How the Web OS has begun to reshape IT and business

How the Web OS has begun to reshape IT and business

Summary: These days in the halls of IT departments around the world there is a growing realization that the next wave of outsourcing, things like cloud computing and crowdsourcing, are going to require responses that will forever change the trajectory of their current relationship with the business, or finally cause them to be relegated as a primarily administrative, keep-the-lights-on function.Here's how the conception of the growing Web OS can describe how to strategically align our businesses with the world's largest marketplace.

TOPICS: Browser

These days in the halls of IT departments around the world there is a growing realization that the next wave of outsourcing, things like cloud computing and crowdsourcing, are going to require responses that will forever change the trajectory of their current relationship with the business, or finally cause them to be relegated as a primarily administrative, keep-the-lights-on function.

IT is going to either have to get more strategic to the business or get out of the way. Businesses too must grow a Web DNA. The proximal cause of this seems to be the growing domination of the global network that surrounds all businesses today: The Web. If you've read my writings here since 2006 you largely know what's happening: Today's highly evolved Web has grown far beyond its original roots in content distribution and communication. It has become a fully fledged platform for media (TV, movies, music, newspapers, gaming, etc. have been strongly disrupted by the Web and now largely reside there) as well as more strategic pursuits. Probably most significantly is computing in all its many forms. This ranges from low-level services such as raw compute power and storage to social computing, semantics, and collective intelligence.

But the advent of a Web OS is certainly not just an IT story. It's also -- and really mostly -- a business story. Those who are trying to track the so-called "big shifts" in the 21st century, thinkers like John Hagel, are attempting to pin down the specific changes taking place in the world today. John recently noted that "we are moving from a relatively stable business environment to one characterized by rapid rates of change with ever more disruptions generating increasing uncertainty and unpredictability". In this way, routinely transforming instability and rapid change from a threat (which it is to most businesses today) into opportunity is a core skill that organizations increasingly must be able to cultivate.

That much of the pace of change today is driven by the modern world's pervasive and instant global flows of knowledge is largely due to influence of the Web and its billions of two-way touchpoints with nearly a third of the world's population (including practically all of the developed world). In addition to ultra fast feedback loops that drive real-time action/response scenarios in the marketplace, the Web has also become an incredibly efficient, inexpensive, and easy-to-use delivery system for just about anything that an interface can be wrapped around.

This has created a new form of leverage in terms of the ability to change and adapt by tapping rapidly and deeply into on-demand resources (be they computing, data, or even people and ideas) in virtually real-time. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted that because of modern technology, particularly the Web, business "initiatives that used to take months and megabucks to coordinate and launch can often be started in seconds for cents." Clearly, this is a brave new world, even if it's one that's still happening more on the edge than in the core of businesses today.

Web OS 2009: A Self-Organizing, Organic Cloud Computing Platform Nears the Tipping Point
WOA = Web-Oriented Architecture
CC/SRR = Creative Commons/Some Rights Reserved
AOP = Architectures of Participation

It's a world where scarcity practically doesn't exist and access to abundance is virtually free. It's also true that the business models of the Web OS are only emerging as well. While monetization is prevalent for those consuming or participating in the Web OS, there is also a real and ongoing concern that it's also the modern version of sharecropping. That traditional management approaches often don't understand the nuances of these issues and aren't designed to take advantage of this modern economic landscape, much less compete with a growing number of businesses that do, is a whole side story I'll explore when I'm able. But it's one in which the Web OS is increasingly forcing a serious reevaluation of modern business practices as well as the very notion of how an opportunity is defined, identified, and targeted.

What is the Web OS?

While there are multiple ways of looking at the Web as an operating system, from cloud environments that mimic a desktop operating system to sets of services packaged together and bundled as an individual product to companies, the largest -- and the most significant -- is the idea of an overarching and emergent Internet operating system. The data, services, and even communities of the Web are now programmatic and can be incorporated and remixed into any other business or product at will. The concept of a Web OS isn't new. But its arrival on the scene in compelling form with serious impact to the enterprise is.

