After the first edition of The Elastic Enterprise the idea of connectors, one of the five dynamics we identified,  took root in the business community. In the space of a couple of years new ideas around connectors emerged and developers, start-ups and not-so-young companies began creating new, friction-reducing products as part of the new business infrastructure. It also made me realize that is the real back story to the elastic enterprise: the creation of the new business infrastructure.

One of these is Ping Identity. I wrote about Ping and identity recently on Forbes:

Identity is the new universal connector, the technology that is making seamless, friction-free business happen. It invites companies to become adaptive and nimble. Previous (and continuing) examples include RSS in content and APIs more generally.

But there is also another area, billing. I got talking recently to the folks at MetraTech whose billing solution is being used by airports like GRU in Brazil to stitch together new business models and incentive schemes for a broadening community of concessions. I’ll be writing about that soon for GigaOm research:

Without a billing partner that can help deploy a settlement system across the whole partner base, the airport (GRU) will have to rely on manual monthly transaction management – old ERP. In place of that it uses Metra Tech’s relationship billing system.

The billing system is in fact built on its own abstract or metadata model rather than being specifically designed for airports or any vertical. That makes it highly adaptive and explains why Metra Tech can function with a small organizational footprint. Vertical service integrators can quickly adapt the platform to a specific client in a specific sector.

Translated into an abstract operating model, the billing metadata model becomes the key connector, enabling a wide range of business relationships at variable settlement rates. It reduces friction, meaning none of the business partnerships needs to be managed on a day-to-day or month-to-month basis. And it enables the partnerships to maintain flexibility.

Enterprises can improve their performance and flexibility by adopting connector technologies. The context for that could be the idea of federation or simply universal access. Companies can federate services between multiple partners providing customers with one single signon. Or they can provide their own workforce and partners with single point of access to a wide variety of cloud services.

Either way the idea is to take pain and friction out of connection. Something similar happens when platforms like Apprenda provide customers with a way to migrate assets quickly to the Cloud. Sounds complex but it simply means providing enterprises with a way to unlock information silos by moving the assets into a space where they can be made accessible.

Connectors look like the unsung heroes of innovation. They are not glamorous but they are part of the new infrastructure of business, rapidly being constructed by companies like Ping, MetraTech and Apprenda. Do you have a connector strategy?

The Role of Social In The Future Enterprise

Social media is like search engine optimization. It is easy to self-educate, it is slightly complex, but it is also game-like. In both cases the market or audience gives you feedback – you get likes or Tweets or analytics that tell you how many readers you got and who liked what. You know where to go next with it.

What it also does is distract you from the real purpose of communications – figuring out something valuable to say and laying it out for people to make a judgment or a contribution.

Are social media activities the best ways for an economy or an enterprise to market products? A low friction economy would rely on individuals to communicate their preferences to friends word of mouth. Continue reading

Facebook and the Rise of Universal Connectors

In the run up to the Facebook IPO a number of commentators on social networking have made the point that the pre-eminent social networking site is actually not good at mobility. The consumer rush towards mobile devices left Facebook ill prepared with effective mobile ad inventory. That made me think of our “universal connectors” concept.

Universal connectors needs to be seen as the dominant trend in business, forcing behavior and strategy change onto companies. Continue reading

Pebble Technology and its “Watch” — A Start-up Surging with Elasticity

With thousands of others, I just became an official backer on Kickstarter of the Pebble, a watch, really a wearable computing device that interfaces seamlessly, conveniently, and wirelessly  with Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android OS phones.

The Pebble / Pebble Technology

Over the past two months I’ve written twice about wearable computing – coming from mainline firms, Nike (the FuelBand) and Google (Google glasses). Nike and Google are well-established elastic enterprises and benefit from the elasticity that they have built into their companies. Their wearable devices add new levels of engagement and options for  their huge base of customers.

But Pebble Technology, the maker of Pebble, is a startup.  It also has a noteworthy distinction: it raised over $1 Million dollars from supporters on Kickstarter in 28 hours – for a product that is not yet in production.   But a snappy video and a low-key pitch inspired thousands to make an “investment.”  The Pebble folks also smartly provided “investors” with various contribution options, from a minimum of $99 to a high of $10,000, but each level will receive 1 or more Pebble watches when they are produced sometime in the fall of 2012. Continue reading

Explaining the Value of an API

We’re always on the lookout for writers who explain succintly any aspect of the five dynamics. Dan Woods over on Forbes has written a great article on explaining an API to your CEO.

