specific, or the population is too small, etc.). They benefit from innovation, but these benefits are not big enough for the larger market. Lead users are trend-leaders; they perceive the needs ahead of the market, and their innovations have the potential to be beneficial not only for them but also for the larger market (Hienerth & Lettl, 2017; von Hippel, 1986).

The value of user innovators, especially lead-users, and their impact on innovation has been proven (Chatterji & Fabrizio, 2014; Lüthje & Herstatt, 2004). The literature on lead-users has provided many insights on the characteristics of lead users and the outcomes of their innovation. (Jensen et al., 2014). It has been suggested that usage is also an important parameter of the lead-user theory. For example, a study on antecedents of lead-userness found that use-experience—not only in innovative usage but also in regular usage—leads to a higher level of lead-user potential (Schreier & Prügl, 2008).

However, not much is known about the actual usage practices of lead-users, or how their usage becomes a source of innovation. One of the criticisms of the user-innovation approach is that it takes into account only user innovation in the form of technology or objects, but it has mostly neglected issues of innovation in function and usage of technology (Faulkner & Runde, 2009). A few studies have changed the focus from users and objects to looking at usage and how a new usage can be a source of innovation (Ansari & Phillips, 2011; Faulkner & Runde, 2009). Faulkner and Runde (2009) developed a theoretical account of innovation in function to explain how user innovation in usage can be a source of technological change. Ansari and Phillips (2011) showed how new usage (i.e., new consumer practices of texting, which was invented and diffused by users of mobile phones) can bring about change in an institutional field.

Usage as a Concept Between the Form and Function of Technology

Research in technology has emphasized that technical objects are complex, and one needs to understand them as more than their physical properties (Runde et al., 2009). Technological objects can be defined as “any object that has one or more uses assigned to it by the members of some human community” (Faulkner & Runde, 2013, p. 806). It has been proposed that technical artifacts have a dual nature (Faulkner & Runde, 2009; Kroes, 2010; Kroes & Meijers, 2002, 2006), and they are “(i) designed physical structures, which (ii) realize intentionality-bearing functions” (Kroes & Meijers, 2002, p. 6). Studies have uncovered many different forms of functions, and not all of them are related to the physical use of objects (Crilly, 2010). For example, using a car (e.g., a Tesla) can have a physical function (transportation), and a social function (expressing personal values). Most of the different classifications can be reduced to technical, social, and aesthetic functions, but artefacts can perform other functions, such as psychological, political, and economic, among others (Crilly, 2010). This distinction is very important because it can reveal connections between different usages of an object (Crilly, 2010).

In the philosophy of technology, an emerging set of authors has theorized usage as an open-ended and temporally unfolding process (Vardouli, 2015). This open-endedness can be approached in two ways: semiotic, to which usage is about the enactment of an artifact material structure; and ecological, to which usage is about making—an embodied and situated activity embedded within a social, cultural, and material force (Vardouli, 2015, p. 140). In this approach, users are makers of usage, as they are entangled with material artifacts.

Essentially, there are three ways of using artefacts: passive usage, idiosyncratic usage, and innovative usage (Vermaas & Houkes, 2006). Passive usage occurs when users use objects according to a preexisting use plan communicated by the designers. Idiosyncratic usage refers to a situation wherein users are using objects in ways that differ from the intended use communicated to them by other agents. Innovative usage builds on idiosyncratic usage by adding an element of communication of a new usage to other agents, so it is no longer idiosyncratic; it can be used in a new way by a community of users. User groups innovate usage and change the course of technology use, even in later stages of technology (Ansari & Phillips, 2011; Faulkner & Runde, 2009).

Affordances as Possibilities of Usage

Another concept that touches upon usage is the concept of affordances, originating from ecological psychology and work of James J. Gibson (1979). Gibson argued that when it comes to perception, people perceive objects not in terms of their physical properties, but in terms of their affordances (Gibson, 1979). For example, when looking at a staircase, people perceive them in terms of their climb ability—the relationship between the actor and an object and in terms of the potential for action (Gaver, 1991). Affordances exist even if they are not visible to actors (Gibson, 1979). Affordances are functional, in the sense that they can be enabling or constraining, and relational, such that they can be different for different users. Leonardi (2012) outlined that even though the materiality of objects can exist independently of people, there are no affordances which exist independently of people, and affordances are always socially constructed. The perceptions of affordances can thus change over time, or for different users or contexts.

