by Elana Varon

Let Your APIs Go Free

Oct 02, 20072 mins
Enterprise Applications

Apple’s delivery last week of an iPhone patch that disabled unlocked phones along with a bunch of third party software got me thinking about how IT departments could innovate faster.

The face-off between Apple and those rogue iPhone users (along with developers who want to make a buck improving the thing) isn’t too different from what’s happening between a lot of IT departments and corporate end users these days. I’m not comparing the iPhone with anything a corporate IT department would develop. But I’m seeing similarities in the exclusivity that both Apple and many IT organizations impose on the technology they develop.

As a multibillion company that makes money by selling technology, Apple has an excuse for keeping phones locked down and independent developers off the device as long as that behavior maximizes profits. Even if it annoys people (like me. I want an iPhone. I also want to pick my carrier. But that’s a post for another day.).

But what if IT departments stopped acting as gatekeepers who control the functionality of corporate systems? Why not provide APIs to whomever in the company has an idea for improving corporate applications and the time and skills to do it? That could go a long way toward eliminating the problem of rogue IT by empowering users to innovate when their apps no longer meet their needs.

Think open source. Think Amazon. Think eBay.

End users could vote with their mouse clicks for new functionality that they found valuable. IT could support the most popular tools, and the rest would wither on the vine.

Yes, that approach presents management challenges for CIOs. And no, it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for every application. And yes, a lot of vendors wouldn’t play ball (although I’m sure someone out there can tell me why they should).

It can’t be no one has thought of this. If you’re doing it, I’d love to know.