Over the last few years, as open APIs, social networking platforms, cloud computing, open identity services, sensor-driven databases (such as with GPS and OpenStreetMap), or even people (example: Amazon's Mechanical Turk) have created open ecosystems in which anyone can participate, including business, both to contribute and to consume. The Web has become the ultimate outsourcing platform and one that is incredibly agile too, combined with economies of scale that are very hard to match. There are challenges too: Unpredictabilities and risks exist that must be dealt with both routinely and successfully.

But to perform well in this changing business environment organizations have to move beyond the classical conceptions of partnerships, OEM relationships, and strategic but traditionally static vendor portfolios as they look to either plug into the services in the Web OS or decide to offer up their own businesses as a service within it. Either are highly strategic choices and this is a world where you can connect supply chains or enter in a online partnership as quickly as clicking on the Agree button of an online Terms of Service and adding some (hopefully secure) code to your IT systems.

The Web OS has become a fast moving river of business opportunity as the number of credible services with it has mushroomed in the last 18 months. Having the processes in place to evaluate and exploit this environment to connect with and tap into compute power, infrastructure, software, workers, knowledge, and innovation in time frames that are useful will be one of the signature challenges for traditional businesses seeking to harness what is turning into the richest accessible set of business inputs in history.

While cloud computing is right now probably the strongest trend that's driving attention and awareness of the Web as a self-organizing platform for strategic services (SaaS is right behind it), many of the other elements of the Web OS have not escaped the attention of forward looking business thinkers looking at the future of their organizations and seeking to improve.

Five Web OS Trends for 2009

Here are some of the ways that the emerging Web OS is reshaping IT and business this year:

  1. Innovation is one of the easiest and least risky areas that can be tapped by most organizations. The ongoing story of market leader Netflix and it's now-famous Netflix Prize contest is a model of how an organization can open up and tap into ideas without interfering with production processes directly, even though the final outcome will drive operational improvements. While Dell, Innocentive, Crowdspring, and others have been doing this for years, only now are we seeing critical mass in more direct and mature examples of Web OS-driven inputs directly driving concrete, specific, and competitive outcomes.
  2. Vertical and horizontal crowdsourcing models are increasingly viable as 3rd party intermediaries grow in size and experience. Vertical crowdsourcing is when the domain is specialized and requires skill or industry experience. Horizontal crowdsourcing is when the work can be done by almost anyone. The former is more difficult to achieve scale with than the latter. Whichever is required, these days organizations can either choose to do crowdsourcing directly or they can partner with online services in the Web OS such as Mechanical Turk, Innocentive or you can use platforms such as IdeaScale or Kluster and do it yourself.
  3. To get ready to participate in the Web OS, enterprises will have to re-examine how they organize, share, and open data. I discussed this subject recently at length and while it's one that enterprise architects and SOA practitioners should be focusing on, it's also one that business strategists should be fluent with in order to understand how to make their companies digital natives.
  4. Plugging into open supply chains dynamically means a new view of operations. Choice in IT and business is becoming a commodity that means the operations, while still about ensuring continuity and determinism in business processes, also means that incorporating alternative suppliers, sudden and rapid fluctuations in process capacity and speed, and rapid introduction of new modes of operation will be the norm. Open standards will help drive this forward. As the cloud computing environment begins to create standards that actually meet business needs, expect that pluggable supply chains will become routine and not the exception it still is today.
  5. SaaS is the slippery slope for Web OS adoption. More and more the large organizations I speak with tell me that rogue IT in the form of on-demand Web applications is becoming a serious challenge (or again, an opportunity, depending on how you look at it). For many -- perhaps most -- organizations how they'll respond to the viral, on-demand software of the Web as one of their first major strategic couplings with the Web OS will define their ability to adapt to this future. Many of the lessons learned and policies developed should be crafted to able to subsequently deal successfully with the full unfolding scope and implication of the Web OS. Examples of this includes outsourcing computing and data center capabilities as well as safely incorporating vital business inputs from often anonymous cloud workers.

