The Legofication Of Business

I love Lego.

To be fair, the number of people who don’t fall into that category is probably fairly small. There is nothing like the joy of taking the slightly differently shaped blocks and creating something bigger and better. And I’m not a big fan of all of the custom kits either.If a piece only has one purpose (like as the nose for an X-wing fighter), then it’s not for me.

I also love Star Trek. Well, not love, but greatly appreciate and enjoy the various forms over the years. And I have referenced Star Trek in various presentations, not to establish my geek cred (of which I have very little), but because of  how software works ‘in the future’.

And yes, Lego and Star Trek are related in this way.

The key to Lego block is the simple and consistent interface. Doesn’t matter what the shape of the block is, the fact that every block has the same interface allows them to be connected. And it is through the various connections that a much bigger whole can be created.

Star Trek takes the Lego idea and applies it to software. Every wonder how Geordi and Data were so quickly able to create new and complex software? Because all of the different components had the same interface. Or at least similar enough interfaces so that the components could communicate with one another. And connected software allows you to create a much bigger whole.

Now let’s move back to the here and now. What’s missing from our current software environment that would prevent Geordi from creating the application that saves the Enterprise? Two things, really. The lack of a standard set of interfaces and the inability of most software functionality to be ‘connected’. And this is the next phase in software development.

If you’re a company that provides services to others, then you need to think about enabling access to your service from the cloud. Want to allow people to easily buy your services or products? Give them an interface on the Web that allows them to do so. Not a Web page, but an API. Have some information that others might find useful? Give them an interface to access it. Create the Lego blocks that I was talking about earlier. Find standard interfaces for the type of data/service you offer and expose them on top of your services. In other works, provide Lego blocks for others.

One of the benefits of doing so is that you let others build out functionality based on your services. If your service or data is compelling enough, others will build your front-end for you. You have already seen this happen with a number of the social sites that are out there. People combine information from Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. to create interesting apps for others to use. The engagement level of people with apps that run on their phones are high and likely to move higher. Finding ways to integrate your service/data with that ecosystem can only be beneficial.

So what’s the downside? Well, you have to implement and/or design the interface. Technical yes, but not beyond the scope of what most companies can do. And you need to provide the infrastructure for surfacing your API. This is where virtualization comes into play. I’m a fan of Azure and the new functionality it offers, but speaking generically, virtualize where it makes the most sense. If you’re a Microsoft shop, I believe you’ll find the biggest bang for your efforts with Azure.

But the technology is not the key here…it’s the concept. Look at the products you offer to your clients. Find ways to expose those products to the Internet. Be creative. The payoff for your efforts have the potential to be significant. But more importantly, you take the first step towards what will be the development and integration paradigm for the next decade…Lego.