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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Service Aggregates - Systems, not Silos

We consciously design items for efficiency and intuitive use - it's time we start doing the same thing with service systems.

Operation: Integrate All the Things!
A few nights ago, I was sitting on my couch about to get down with a bottle of wine and some Netflix. I grabbed my phone and opened the XBox SmartGlass app, which basically works like a virtual game-slash-remote controller. As I was mindlessly scrolling, my dude and roommate — an audio engineer — walked in with his iPad, frustrated and annoyed that this new interface app he’d downloaded allowed him to create and manipulate different sounds, but didn’t automatically sync up with his main program, or allow him to save audio files to Dropbox.
Totally ridiculous, I thought. I’m a social media manager for a software company, and if there’s anything I know, it’s that there’s little point to using multiple tools if they don’t work together. First world problems, right? Even so, if we’re supposed to be working towards a more intelligent internet — especially in an era of unapologetic demands for instant gratification — we have to anticipate that people expect everything (and I do mean everything) to integrate and operate seamlessly, regardless of platform, device, or even location.

The Privilege of a Never-ending Curve

There’s a reason I mentioned SmartGlass. In my world, being able to use a phone to control my TV is a given, and you’d better believe I’m throwing a fit if I have to take more than one photo of a check in order to deposit it. We’re technologically spoiled, yes, but if history serves, it’s always the most innovative solutions that are born from the pursuit of efficiency, convenience, and an inherent need to take human genius to the very edge of inception.
Product and service integration is a huge part of that in our ever-more-digital world, and it’s forcing us all into an environment rife with opportunity and driven by assumption. It’s not quite like when I tried to lock my apartment door with my automatic car key, but the shock of non-integrated systems is always, at best, unpleasant and confusing — we’re no longer equipped to comprehend disparity, and the vast majority of consumers depend upon all industries to understand that, avoid it, and visualize solutions before they’ve become problems.
Deep-seated psychological issue? Maybe. But what’s kind of beautiful about this never-ending curve everyone’s so desperate to stay ahead of is that it’s a catalyst for inspiration. It’s no longer an option to wait it out and jump on the bandwagon when it feels safe and secure to do so. And, as the market ramps up its demand for confluence, we’re watching the interconnectivity and interoperability of platforms and applications explode into mainstream development tactics. The result is an impact on the internet-centric market that’s still strictly tied to supply and demand, but that’s also more consumer-focused than it’s ever been — a shift of power that’s opened up tons of new room for exploration, testing, and valuable failures.


Obviously, consumers don’t expect companies to be clairvoyant in the literal sense, but it’s important that organizations don’t rely too heavily on market empathy, either. Mainly because it doesn’t really have any, but also because the average customer doesn’t always consider themselves responsible for driving invention. A business creates a new toy or cool service and they adopt it; meanwhile the business is combing the market for clues and patterns, simultaneously dreading and dependent on peer-review threads.
Regardless of the fact that new options continuously pop up,  integration strategies — and the protocol to execute them — have to be at the heart of all business initiatives, particularly those that are web, mobile, and cloud-based. And that can be exceptionally intimidating for enterprise architects and project managers, two groups of industry players facing a level of disruption that’s changing more than how they think about product expansion; it’s changing how they conceive of what they do, period.
Dave West, CPO for Tasktop Technologies Inc. and former president and research director at Forrester, said in arecent Q&A with TechTarget that application integration problems are a primary reason why businesses — and the aforementioned architects and project managers — “can’t deliver business innovation at the speed demanded by customers using all these application platforms.” He cites three major shifts in consumer behaviors for this issue: the maturation of SOA, or service-oriented architecture, which encourages developers to create with collaboration in mind; the similar acceptance of platforms as a service (PaaS — think companies like Zapier and CloudBees); and the total outbreak of new devices and the rise of mobile technology.
What this means is that integration architects can quickly turn into human roadblocks if they’re not central to strategy conception, and project managers lose out on their favorite thing — control. Both roles have to maintain a more flexible, react-and-respond attitude towards their work, and that’s miles away from what these forever-prepared folks are used to. That’s unfortunate news for companies that are hesitant to let go of honeymoon-era approaches, but it’s better to be unsure than be unheard, right?
As a social media manager, I’m less concerned with this high-level stuff in my day-to-day, but it affects me nonetheless. I need my aggregate services, the ability to deploy content across platforms, and I have to be able to do it whether I’m pushing my way onto a crowded train or grabbing lunch with a client. The perpetual connectivity of the modern world demands our constant attention. And so, my dear, sweet, resistant creators, open your eyes and brace yourselves. There’s an electric, impatient urgency forcing the integration revolution, and the market doesn’t really care if we’re ready for it or not.

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