There is of course a lot more to this story. But it's clear that IT is going to either have to get more strategic to the business or get out of the way. Businesses too have to learn how to grow a workable digital "DNA" since many of these strategies just don't make sense to business leaders or managers that don't understand modern digital platforms, which are often anathema to the brick and mortar view that many executives still have today. Finally, I would just observe that the WebOS, as broad as it has become today, is still in its infancy.

That the world's largest and most vibrant ecosystem is literally millions of times the size of the average enterprise today should tell the story; enormous leverage is to be had if we can only change our thinking. Significant challenges also exist as we consider what it means to be a business isolated, or perhaps worse, inappropriately connected, to this dynamic global resource. But make no mistake, Web OS topics should be on the radar of anyone tracking the latest areas in strategic business and IT.

What challenges are you facing as you align your business with the modern Web today? Please make your comments in Talkback below.

Topic: Browser

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  • What a BS conclusion ...

    Are you serious or just plain delusional???

    Using a server is not using cloud computing. In fact, any decent professional company would never even think about anything "cloud" except for basic web hosting.

    Let me just give you the top two most logical reasons why real companies stay the hell way from the concept of cloud computing:

    #1- SECURITY. Cloud computing is HUGE security hole, even if provided by a "trusted 3rd party". If you think data breaches and industrial espionage are bad right now, just imagine what would happen if companies put their nest eggs in the hands of hands of unknown, uncleared people.

    #2- RELIABILITY. All it takes is a single web outage in your are to have almost 100% loss of productivity. And they last only a few minutes .... right?? If you can't login to the web, you are basically unable to do anything. At least with an intranet, only the affected service is off line until fixed and you can continue to work without an active connection to the net.
    • re: BS conclusion...

      That is common-sense that is not allowed in Corporate America, no matter what it will SAVE $$$ and the Bean counters will slash 500 jobs to WASTE $2 million on a INSECURE joke of cloud computing....

      #1 - A company needs their own EMAIL Servers.
      #2 - A company needs their own DNS Servers.
      #3 - A company NEEDS to keep their administration in house (period)!

      Outsourcing is the biggest FRAUD of all time.

      Plus, it is the BIGGEST SECURITY HOLE of all time.

      However that makes sense, and that is not politically correct in the real world.

      So go ahead and get ready for another big waste of money with exploits out the wazoo...
      • RE: How the Web OS has begun to reshape IT and business

        @Christian_<>< But hey - which community member likes to be managed? What about the splitting between a Community Manager and a Community Ambassador? <a href="">araba oyunlari</a>
    • Wrong...

      Security can be easily solved by encryption. Look at
      Blackberry, it is considered secure enough to be used
      by the U.S. government and the White House. The data
      is encrypted at the source (handset) and remains
      encrypted until it is received by another handheld,
      where it is decrypted. All data residing on servers is
      encrypted with a strong encryption. The same can be
      done with any IT app.

      As for reliability, most apps can tolerate 99.99%
      uptime which translates to about 5 hours of downtime
      per year. This can be achieved by cloud computing.
  • Graduate of BuzzWord University

    Buzzword, after empty headed buzzword. When we get past the hype, how privae is the cloud going to be? And, how much will it cost me to have all my data in the cloud, where anyone and everyone can pick through it? And, how much is the author payed per buzzword?
  • RE: How the Web OS has begun to reshape IT and business

    There is an interesting WebOS offering at called ( which is an acronym of Global Hosted Operating SysTem
  • Will all of this help the REAL world in a meaningful manner?

    "(TV, movies, music, newspapers, gaming, etc. have been strongly disrupted by the Web and now largely reside there)"

    TV/Movies: Yes and no. New generation is online, but old generation is still there. I don't see the TV and movie industries doing anything desparate.

