Integration is the new innovation

In a world awash in open-source software, the market leaders will be those that can integrate and present it best.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

Good companies create new technology. Great companies integrate existing technology.

At least, that's how innovation happens today. Apple gets a lot of credit for its highly polished products, and rightly so. It may be, however, that Apple is simply the best at putting a pretty face on tightly integrated home-grown and open-source projects like FreeBSD (underpinning Mac OS X), Lucene (powering search on iTunes), and more.

That's innovation in the vendor community, but, as Gartner analyst Mark McDonald points out, it applies equally well for enterprise IT:

Does technology change the value of the IT professional?

Yes, as the value shifts from creating and operating stuff to bringing components together to achieve new solutions that extend beyond hardware and software. This is leading to creating Leaner IT organizations that have fewer people in them, but higher skill levels.

The money in the technology industry is shifting from more traditional innovators to a new breed of integration innovators. As it does, the money is shifting to those like Google who can monetize services, and it's raising the bar from base enablement of products to the scaling of them, as Dan Woods notes.

The danger in this great integration race is that the vendor who integrates best will control most, similar to what happened on the "desktop" years ago, as Tim O'Reilly reminds us:

[I]n the early 1980s...every application provider wrote their own device drivers to support the hodgepodge of disks, ports, keyboards, and screens that comprised the still emerging personal computer ecosystem[.] Along came Microsoft with an offer that was difficult to refuse: We'll manage the drivers; all application developers have to do is write software that uses the Win32 APIs, and all of the complexity will be abstracted away.

It was. Few developers write device drivers any more. That is left to device manufacturers, with all the messiness hidden by "operating system vendors" who manage the updates and often provide generic APIs for entire classes of device. Those vendors who took on the pain of managing complexity ended up with a powerful lock-in. They created the context in which applications have worked ever since.

This is the crux of my argument about the Internet operating system. We are once again approaching the point at which the Faustian bargain will be made: simply use our facilities, and the complexity will go away....We're entering a modern version of "the Great Game," the rivalry to control the narrow passes to the promised future of computing.

Otherwise put: "...and the integrators shall inherit the earth (and win the market)."

For those competing in this market, it's important to recognize that the ante for getting in the game is not software. Not anymore. We are inundated by free and open-source software. Hence, the ante for getting in the game is the combination of that software in useful, innovative ways.

Those who do it best...win.