Technologies have affordances, which can provoke a range of different functions and different possibilities of usage. Affordances are not a purely natural characteristic of an object, but they can be designed into an object, and successful design is the one which makes affordances easily perceptible. Graves (2007) noted that affordances are not immune to the effect of social shaping over time, as how people actually use one object will influence the development of its technology which will shape its future affordances. Affordances also exist as “dynamic,” when they emerge as part of the dynamic interaction with the world (Cook & Brown, 1999). Riding a bicycle, for example, dynamically affords the acquisition of the knowledge to ride and the use of that knowledge. This property is important to understand as, for some technologies, it is necessary to use the technology for a certain amount of time and get skilled in its usage in order to extract benefit from it.

The power of the concept for analyzing technologies is that it is both rooted in the object and its interpretation. However, this concept has also been criticized as having many limitations, and that too much power has been given to the technology, which has affordances, over the context and social interaction (Jarzabkowski & Pinch, 2013).

Usage as a Practice

One account of usage comes from practice theory, and its focus is on what people actually do with technology. From a practice lens, there is an analytical difference between the usage of a technology and its artefactual character (Orlikowski, 2000). Technological artifacts include material and cultural properties of technology (Orlikowski, 2000), embodied in, as noted earlier, form, function, and affordances. Technology usage, on the other hand, involves а “repeatedly experienced, personally ordered and edited version of the technological artifact, being experienced differently by different individuals and differently by the same individuals depending on the time or circumstance” (Orlikowski, 2000, p. 408). This is the definition of usage aligned with herein. Bodies, spaces, and objects are related and inseparable from practice (Orlikowski & Scott, 2015). When engaging with technology through usage, users enact “technologies-in-practice,” which can be different for different users and different situations and environments (Orlikowski, 2000). An important notion in how to analyze usage practices is that people use materials to accomplish activities (Jarzabkowski & Pinch, 2013). Usage activities and practices happen within a multiplicity of contexts, and they can affect the affordances of an object in terms of repairing them.

Connecting Usage and Business Models

Usage and the Value of Technology

Usage is also highly connected with the value of the technology. The relationship between usage and value has been viewed differently in the literature, from usage as providing an experience of value for the technology, to usage as a process where users create the value of the technology.

Perception of value for users of technology is dependent on how they use a technology in different contexts (Priem, 2007). Customers experience value during their use of technology and a firm’s mission is to maximize the value created and experienced in such usage (Priem, 2007). Value is thus dependent on usage and it can be different in different use situations (Woodruff, 1997; Woodruff & Gardial, 1996). Users have certain goals and desired consequences of use situations, and they will value product attributes that enable them to achieve their goals in these different situations of usage (Woodruff, 1997). Even though this approach has been critiqued based on a lack of the conceptualization of different forms of value (Sánchez-Fernández & Iniesta-Bonillo, 2007), it uniquely conceives value for the customer as a dynamic, emerging, and context-specific concept.

Taking this approach further, value creation for one set of users often can also depend on usage by another set of users (Adner, 2017; Teece, 2018). Complementarity in usage underpins the value proposition in ecosystems (Jacobides et al., 2018). Recent advancements in demand-side strategy research (Priem, 2007; Priem et al., 2012, 2018) has suggested that a consumer perspective on value creation helps in understanding the value propositions that are based on usage. Looking into technology, this perspective argues that technologies become dominant not because of their superior value, but of their integration into a value system based on usage (Priem et al., 2018). Here, the literature is drawing attention to the importance of customer-specific synergies that arise from the benefits of using complementary products together (Schmidt et al., 2016). Taking the demand-side perspective seriously and understanding how customers value technologies in usage can lead to creating de novo value propositions based on this knowledge (Priem et al., 2018).