    Newspapers: Yes and no again. Global newspapers are mostly electronic, but I'm still seing local newspapers around. A lot of non-technical people are still using paper.

    Gaming: Not really. The stores that sell games have gone online, but not really the games themselves - unless they were online to begin with. They certainly aren't moving into the browser: They'd rather the online component be built into the game itself than to rely on a browser.

    That graph makes no sense at all - you really think HTTP and REST are the ultimate center of the universe?

    HTTP is not used by games, and is horrid for any sort of realtime application. I'm willing to bet that 99% of video streaming and games are [b]NOT[/b] done via HTTP. You may download the plugin via HTTP, but I'd bet anything once that plugin is installed it opens up UDP ports and bypasses HTTP completely.

    . . . and REST has some drawbacks as well: The biggest one being unable to store state information. This is one of the reasons our browsers tend to get littered with cookies: They're attempts to store state information.

    Frankly, that's a huge drawback, and I'd hate to build any large scale application that interacts with a large number of users. What use is an application that can never remember what the user is doing?

    "Innovation is one of the easiest and least risky areas that can be tapped by most organizations."

    Which is why R&D is so expensive, right?

    Umm, no.

    Even with a totally connected world, you still may not find the best ideas, and there's no telling if an idea will succeed or not unless you try it. Pooling together more heads means more ideas to try - it doesn't mean the quality of those ideas is any better.

    "Vertical and horizontal crowdsourcing models are increasingly viable as 3rd party intermediaries grow in size and experience. "

    Great, we have crowdsourcing. Now if only we can find something useful to do with it.

    Being that most of the "crowd" will be unfamiliar with all of the details of your exact situation - quite frankly, I'd expect the quality of crowdsourcing to be very low.

    "To get ready to participate in the Web OS, enterprises need to re-examine how they organize, share, and open data."

    . . . and while they're at it, they should always examine the ethical implications of re-examining how they organize, share, and open data.

    . . . because frankly, not all data is meant to be shared and open.

    "Plugging into open supply chains dynamically means a new view of operations"

    Whatever that means. Last I checked, USPS, UPS, and FedEx have always been pretty open about what they ship.

    Using "pluggable" in reference to supply chains is cute, but misleading. All you need to do is to grab a phone book (or open a browser to an online one) and supply your address to another supplier.

    "SaaS is the slippery slope for Web OS adoption."

    SaaS is IMHO ignoring a few realities:

    a) The reality that somebody else owns your data. Trust and reliability are major concerns.

    b) The reality that they can shut you down at any time on a whim. Missed a payment? Bye bye software. They don't like the way you do business? Have fun next time you want to renew. They decide to upgrade their servers in China in the middle of the night? Well, guess what, in your time zone it's the middle of the day and your work gets disrupted. They become bankrupt and need to liquidate? Well, guess what, your data is gone, or worse, stolen when they don't have the money to destroy it properly.

    c) The reality that you are now paying more for software under the blatently false assumption that you've been a slave to the upgrade treadmill, and just haven't "seen the light."

    Question of the day:

    Will all of this help the REAL world in a meaningful manner?

    -Will it wash my dishes?
    -Will it make my car go faster?
    -Will it make my car more efficient?
    -Will it clean my room for me?
    -Will it make my life easier in ANY meaningful way?

    I'm afraid most of this is technology for the sake of technology. Who knows - maybe my next fridge might be $0.02 cheaper because of all this. Or maybe it won't make a difference at all.

    Frankly, I'd love to see the real, material gains because of all this. What is really improving in my everyday life?
  • The same old grifters

    It's remarkable how similar cloud is to the huge move to privatisation over the last 15 years. We were told selling government assets and moving to the private sector was going to bring so many benefits.

    The answer was quite true, it gave so many benefits to a small group of people and screwed over the rest of us. There are enough reports already in that tell the story, no matter how it hurts your ideology.

