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Friday, January 13, 2012

Service Integration: Partnering In The Software World

8:30 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , , No comments
Partnerships are important for growth in business. One of the universally common things about all of the successful companies is that they have partnered at the right time with the right party. You cannot pull it off on your own all the time. And this is not necessarily because of your incapability to pull it off, but because you do not have to. You play on your strengths and focus on the things that are important to your business, and for the areas that you are not good at or the ones that are not core to your business, you find a partner. There is nothing new about this concept. Businesses have been forging partnerships for centuries. 

Software, however, is disrupting this age old corporate practice, like it has in many other areas. In order for companies to partner, traditionally, someone from one of the parties had to approach the other party, and setup discussions and meetings. And then after weeks, months or probably even years of discussions and negotiations the partnership would be agreed and actioned upon. This is still the dominant method for partnering between companies, but in the world of software, things can be done at the press of a button, literally. Many software companies expose their data or functionality as software interfaces (APIs) or tools which can be accessed by anyone on the internet. The web is allowing companies to open up and connect more. This means that even a small startup can use the data/functionality provided by a global leader such as Google, and ride the shoulders of the giants. 

The advantage of this openness cannot be overstated. It allows anyone to integrate their services with anyone else who has exposed theirs'. Say you are launching a new consumer internet startup that requires features such as user management, uploading photos and videos, sharing content and location tracking. You can build this functionality from scratch within your product, or piggyback on successful products of existing companies. It obviously depends on that startup as to how they want to execute their vision and position themselves in the market, but it is always good to know that you have options. For example, in this case, the startup can use Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn for user account management; Facebook, Picasa or Flickr for managing photos; Youtube or Vimeo for videos; social networks for sharing; Foursquare or Gowalla for location based services. 

By integrating your service with others, you are helping yourself in three major ways. 
  • First, you are saving the effort and money required for building that feature from scratch for your own application. While you can definitely add a feature in your product to host videos, do you really want to do it if it is not part of your core offering. You might be able to afford that later on, but doing it in the initial phases is probably not the best option to go with. 
  • Second, you are increasing the scope of your product. Say you are providing a product that allows people to find interesting locations for spending their weekends, but it does not allow them to book flights. Not to worry. Instead of building that functionality yourself, you can partner with an existing market player to use its service for booking flights. By doing this, you are now providing your users with a better and more integrated service. 
  • And third, you are saving your users' time. One thing you never want to do, especially in the startup phase, is test your users' patience. So, if they already have uploaded their photos and videos on Facebook, provide them with the ability to extract that media from their Facebook account instead of reloading those on to your site. If blogs are one of the key features of your product and your users are already running theirs, provide them the ability to extract blogs from their current site instead of copying and pasting them. 
So service integration can help you save money and effort, improve the user experience for your product and bring in more users.

Having said all that, service integration for the sake of it, does not make sense either. As important as service integration is, integrating for the right features is even more important. Integration should only improve the user experience, not take it backwards. 

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