As the end of the year approaches, people the world over naturally start thinking on the year that has passed and the year ahead. These thoughts typically center on the big changes of the past year and how they might portend to the year ahead. CMSWire is no different, as the theme for December is diving deep on how collaboration, information and customer experience management will change in 2012. As usual for me, I have a little bit of a different take than the rest of the pundits and as I'm not afraid to go out on a limb, I'm gonna tackle all three at once!
Three Birds, One Stone
How can I be so audacious, you ask? That's simple: Because they all have one answer. These three aspects will start a convergence in 2012 to a singular point. Linked enterprises will align their goals and collaboratively share information in an effort to create compelling new content and data-oriented experiences for each other as the "platformification" craze that's sweeping big IT enterprises gains more momentum and clarity, regarding the beneficial, and currently untapped, opportunities that stand to be gained.
The current drivers behind the open API movement revolve around several business concepts:
- Reach -- Increases in reach can be achieved when you create an easily consumable set of services to allow data, content and features to be spread far and wide. NPR is both the pioneer and the winner here in that they used their open API strategy as a means of spreading their content far and wide, but always with a hook to draw the user back to NPR.com which ultimately doubled their traffic.
- Ubiquity -- this is similar to, but not the same as, reach because in this context it more precisely refers to being always available through multiple memes. Netflix is the leader here, though not intentionally. Netflix's unintentional shrewdness here has been its saving grace; it's really hard for the masses to axe their subscriptions when Netflix's API has made a future where Netflix's content is available on just about every consumer electronic device that has a screen (and a whole bunch that doesn't as well). What Netflix was attempting to go after was something different.
- Diversity -- Diversity is what Netflix was originally shooting for in its 1000 flowers strategy. This strategy was inspired by the rampant platform success of Twitter. Twitter's simple, popular and abstracted platform have been combined in so many different ways that it has created a virtuous cycle that drives its popularity, which drives its diversity, which drives its popularity and so on.
- Indirect Revenue -- When you combine two of the above three items, enterprises will find a way to get someone to pay cash for the API (if not more than one someone).
- Direct Revenue -- For those who are unaware, Amazon's cloud services are all available via a programmatic API that is rumored to be responsible for US$ 1 billion in revenue for 2011 and shows no signs of slowing. BazaarVoice (founded a year before AWS was launched) has built an entire business based on an open platform of data and feature-functionality, and is the acknowledged king of online product reviews.
Creating Predictable Unpredictability
At this point, the prime method of API socialization has been scattershot "hackathons" sponsored by the API owners and the API technology enablers like Apigee, Mashery and 3scale. These hackathons are like developer flashmobs, organized around the country, where an open call will go out to the random creatively motivated developers to come and build something cool.
So far, I have not said anything that isn't old news, but this is where I see the big opportunity. I'm not saying that the shotgun approach of hackathons will die a quick death, because the hackathons are just about the only scenario that can affect an outcome associated with the diversity metric. Given that the most innovative and unconventional solutions will emerge from places where endemic boundaries are not perceived by the developer community being targeted, what I expect to see here is:
- Business, product, experience and content strategists will begin to understand how they can guide an API composition and socialization strategy in an effort to evoke collaborative, silo-breaking concepts.
- API service providers will begin to offer consultative services to their customers focused on driving specific outcomes rather than generic openness.
Adding to the Arsenal
As I said above, I don't believe that the continuing but nuanced scenario of "outsourcing your experience design" will be the biggest change in 2012. Rather, I believe that we are going to see more companies add a "sniper" approach to their outreach arsenal as enterprises wake up to the potential of opening up their computing assets, socialization and community. The enterprises' collective focus will turn to those with shared interests along their value chains. Some natural partnerships that I believe will be emerging soon:
- Manufacturers and Retailers -- Experience mashups between OEMs and their retailers (specialty retailers, department stores, big box retailers, etc) are among the most linear plays here and will start to emerge rapidly. For example: JC Penney and Martha Stewart Living have formed a business partnership; I would not be surprised to see a "technology partnership" emerge where the borders of the online experiences for these companies start to blur as the rise of platforms and APIs take root.
- Distribution Portals and Content Creators -- As the music industry continues to implode, new mechanisms to drive engagement must emerge if this industry intends to survive. Information sharing and experiences augmented through collaborative usage of shared data and insight are natural plays, both in shared value creation and driving costs and redundancies out. An additional trend I see furthering in this vein, due to the affordance and simplicity of API-based content and information sharing, is that less focus will be paid to content exclusivity and more attention will be driven towards maximizing revenue and engagement opportunities.
In the end, I believe that the results from both these avenues will form a complementary and mutually-reinforcing innovation lifecycle as more enterprises see success stories from the efforts of others and create cross-pollinating collaboration programs to drive innovative and incremental improvements to their experience offerings and their bottom lines.