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The New ROI: A Return on Innovation, and Using Data to Do It

Platforms on the horizon

What do you get when you mash - for an entire weekend - the innovators of a globally respected brand like American Express with companies like Foursquare, Etsy, Mashery, Hyperpublic, NYC Open Data, Ordr.in, Constant Contact, and General Assembly? You get innovation. What do you get when you add roughly 100 freelance developers to the mix, spinning up new data and application concepts in amazingly social, self-organizing teams? You get the business of innovation. And that is why American Express OPEN Forum launched its first Open APIs at the "Reinventlocal" Hackathon this past weekend at General Assembly in New York City.

The take away for the almost 200 in attendance: open data is good business...and can inspire company doers and external developers alike to accelerate commercial innovation, especially when a globally respected brand gets behind the movement.

At first glance one cannot help take note of the almost impossible task of merging the words "American Express" and "hackathon" under one event umbrella, but Scott Roen of Amex OPEN Forum did just that. He suspected before the hackathon that innovation could in fact come from the outside, even if the "outsiders" (aka developers) break a company's long-held views of what innovation even looks like.

CIOs and CMOs should both take notice. Innovation is possible once again, though admittedly it takes thick skin to run a hackathon at a Fortune 500. You might not like what developers and data partners say about your brand and relevance in the digital space.

Ask if your CEO has even heard of a hackathon, this esoteric (yet amazingly efficient) forum where data meets talent, and 36-hour technology inventions become the personal mission for innovation bragging rights and developer "street cred." What a CEO wouldn't pay for that type of technology passion, data dexterity, and creativity.

There is a larger lesson from this past weekend's "other event," a message for big business and a market demanding their exploration of innovation through data. The web (now synonymous with the word, world) is changing rapidly, not around technology but straight through it. By now most businesses have some common technology infrastructures but not every business has the same data nor the agility to act upon it, and herein lays the source for a new landscape of competitive advantage. Every business needs to think like a platform. How companies harness the power of their data is no longer just one factor in commercial success, it is becoming the factor.

Data trading and data innovation is creating new data utility companies - new platforms - creating windfall gains for those businesses that see the economics of data as a service. Open platforms like Klout, Foursquare, ESPN, and Expedia are examples of strong brands that know how to manage high volumes of diverse data efficiently, creatively, and persistently. While American Express is an early entrant to the platform space, the launch of their first open APIs and their leadership to host this hackathon clearly shows "they get it" and do not fear innovation from the outside. Consider the developers at your hackathon the warning party, the harbingers, the reality check, of whether your data excites and extends...or whether some else's does.

At Reinventlocal new concepts were developed such as Poorsquare, a social commerce and location app for people that want stuff "free" and Building.ly, the app that ties various data sets in your community around the nexus of your apartment or work building - and the people socially a part of those physical structures. In all, there were over 20 new innovations for mashing location data, social graphs, and merchant information (like those invited by American Express). More than 20 new passionate inventions of data creativity, some great, some not-so-great, but the return on innovation for developers and small businesses to come together for the weekend was as measurable as it was meaningful. As Hilary Mason of Bit.ly observed at the hackathon, "data offers even the smallest business new possibilities to think differently, act quickly...and compete."

I came away with the conclusion that every Fortune 500 CEO needs to think "open."  And with the emerging platform world in our midst, open might just mean open for business.

More Stories By Drew Bartkiewicz

Drew Bartkiewicz is founder of Apinomic, a NY agency that specializes in the business of data platforms and digital channels that leverage managed API's. As a former VP Strategy Services at Mashery, and alumnus of salesforce.com, BroadVision, and The Hartford, Drew has helped build over 25 successful data platforms (3 he founded) and was selected for several Future of the Internet initiatives with the World Economic Forum. Drew has previously founded two successful companies in NYC, CyberFactors and CloudInsure, and is often sought as a speaker and writer on technology trends and their impact on culture and business.

Drew possesses a Bachelors of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from the Yale School of Management. He speaks four languages and is an advisor to several early stage NYC start ups. In addition to consulting brands for API Strategy, he is also the Founder of wwww.lettrs.com, the cloud platform for letters, after spending time with youth organizations, technophiles, and his kids discussing ways to elevate their impact in life through the thoughtful fusion of technology and letter writing as a timeless and necessary craft.