Another view on usage and value comes from marketing, and the theories about value-in-use. This literature goes a step further and looks into customers not only as arbiters of value (Priem, 2007) but as creators of value. In this view, it is customers who create value (Heinonen et al., 2010), and the way they do it is in use (Grönroos, 2011). The producers provide resources for customers, and they are the integrators of resources who by integrating them in use create value (Grönroos, 2011; Grönroos & Voima, 2013; Gummesson et al., 2014). Customers are creative in this process of resource integration, and they use the resources provided by companies as well as their own (Hibbert et al., 2012). The role of companies in this view is to facilitate the value creation process for the customer.

If usage is indeed a key part of the value creation for a technology and the ecosystems around technology, a better understanding how value is created through usage is needed. Understanding value creation in relation to technology is tied to three technology features: emerging aspects of technology, enabling aspects of technology, and embedding aspects of technology (Kapoor & Teece, 2021).

Usage and Business Models for Emerging Technologies

Emerging aspects of technology relate to the novelty of technology and its emerging trajectory. Technology-market fitting processes are crucial for new technologies, and usage has a significant role in these processes (Howells, 1997).

Usage is what transfers invention into innovation because for a technology to be successful, it needs to be used. In the context of emerging technology, the great challenge is how to design a business model to push forward the adoption of the new technology. Thinking about business models with a usage lens can provide managers with a new set of tools for innovation. There are three distinct ways in which managers can employ usage-based thinking in business model innovation for emerging technology: (a) usage as a source of inspiration, (b) usage as a way for experimentation, and (c) usage as a source of legitimation.

When a technology is new, it is hard to imagine all the potential usages. Sometimes at the early stage, users cannot comprehend the novel type of technology or its benefits (Thoma, 2008). For the producers, one way to think about potential usage is to rely on analogical reasoning and think about technologies which have similar types of usages. For instance, Aryballe, a start-up company which specializes in producing innovative technology for the identification and representation of smells, has a challenge in perceiving how users will use their technology and what kind of value can be created out of this usage. One way to think about their technology use is to think of themselves as a “Shazam of smells” in that the use of Aryballes’ device for smell recognition can be similar to the song recognition function of Shazam.1 Much like Shazam, Aryballe has aimed to build a multisided market. For them, the Shazam business model can provide valuable lessons.

Another way to diminish uncertainty in developing business models for emerging technologies is to engage in business model experimentation (Bocken & Snihur, 2020; Bojovic et al., 2018). For instance, in a study of two start-ups developing a new technology, Bojovic et al. (2018) presented testing usage as a way of exploring value creation and capture for an emerging technology. Through usage-testing experiments, start-ups can probe different ways that one or multiple groups of customers can interact with a technology, and explore what kind of value proposition they will perceive and which elements of value capture can arise from such usage. It is important to understand usage not only as prescribed by the designers, but enacted in practice, as the practice approach to usage suggests.

Another way to think about usage for emerging technologies is that usage is a way to show others that both the technology and the business model can work. This relates to strategic legitimation efforts (Zimmerman & Zeitz, 2002) that are closely connected to business modeling (Bojovic et al., 2018) and business models as performative instruments. The performative display of “use-cases” in start-ups shows this power of usage not only as a learning and experimentation tool but also as a performative practice.

Usage and Business Models for Enabling Technologies

Designing the right business model is a major challenge for enabling technologies because emerging potential general purpose technologies have applications across many markets (Bojovic, 2022; Gambardella & McGahan, 2010; Teece, 2018; Thoma, 2008). The commercialization of such technologies requires business models that can convert technological innovation into market success (Baden-Fuller & Haefliger, 2013), and in the case of enabling technology, this is about success in multiple markets. Business modeling for enabling technologies thus often includes building business model portfolios (Sabatier et al., 2010) and increased experimentation activity to enact those markets (Bojovic et al., 2018).

How does the business modeling and commercialization process unfold for emerging and enabling technologies? Research has suggested the most desirable strategy to commercialize enabling technologies is licensing (Gambardella & McGahan, 2010; Teece, 2018), but it has been emphasized that this process is very complex and difficult. Companies can look into commercialization strategies and business models in a dynamic way, switching between less desirable and more desirable strategies (Bojovic, 2022; Marx & Hsu, 2015). Decisions in business modeling can have a big impact on developing or creating new markets for enabling technology. Thoma (2008) spoke about the example of Echelon, a Silicon Valley start-up, which commercialized a general purpose control technology, and how they managed to overcome difficulties to diffuse the technology by thinking about how to motivate users with a new business model. This meant opening the standard by patenting and then free-licensing and creating a community to diffuse knowledge and information about the technology to potential users. The new business model had a massive impact on adopting the technology across sectors.

