I was listening to a seminar at HP’s community site for information management last week when someone asked, “What would Microsoft Outlook look like if it were developed today?” The panel was talking compliance, and this person was thinking of e-discovery and audits, but he made a good point. It made me think of our history of retrofits and upgrades and the point at which we revisit our approaches to information needs.

In information management we’re nearing an integration confluence of back-office rationalization/flexibility and front office, end user composition in mashups and other devices right on the desktop. In the former case it’s federalized data sources, service-based integrations, outsourcing and new vendors with useful industry and department-specific applications/services. In the latter case it’s about a personal means to an end through feeds, widgets and the like. It’s pretty clear we’ll soon visit many more enterprise components assembled at or near the desktop. What everyone is striving for is rapid development and the use/reuse of lightweight, loosely coupled objects.

This is another case of nothing new. Before there were platforms, everything was a component with some level of standardization, a truth that applies equally to technology, home stereos and automobiles.

As a teenager, I experimented with different engines and transmissions in my car and tuned and customized to my heart’s content. My more clever friends could even drop Chevy parts into a Ford and vice versa with the help of a welding machine. Into the 80s, car models became one-off, complex ecosystems of tightly integrated and specialized parts. They had many more features, but if your newer car died on the roadside, unless you had a $20K diagnostic computer handy, there was nothing to do but call a tow truck. Cars are even more complex today, but now, automakers talk about global platforms, meaning you’ll soon be able to drop a Fiat alternator from Firenza right into your broken-down Chrysler in Hoboken - and vice versa. There is still way too much stuff under the hood, but I’ll take it.  

In the information world, IT, as a service organization, is facing much more than a hobby in answering the demands of tech-savvy information workers who will cobble integrated applications with Yahoo or Google gadgets and analytics onto Web and other platforms such as your basic iPhone. Composition is only going to get easier going forward and we could well be looking at a micro-app pandemic. For business, it means abstracting that single view of truth when so much productive information can be added to the mix. There will be two (or more) presentable sets of books, and this time it won’t be Al Capone dodging the IRS; it will be smart people with roles to play who are innovating.

I’m pleased to say we now have a new tool below for you to discuss or shoot me down in public with little effort, so go ahead and have at it!

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