Here comes the Open Web - Embrace it!

This article appears in the issue April 2012 [Volume 21, Issue 4]
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In today's challenging economic times, global firms need new digital revenue sources and expanded wallet share from existing customers. But that's easier said than done—especially when it seems that companies have to deal with an ever-expanding set of devices, operating systems, form factors  and app stores just to reach customers. The good news is that the Web is moving toward a new era of openness, mobility and digital business that will serve those needs by fueling the rise of mobile apps, unleashing a flood of easily composed Internet services, providing readily available capacity and enabling new real-time intelligence and action applications. The not-so-good news? If you haven't already started investigating the Open Web and its technologies, you're late—and the sands of time are flowing against you.

Adoption pattern

As Forrester outlines in recent research, the Open Web platform comprises HTML5, dynamic languages and wide use of Internet services for everything from video encoding to social graphs to order management and payments. But at its core is a culture that favors openness and easy access to new technology. (See downloadable chart) Already, we see the Open Web having an enormous impact on consumer Internet applications, and expect its importance to expand over the next few years. For enterprises, the Open Web will be the basis for a revolutionary new wave of Internet applications that motivate, serve, delight and empower customers.

While initial investments will focus on customer-centric apps, Forrester expects that application development and delivery (AD&D) pros will also eventually use an Open Web approach in employee-focused Web applications as well. That's right: We will repeat the adoption pattern of the original Web economy during the mid-1990s. In this adoption pattern, the new technology takes hold in consumer applications  and then it spreads into corporate applications.

Open Web technology adoption isn't a question of if, but when. Firms that embrace it early will have a huge lead on their competitors, as the apps they develop will engage and delight customers on virtually any user interface (UI) or device. Moreover, businesses that never considered themselves software development companies will find that they need to get better at development just to keep up with their competition. As businesses increasingly compete with each other on the strength of the platforms they expose and the ecosystems they create, you can expect:

1.  Competition will increase to attract the attention of third-party developers.

Internet service providers (ISVs), such as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, have long worked to attract developers to their platforms. Now Web giants and media companies, such as Google, Amazon and Netflix, are the ones. In the future, retailers, banks, insurance companies and even governments will compete to attract developers so that they can include online services as part of the apps and sites they build.

As Web platforms evolve and collide with the mobile imperative of the app Internet, we expect many mainstream companies to discover that they aren't, in fact, so different from their outside-the-firewall brethren. Brick-and-mortar companies looking to put a mobile strategy in place will discover that they actually need a multichannel strategy, not a standalone mobile application solution. This evolution of thinking will put them on a collision course with the Open Web technologies that progressive developers are already using today.

2.  Flexibility and ease of adoption will win the day.

As competing service ecosystems become available, Open Web developers will have more and more choice over whom they integrate with and how they do it. We're already seeing this with development forges and cloud services in the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) market segments. As it happens with discreet services such as identity and e-commerce, expect to see developers choose services that are flexible, low cost and quick to deploy. Corporate service platforms that don't meet those tests will languish, and companies that don't pay attention to the shift toward an Open Web will find that their business model suffers along with their IT organization.

3.  Proprietary Web technologies will slowly decline.

It's not a good time to be an ISV trying to sell a development platform that competes with Open Web standards. If developers have to engage a purchasing organization or license runtime technology, you can bet that they will try to make an open source framework that taps into Open Web standards first. Browser plug-ins, application servers and specialized mobile middleware platforms won't just disappear, but as they become increasingly expensive and exclusionary compared with the Open Web, vendors will have to adjust—either by embracing Open Web standards in their platforms, finding niche applications where they still have competitive advantage or reducing platform pricing.

4.  Developer hiring patterns will shift.

A new breed of developers is propelling the Open Web: young developers who grew up on the Web and develop outside the firewall-primarily producing applications aimed at consumers. Their career expectations were also born of the Web, and they expect openness of information, technology and expertise. Low- or no-cost open source software projects are a primary means to exchange expertise and learn, as well as a source of new tools.

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