The term, "vendor lock-in" strikes terror throughout the IT community. And yet in reality, many companies are pursuing strategies destined to increase their dependence on a limited number of vendors mostly driven by the ineffectiveness of IT to provide simple connectivity capabilities between various corporate applications.
By shrinking the number of vendors, IT is actually creating vendor lock-in. Instead, IT should be aligned with its business users as they seek to increase information access, both internally and externally, by promoting increased vendor participation - more expansion, inclusion and diversity of information sources. Restricting information flow is a flawed control tactic doomed to fail.
At a recent IT forum, attending CIOs were asked, "How many cloud offerings do you currently have in your organization?" The responses varied, but many had more than a dozen presently and growing. One of the CIO panelists noted, "We are now beginning to restrict the expansion of cloud offerings in the company. We slap their hands if they add any more."
That was a disheartening response. Policing their customers (the business users) is not a viable solution. How about being less CIOfficer and more CIOptimizer?
The Crowd-Sourced Browser Standard
Standards and controls are two words not often associated with innovation (unless you're channeling Steve Jobs). IT has traditionally looked to organized standards committees such as ISO, IEEE, SESC, ITU, ASME, SOA and ASTM to establish the rules of engagement. Of course, there is value in establishing guidelines and policies, but too often blind adherence and company-wide implementations of restrictive procedures trigger a sense of incompetence directed at IT organizations.
Consider crowdsourcing, which leverages the decentralization of tasks and the delegation of these tasks to a community of users. One of the most important and universally accepted user-interface standards ever established is the Web browser. Although the W3C and others are now involved, this powerful and transformational user experience was largely established via crowdsourcing, not some previously established standards body.
IT has a history littered with rigid adherence to standards bodies and their overly complex and convoluted dogma. Enterprise business users, on the other hand, act like a "crowd," seeking solutions via disruptive and transformational sources in real-time.
This is playing out due to the confluence of three noteworthy developments disrupting companies and IT organizations:
1. Cloud Computing
2. Applications, Interactions and Transactions
3. Business Users
The cloud is a key agent of change for lines of business and IT. Enough said.
Applications (including mobile) are the next "land grab" by business users. Coupled with cloud access, users can now order an application directly from a vendor - creating a new data source - rather than ask IT for permission. Given modern application development environments like GWT (Google Web Tool Kit), new applications can be designed, developed and deployed in a fraction of the time and cost previously required. Combined with an impatient business user community, an eruption in the number of enterprise applications and transactions is just on the horizon.
Consumer Application Integration
Business users want to automate the access of information and data that they do not control. Therefore, addressing the next business user impasse is now underway; business users will drive application interactions via a self-service model.
The early stages of basic consumer integration have arrived with companies like IFTTT.com (IF This Then That) simplifying the integration process by helping users stitch together external Internet websites (with APIs) and perform routine application integrations. Is this "industrial strength" for enterprise consumption? Probably not just yet, but it's coming.
IT can choose to ignore or restrict these trends, but enterprise workers already beginning to use these sources to automate their work day. Increasing numbers of interactions, integrations and extractions will swell the number of transactions. You can expect that API restrictions will eventually be lifted and application interactions will become a commonplace routine of business users.
The blurring of traditional company firewalls is underway. Corporate data and information access will reside inside and outside of the corporation. Cloud Infrastructures will serve the needs of the masses, but integrating applications are the keys to the kingdom. The choice for IT is whether to facilitate these changes or fight for control with their business customers.
Innovation leadership, anyone?