|By Sean Rhody||
|August 4, 2008 04:00 PM EDT||
When I was a kid, which seems like just yesterday (and no comments from the peanut gallery), I loved playing with LEGO, making imaginary ray guns, space ships, and other things that amuse the average boy. LEGO's popularity and longevity have to be due in no small part to the ability to assemble a new creation from basic components.
Mashups are the IT version of LEGO (or at least the creations we used to make with all the little blocks). They are part of the breakthrough we've been waiting for in the user interface space for quite some time. Our interfaces had become boring, and just like the silos of application functionality that we are trying to dismantle using SOA, our interfaces have been isolated areas on our screen. They overlap, they cover one another, but they never intersect, no matter how much we'd like them to.
Recently it became apparent to me how much mashups are a part of our future, and, more important, how we can come to rely on them without even realizing it. I've been using some real estate sites and have gotten used to mapping and overlays and the ability to resize the maps. Nothing remarkable, really, but I also received an e-mail from a vendor that included a link to a map for the location. When I went to the site, I was disappointed - the map was simply a static image, rather than one I could adjust so I could see routes and other points of interest. I even muttered "How Web 1.0" under my breath. Clearly, I've become spoiled by the capabilities and possibilities that Web 2.0 and SOA offer.
Harvesting these capabilities is the true task of the IT organization, especially the CTO. Keeping the servers up and running the existing applications is definitely a vital part of the IT mission, but it's table stakes - it gets you into the game, or keeps you in it, but you don't win the game with excellence around data centers. You win by adopting new technologies and visioning the future of your business with them in your mix.
Innovation in business is vital to success - whether it is the initial success of a startup or the continued market dominance of a business leader. Technology plays a large role in many market-leading strategies for continued success. Seldom, however, is the differentiator purely or even mainly a technology - it's the business innovation that allows for differentiation that determines who succeeds. In a sense, that "IT Doesn't Matter" article was right - it's not about technology capabilities. But it is about technology application.
The real estate sites that I've been using are a good example. There's a common source of data - the multiple listing service - that is pretty much the table stakes of the game. Without it, you can't locate properties that are for sale. But that basic capability doesn't allow for any differentiation. Now add in the concept of a mashup using a map and you start to see how sites differentiate themselves. Some allow for mapping of properties onto the map, with brief pop-up descriptions of each property within the area. I found these to be particularly useful, because sometimes you want to see what's for sale in a neighborhood, to gauge the worth of a particular listing, or to explore just how volatile a neighborhood's ownership may be.
None of the sites were perfect, which is probably due to the nature of real estate purchases - very few transactions will occur online, so business differentiation in listings will probably never be the area where agencies concentrate permanently. Still, while they have an advantage, I'd be more tempted to go with a broker who had the better site - all things being equal, I tend to favor those who have their IT act together; it speaks to efficiency.
Knowing that a business advantage may dissolve at any time is also a key factor in innovation. You can't rest. You have to have a culture of innovation, of continually striving to be best. Whether that's with technology, business process, customer service, or just plain building a better castle out of LEGO, it's what sets the leaders apart from the rest of the herd.
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