As IT becomes more consumerized and cloud computing becomes more of a reality, the app itself is becoming almost irrelevant across enterprises. As the desktop PC model has morphed into the network, and as the network has become just another extension of the Internet, it is all about the API, the ways that apps talk to each other that has made them front and center to today’s corporate computing infrastructures.
Pam Baker has written hundreds of articles in leading technology, business and finance publications. She has also authored several analytical studies on technology, eight books and an award-winning documentary on paper-making. She is a member of the National Press Club (NPC), Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the Internet Press Guild (IPG). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @bakercom1.
Remember the old days, when a mainframe or PC operating system dictated what corporations would buy and support? They seem so quaint now. “Anything that’s platform-specific is doomed,” agrees Peter Price, Webalo’s CEO. “Employees are driving the need to have mobile enterprise apps work on the devices they prefer,” explains Price.
Part of this trend is that more of our business computing has gone mobile: last year smartphones outsold PCs for the first time.
Trying to wrest control over this rapidly evolving situation is impossible. IT can try to control which phones are being used across the enterprise, but it is a doomed exercise. “That results in new apps that IT has to maintain and update, apps that consume storage space on smartphones and tablets and apps that can take months to prototype, develop, test and deploy,” says Price. “And they still require the purchase and installation of the mobile development software and, often, the use of consultants to integrate the software and provide implementation and training assistance, since IT skills are mandatory.”
Then along came the cloud with its “pay by the sip” affordability and its superior abilities in mass distribution.
“There are two things that consumerization of IT and the cloud bring to the table: atomization of applications and distribution of processing, incidentally, two of the largest promises of true cloud computing,” says CRM guru, Esteban Kolsky, founder and principal at ThinkJar consulting.
With the rise of the API and the atomization of apps comes a release from the prerequisite over-hyped, over-bloated and cumbersome software platform. This new generation of apps is built and sold as independent atoms that can integrate with a wide variety of software tools and apps to form highly customized molecules. Remember reusable object-oriented code? This time around the apps are built like Lego’s and connect to one another with flexibility and ease. In this latest case, though, the little building blocks are the beginnings of programming interfaces between the apps themselves. What is important is not the code itself, but what is being communicated between programs. Compare the first Tron with last year’s sequel: the Master Control Program is irrelevant.
As integration is built in for the convenience of the user what software is used becomes more and more irrelevant to everyone. That being the case, one wonders how much longer the clunky software platform models can continue to be profitable and how fast devices may become obsolete (at least in terms of relevance to the buyer).
“The distribution opens the world of remote operations and multiple providers to bear,” explains Kolsky. “Any small vendor who knows how to, literally, build a better mousetrap can now get people interested in it to use its systems on a per-use or rental basis. This basically makes any small vendor competitive with the larger ones – even more appropriate against those that have not adopted this model.”
For now, these APIs tend to be seen only by developers, although end users are catching on and voting with their mouse clicks at various app stores. And while there are a few critics claiming that many APIs aren’t quite fully baked for enterprise use, others realize their agility and simplicity and the power of choice. Enterprises want everything to work with everything else. That’s precisely what these new APIs provide.
“Users benefit because they can automatically route their applications to any other remote component as they need, with minimal preparation,” says Kolsky.
I offer for your esteemed consideration the following exemplary examples of this new breed of APIs, in no particular order of importance:
- TweetRoost by MediaRoost is an inversion of social CRM (sCRM) in that it is a social media product with CRM built-in, rather than the other way around, thus enabling sales, service desk and support personnel to work directly in Twitter. It integrates with Salesforce.com and Zendesk but requires the user to own or use neither.
- HYVE is enterprise application suite that combines social networking, geo-location and analytics tools in a mobile platform for internal collaboration. It’s produced by DoubleDutch, a software start-up in San Francisco. HYVE’s API is compatible with SAP, SalesForce, Oracle and other workflows typically embraced by large companies. Cisco, HP and other big corporate brands are already using the application within specific workgroups.
- Bime is a business intelligence (BI) app by We Are Cloud, a privately funded French start-up based in the academic R&D hotbed of Montpellier. Bime is able to work with a variety of platforms including, but not limited to: Google Docs, SalesForce, Oracle, PostgreSQL, Mysql, Microsoft Sql Server, FireBird, Informix, SADAS and IBM DB2.
- TeamViewer is remote support and presentation software that is superb for screen-sharing and file transfers and even offers easy means to flip user control. Features include a whiteboard, video screen capture, chat, VoIP, integrated teleconferencing and other neat functionality without requiring firewall reconfiguration. The TeamViewer app can be installed on any device but it can also be used simply through a web browser without any installation necessary. Inter-platform connections are easy and seamless.
- EchoSign is a cloud-based e-signature and contract management service which allows users to edit, redline and track changes, revise and negotiate 100% online by leveraging both Google Docs and Microsoft Word. It can be accessed from any mobile device and is integrated with a number of systems including SAP, Salesforce, NetSuite, SugarCRM, Google Apps, DropBox, Box.net, Xobni, Evernote and many more. It was acquired just a few days ago by Adobe and is now slated to become part of Adobe’s document services.