Here’s a diagram Dan uses to explain the API value chain and it makes the value proposition beautifully simple:

From Dan Woods,

Dan and his colleagues have written a book on the business value of APIs. Rather than summarise it I advise you to start with the Forbes article, where there is a link to the book.

Netflix and Its API Strategy: Benefits and How-TO

Netflix have a Slideshare presentation about their API strategy which just about beats anything I’ve ever read as an explanation for how to make an API strategy work. It’s only a little bit technical, which is necessary, and wonderfully describes the business priorities that go into shaping the API strategy. I particularly like the way it illustrates scale – the Netflix API handles 10 billion requets per month (as of November 2010) and peaks at 10,000 per second. Presenter is Michael Hart – be sure to read the speaker notes.

Thinking About a New Way To Scale

In The Elastic Enterprise we introduce the term universal connector to describe technology that makes business much easier to scale. Why is this idea so important? Making it easy to scale business is transparently important but can it be true that something so little known as an API or an RSS feed can be pivotal to business?

Surely products like the iPhone or Android are what change the world? Continue reading

Your Calendar as a Universal Connector

We’ve defined universal connectors pretty much in terms of what we see out there – what they do. So a universal connector is RSS, an API or a stream.

In each case there is a software layer between an application and the World Wide Web, which gives us friction-free access to assets. In other words an application like a blog platform has a layer called RSS which allows us to distribute or call text from the blog to some other website or reader software.

Such connectors allow us to use remotely accessed assets to build business opportunity. In the case of RSS plenty of websites access other people’s content and then use those assets to populate their own sites.

That explanation might still seem a little opaque so I want to take the idea further with an example that might make the nature and power of connectors more immediate and obvious. Continue reading

Much Ado about Apps – A Long Transformative Tail (Part One)

By now anyone who has a smartphone or a tablet also has an app, or rather, several pages of apps.  Apps are ubiquitous in digital life.

Apps alone can provide business benefit.  But apps plus a business platform, plus a business ecosystem, plus universal connectors can  position the enterprise to become elastic, primed for highly scaleable growth.

In this post we will describe how apps are being used to create elasticity through the customer ecosystem, improving customer engagement, customer experience and customer innovation.  In a second post, we’ll describe how apps are used to make the enterprise more elastic through different ecosysstem communities.

via Wikimedia Commons"Fruit Seller"

" Fruit Seller" Louise Moillon, 1631

Let’s start with the customer ecosystem.  The Baroque era, 17th Century painting by Louise Moillon, “Fruit Seller,” captures the essence of the merchant and customer relationship.  The customer contemplates the basket of fruit and considers whether the product might fulfill a need.  The painting embodies the customer lifecycle, as it has existed for eons, in one dramatic and artistic moment.

But today, the customer ecosystem expresses the dimensions of customer life in a highly connected world.  Customers talk with other customers.  Customers talk with competitors.  Customers share experiences about products.  Customers help other customers.  And in some cases, customers help companies make products and services better.  With the right app strategy an enterprise can engage the customer in ways never possible before, transform their company and create a long tail for competitive growth.

Continue reading

What is a Universal Connector?

A universal connector is an important concept in the growth of the elastic enterprise, so we’d better explain it. Here’s how we introduce the concept in Chapter 2 of the book, with reference to RSS:

Think back to the early days of the World Wide Web. Suddenly a small symbol or acronym began appearing on websites, particularly those that hosted original content. The acronym was RSS and for many people it is still a mystery.

RSS though is one powerful example of anonymized business relationships at work. RSS stands for really simple syndication. It means, with a few mouse clicks, allowing people to access your content in a stream direct from the content host’s servers.

Why was this important? Because it meant content owners could suddenly make a permanent connection with readers. Once a reader clicked RSS, the content creator’s content would automatically be sent to the reader, on publication. This was a new form of syndication, pulled initially by users.

RSS is a universal connector.

It is important not just because it allowed the web, as we know it, to evolve. It also allowed new businesses to scale at low cost. Think of the Huffington Post, built for the most part by aggregating feeds from other blogs. In a relatively short span of time it had 6,000 writers.

Something similar happens with APIs – application programming interfaces, another universal connector. Continue reading