    For any organisation, the cloud deal is the same thing. Instead of having a trusted internal department (which you control) to provide your IT services, you instead use an external provider who no longer shares your priorities. The gaping holes in security and the fragility of the web connection get papered over and they figure if they don't let new people use desktop and intranet apps, they won't know what they're missing in terms of speed and reliability. You are also effectively taking on a business partner who you have no control over, and if they go down, it's going to be a disaster for your business.

    It's also about time the blogger realised that a wall of buzz-words and a pretty graphic don't take the place of reasoned argument.

    Please sir, could I have some more snake oil ;-)

    • Your last two paragraphs...

      say it all. I've never read an article so long that said so little. I don't think this blogger has a clue about what is happening in the real world. Like all proponents of the cloud, they sit behind their desk and come up with ideas that are incoherent and no business in their right mind would touch.

      Most of this bloggers blogs are lengthy like this one and they say nothing of any value. Where does ZDNet get some of its bloggers. Most are wannabe IT people that can't make it in the trenches so they decide to spew rhetoric like this one. It unbelievable.
    • RE: How the Web OS has begun to reshape IT and business

      @tonymcs@... Oh and btw, I think they are called mashups because of the code not any musical phenomenon - have you even tried to read any of it?
  • Backwards and upside down

    The whole concept of cloud computing is backwards and upside down. You're telling people who already have enough spare processing power that they donate CPU cycles to frivolities like SETI and ASTRA that they should further waste their resources by offloading their core processing to a cloud vendor. Beyond the processing doublethink, you're suggesting they migrate from an infrastructure where 90% of their traffic is secure and unimpeded to one where they share the wire with a billion other people, millions of which are laughing at "jackass" videos on YouTube at any given moment; and thousands of which are claiming to represent your long-lost rich uncle in Nigeria.

    The word for this strategy is "STUPID". Oh, certainly a large number of people are impressed at seeing big words in magazines and buy into such tripe, just as many people bought into credit default swaps at the turn of this century: and we all know how [i]that[/i] lemming strategy worked out, too. I've got a real bad feelin' about this, Chewie... if you thought the "dotcom" bubble was bad, just wait.

    There is absolutely nothing that a cloud vendor can provide you that you cannot provide yourself. [i]Nothing.[/i] Cloud vendors are not your friends. They're selling you a handful of pretty beads, and all it will cost you is Manhattan.
  • RE: How the Web OS has begun to reshape IT and business

    This article reads like you played buzzword bingo while drunk.

    The WebOS: Really? You use the words "Operating System" in such a way so as to make them completely meaningless. Define your terms. Oh, wait, you can't! You're talking out your ass!

    About your graphic: good graphic design uses space, text, and shapes to indicate some sort of relationship between points in a set of data. I'm really not sure what kind of relationship is being displayed in your adorable little colored text blob there, because I think there could be anywhere from eight to twenty differently ill-defined ideas. Is time a factor there? Sorta, a little. Related-ness? Semantic... close-ness? Evolution? Dependency? Wow, look, I'm playing the same game you were, in your article!

    Damn, the idiots really have won.
  • Hybrid environments....

    How many companies will have a mix of Mac, Windows and Linux machines on their networks? That is part of what the WebOS can bring as there may be cases where people want to bring a laptop from home into the office and thus whatever someone has at home is what comes into the Enterprise. Part of the WebOS is to see how Google's Chrome O/S does when it comes out and how well are some software set up for different environments, e.g. do the tools under an IE in Windows run just as well as in Safari on a Mac? That may be something to see coming soon...
    JB King
    • You have no clue ...

      Honestly, you don't even have the most minimal clue of what you are talking about.

      • RE: How the Web OS has begun to reshape IT and business

        @wackoae <br><br>You're right <img border="0" src="" alt="happy">

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  • Have you even looked at Mechanical Turk?

    Okay I tried to give the poster benefit of doubt, and tried to glean anything new from the article despite its fluffiness.

    I found the posts a bit more interesting. Several of the posts are coming from people who mix up DNS/Email servers, desktop applications and cloud computing. But some are quite correct about security issues, lack of visibility of hidden costs, and questioning the use of many buzzwords at once. I do think there is a lack of research.