The focus on technology usage—and not the technology itself or the customer—provides a way to think about the technology and to shape its acceptance in multiple markets. The example of Aryballe illustrates this. Many start-up producing enabling technologies have arisen from its technology application in a particular sector or industry. Until 2017, Aryballe had a classic techno-push, “market application” thinking, where they identified five market applications (industries) to identify a need for developing smell sensors and devices. However, after 2018 the company switched to usage-based thinking, with three usages for their product/technology, exemplary markets for those, and business models based on usage. The three usages were quality control (for the cosmetics and flavor and fragrance industry, etc.), flavor/fragrance development (for the flavor and fragrance industry), and indoor smell monitoring (in cars or public areas, or for the future in ovens, fridges, etc.). This provided Aryballe with a wider look into possible markets rather than focusing only on industries; moreover, this enabled them to create solutions to utilize synergies arising from usage in multiple market applications.

Usage and Business Models for Embedding Technologies

Kapoor and Teece (2021) drew attention to embedding aspects of technology as “the system of firm-level and ecosystem-level activities that enables a technology’s value creation and capture” (p. 2). Ecosystems form when different actors align to bring a joint value proposition to the users (Adner, 2017). This value also depends on how the technology is integrated with other products, as the value can be created by the complementarity in use (Jacobides et al., 2018).

The rise of digital technologies and enabling technologies has highlighted the significant and rising role of platforms and ecosystems (Teece, 2018), and ecosystems have led to new models of value creation and capture (Adner, 2017). The emerging phenomena of platforms and ecosystems require even more emphasis on users and usage (Amit & Zott, 2021), as the value creation for one set of users can depend on usage by another set of users, a phenomena known as “network effects.” Value proposition is central to understanding ecosystems, as ecosystems emerge when a group of actors align around a value proposition (Adner, 2017). Recent advancements in demand side strategy research (Priem, 2007; Priem et al., 2012, 2018) have emphasized that a consumer perspective on value creation is needed to understand such value propositions. Priem (2007) outlined that value is experienced by the customers during their use of the products and that a firm’s mission is to maximize the value created and experienced in such usage. Complementarity in usage underpins the value proposition in ecosystems (Jacobides et al., 2018). However, even though the literature has identified the importance of usage for understanding the value proposition, further theory development is needed to understand how this usage-based value proposition emerges and leads to the formation of business ecosystems.

How usage becomes central to the value proposition in ecosystems can be illustrated through an example of the transition from devices to an ecosystem in assistive hearing technology. Hearing loss is a condition which affects people in number of ways, such as communication issues, a decrease in quality of life, depression, and even mortality, and studies have shown that the usage of technology helps the hearing impaired live better lives (Cox et al., 2005). Given the importance and benefit of using this kind of technology, it is surprising that historically there has been very low usage of these devices (Cox et al., 2005). Since 2000, there has been an increasing usage and development of assistive listening devices, which are used alone or in combination with hearing aids. There has also been significant innovation in these devices. For instance, a 2021 report from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) showed that over one billion people currently need assistive technology, and this number is expected to double by 2030 due to the aging population (WIPO, 2021).

In 2014, Apple made a significant impact on the hearing aid industry when they closely cooperated with a hearing aid brand GN ReSound and brought Made for iPhone hearing aids to the market. These have been the first hearing aids to connect directly to a smartphone with no intermediate device necessary. Other hearing aid producers quickly followed, introducing their own models of Made for iPhone aids. Apple established a technology platform referred to as the MFI Hearing Aid Platform. Hearing aid manufacturers further developed applications for the Apple Watch, which enabled the users of Made for iPhone aids to use a portable and inconspicuous consumer electronics device to control and adjust their hearing aids remotely. The value proposition of such integration of the watch, smartphone, and hearing aid was in understanding usage situations (e.g., background music in a restaurant) in which users can switch between different devices to accomplish activities in practice. This understanding was based on the practices that users were engaging in before having such enabling technologies to connect different devices together to address it.

