Cameron Reilly, who knows a thing or two about selling to the enterprise, made a statement that really resonated with me today. Talking about ajaxWrite (which, as an aside, apparently doesn't use AJAX), Reilly suggests that systems integrators have a ripe opportunity in front of them to solve some of the basic issues that currently hold back online, browser-based applications. Referencing a post by Martin Wells on the topic, Reilly tosses this idea into the mix:
"If you run a Microsoft partner business out there right now, you need to be thinking about this stuff. Don't let these ajax apps bite you on the ass. Make sure someone inside your team is goaled on keeping abreast of these new apps and do a regular internal brownbag to the rest of the team to keep them apprised. Especially if you are working in the intranet / "Sharepoint" space. Forget about uploading Word documents into shared workspaces and checking in, checking out, etc. With Writely and ajaxWrite, everyone just works on the same document which lives in the cloud. What kind of solutions can you build for your corporate clients around this idea? They don't have to buy Sharepoint and pay the $100 CAL for everyone in the company (or whatever the CAL is these days). They access it through a browser. Security? Backup? Support? All opportunities for you to solve. Someone is going to solve these things. Trust me on that. If I wasn't TPN'ing, I'd be out there selling this stuff to every smart CIO in the country. They are all dying to reduce their exposure to Microsoft (whether or not they should be worried about such things is another matter)."
I think he may be onto something by bringing the VAR/reseller/systems integrator into the mix. Many people have been looking to Google to solve the infrastructure piece of the puzzle. Certainly, their recent purchase of Writely indicates to some that they are acquiring the pieces to try to put something like this together. The "Google Grid" would provide unlimited bandwidth, unlimited storage, yadda, yadda, yadda. There are enormous problems with this model which people far more tuned in than I have already discussed and dismembered. "Google can't be trusted," some say. "Google hasn't proved it can scale infrastructure to meet QOS demands," say others. "I don't want to see ads splattered all over my business applications and data," say yet another group of naysayers.
What if the solution isn't Google? What if a backbone provider like Sprint (who tried something like what I'm talking about years ago with the ION concept) or Comcast leveraged their pipes and data centers to provide an infrastructure for Web 2.0 solutions providers? And what if the people in the business of configuring, monitoring, and scaling these net-based operations were the same people who worked hand in glove with the end customer to design the solution?
That's an interesting vision of a rich ecosystem where the entity closest to the customer is the one with a trusted relationship already in place and who understands the business needs, challenges, and opportunities. Upstream from this consultative partner is the backbone provider who owns the pipes and hardware to provision the security, backup, storage, and bandwidth. Further upstream are the whiz kid developers who make the bits dance. Bring those three layers into alignment and you have an entirely different kind of competition than what most people are discussing.
Or, we can wait until Microsoft figures this out. They're trying. The Windows Live and Office Live offerings are clearly a sign that this is the direction they're going. They have the reseller and partner networks to pull this off and the most recent reorganization hints that the big ship is making another course correction. If Redmond can leverage their installed base and execute on this, the monopoly will find an entirely new life. One based on making this stuff happen for the SMB (small and medium business) markets which is where Live is squarely aimed and where there are millions of sales opportunities waiting to be closed.
I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing. But it may be the new reality.