    I suppose "crowdsourcing" is real if by that you mean open source software development by large groups, and getting useful info from random comments to a blog article. Also it is difficult to get anything useful out of the chart. Talented illustrator you have though, it's pretty.

    Well I had not visited the Amazon Mechanical Turk site before and so I just did because of the article. Well, it looks like a total scam. Top page says about 35000 jobs are available but a search says max 2000. Sorting by highest reward first, the top one has a reward of 5 CENTS. (5 cents to bookmark a website apparently). This is NOT the future of the net or any future I care to hear about. Similarly I have seen job boards and they are mostly for programming or translation. The programming jobs make you fight it out with Indian and Chinese at their local rates.

    Lest Mr. Hinchcliffe say this is not a big example, I must say that I have also recently listened to an hour of webcasts by execs who are promoting webos style ventures. It seemed to be quite bankrupt from an ethical point of view. The big business play was to steal personal information of facebook users with web robots and then mine the data, then indexing this stolen personal data against a database of live events. The other guy was the head I believe of and at least his presentation made sense, talking about integration with google apps and how they run more transactions for other unknown parties over the web api than their own users, somehow.

    It all seems a bit disingenuous and it is not clear that real value is being delivered by these things yet. It is all a bit bubbly. That said, I suppose I ought to dust off a similar concept I've had for years since if there's money to be had anywhere it must be in this space. The rest of web venture investment has been in the words of an investor recently, "nuclear winter".

    I felt bad seeing such vociferous responses to the blog and wondered if Dion might lose his job. But I decided, it would be better to just demand that he stop writing until he has something to write about, and then not about trying to make wide-sweeping trends sound voluptuous but rather about a single application or company in detail. The best information I got from the article was about

    Finally I would caution Hinchcliffe about vaguely waving the arms at things like "plugging into open supply chains". I imagine this is a very important concept but it is just a footnote to the article. It should be the main article itself. Clearly there are a lot of questions about profitability and competitiveness involved I think. If anybody can join it, then does the work go to Bangladesh? What about liability and human contact? Research supply chains has always been a key tool for dismembering the competition and breaking in to a market. Is it really going to be that open? At the moment all I see is large corporations installing cloud software in their own data centers and using the concept in-house for efficiency. A lot more questions need to be answered.
  • Wow - the Microsoft astroturfers don't like this article

    A message to the Microsoft astroturfers - let me introduce you to real-world reality - trying to deny the approaching speeding train exists won't make it stop.
    • Great comment!

      I'm sure vacuum tube designers slung mud at transistors, when they were first introduced, and we all know how that story ended.
    • MS will still be on more desktops...

      that any other OS long after you and I are no longer able to even use a computer. Their Office suite will still be the dominant productivity app for just as long. Apple and Linux to a lesser extent may make some inroads in the OS but they will be tiny compared to MS.

      The Web OS is still just a jumbled mess that only a few have figured out and the rest are spinning their wheels. But they still need a desktop OS to access it and Windows will be that OS for the majority forever.

      MS is, however, throwing their money away trying to grab a piece of the Web OS. They fumble the ball in this respect more than anyone. They should have been happy with the desktop market and left it at that. But I guess if they have the money to burn then they can burn it.

      In any respect, Microsoft isn't going anywhere. And especially not the way of the vacuum tube. MS naysayers will be naysaying for a lloonngg time because MS is here to stay.
      • ...but not on the other platforms

        and a very good sentence you posted: "MS is, however, throwing their money away trying to grab a piece of the Web OS."

        True, and if they don't buy a startup that makes a good Web OS using their technologies, they're in mess.

        But, wait... their technology isn't ready yet!

        And about "They fumble the ball in this respect more than anyone." false. They are late in this technology, and when they was that there is interest and money, they started developing their implementations.

        As for the desktop market, I agree with you, MS isn't going anywhere soon..