Apple’s understanding of the importance of usage situations and locations was also evident in the patent application they submitted in 2012 for a “hearing aid social network.” The idea behind this was that the hearing aids of different users can connect to each other and share optimal settings for a specific environment. Apple stepped further with writing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2016 and asking for improvement in the Hearing Aid Compatibility Rules to include their MIF Platform as a legitimate alternative to the traditional telecoil technology.

Five years later in 2018, GN ReSound announced a partnership with Google to bring the same kind of functionalities for Android phones. Building upon these trends and innovations brought by ecosystems with smartphone companies, one of the market leaders in hearing care, Sonova, launched its own wireless chip SWORDTM, which enabled the universal connectivity to all Bluetooth devices for both Android and iPhone smartphones. This “Made for ALL” platform enabled the launch of new devices, such as Phonak Marvel. In 2018, the company presented this device as the first hearing aid to be able to create a complete usage ecosystem by providing connectivity to smartphones and enabling streaming of music, TV, and other sources directly to the hearing aid.

Discussion and Conclusion

This section provides an overview and synthesis of the ideas presented in this article. The arguments are also summarized in Table 2.

Table 2. Summary of Main Arguments


Main argument

Understanding business models and their relationship with technology

Understanding of business models has evolved from what business models are (description of the business; a mental model) to what they actually do (tools for experimentation and legitimation).

Different views exist about business model design for new technologies (e.g., business model design themes; configurational approach; ecosystemic approach).

Need to better understand how multiple types of users and usage of technology contribute to business model design.

Understanding technology usage

Understanding how products and technologies are used is critical for the process of innovation, yet understanding the concept of technology usage received scattered and sporadic attention (as implicit in the notions of “user” or “technology”).

Practice theory approach offers a lens to investigate what people do when they are using technology and how they construct technology through usage.

Linking business models and technology usage

Usage is a pathway to create a new understanding of the value of technology in the context of emerging, enabling, and embedding technologies.

There are four distinct ways in which managers can employ usage-based thinking in business model innovation for emerging technology: (a) usage as a source of inspiration, (b) usage as a way for experimentation, and (c) usage as a source of legitimation.

Focus on technology usage, and not technology or the customer itself, provides a way to think about the enabling technology and to shape its acceptance in multiple markets.

Usage becomes a central value proposition in ecosystems and drives business models for embedding technologies.

This work outlined different views of the business model concept, first evolving from a representation of the reality of the firm, then toward a cognitive model for exploring different ways of creating and capturing value, and finally to a performative device to experiment and convince. The article has also explored business model design for new technologies in different ways. Yet, these conceptualizations are too narrow and focus on one specific technology with a limited potential to explain the value creation and capture coming from the emerging, enabling, and embedding aspects of technology (Kapoor & Teece, 2021). This article proposes a new focus on technology usage as a way to explore business modeling that looks into how different technologies are integrated, either by users or platform actors, into solutions to address specific usage needs.

Looking into technology usage, this work outlined different ways in which literatures in innovation, strategy, and management have explored this concept. Furthermore, the two concepts are brought together and explored how usage and value of technology connect, and specifically how usage can underpin business modeling for technology.

To summarize, usage has different roles in business model design. First, usage shapes a value proposition of technology. When designing or reinventing a business model, managers can think about the dynamics of the usage. If they are creating a completely new technology, they can create a new type of usage or transpose usage from a similar technology. Looking into value-in-use and usage behaviors can help companies redesign the value proposition during the business model experimentation stage to improve the chances of adoption of the new technology.

A more critical way that usage affects business modeling is through its connective features. The usage of one group of customers can create multiple types of value for other groups, which can in turn create more opportunities for value creation and capture for the technology producer or technology platform organizer. Usage can create important network and learning effects that can underpin multisided business models. Usage can also create legitimation effects for emerging and enabling technologies. In this sense, usage can complement the traditional view of technology applications and markets for technology.


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  • 1. Shazam is an application owned by Apple, Inc. that can recognize and identify music based on a short sample played.