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The Walled Gardens of Business Applications

Published on Oct 1, 2013 at 10:16 am in Tech Trends.

This post also appeared in The Tennessean, where Concept Technology has a bi-weekly feature in the Business section.

A lot has changed in the past 15 years. In 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google, Apple unveiled its first iMac and the U.S. government posted a budget surplus for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Fast-forward to today: Google is cranking out more than $33 billion in annual revenue, Apple has moved onto tablets and we all know too well the budget woes of the U.S. and other national governments.

Enterprise computing has changed just as drastically in the past 15 years, too. Evolving from the clunky, hardware-heavy mainframe model to the future of Web 3.0 and the cloud, the changes that computing brought to the workplace, and entire industries, cannot be overstated.

There’s virtualization, cloud computing, smartphone technology and the Bring Your Own Device phenomenon, to name a few changes. But perhaps the most wide-reaching change is the way that enterprises use technology to exchange information.

Fifteen years ago, most applications that businesses used — and enterprise information technology in general — existed independently. Think of the set-up as a series of “walled gardens.” Each business and IT department lived behind its high walls, cultivating its information in a closed ecosystem and existing in isolation from other datasets.

walled-gardenIf, for one reason or another, two walled gardens needed to cross-pollinate and share information, enabling this exchange was extremely difficult. To accomplish this, businesses had to put together a mess of programmers and implement a full-scale, and oftentimes expensive, project. They also needed to handle huge security concerns as well.

Exchange expected

Today, business applications are designed to share information and enterprise IT departments are expected to interact. If you build an application today that can’t exchange information easily and quickly with other applications, people quickly think, “Gosh, what kind of dinosaur are you?”

So, what made this change possible?

Without getting too technical, in the early 2000s, developers began to use Representational State Transfer, which is a set of design principles that provide a simple way to organize interactions between independent systems — or the walled gardens in our analogy.

REST is used to create Web Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for products. By using the infrastructure of the internet to move your data around, APIs let us exchange information in a very effective way. Twitter, for example, uses a REST API through which developers can access tweets and other information for their organizations.

Nowadays, even if you run a small business, if you employ just one person who has some programming experience you can integrate your business applications at minimal cost. This is a good thing because it lets you link the business functionality of your applications and take advantage of best practices.

Information exchange has changed the economics of enterprise technology, and many of the economics of doing business today.

Walled gardens are quaint, but we wouldn’t want to go back to an environment in which business applications didn’t talk to one another and information exchange between applications was unusual.


photo credit: Jayembee69 via photopin cc