IBM wants to play too

It was a busy day for Bay Area locals involved with startups. First there was the Under the Radar conference which featured a number of startups looking for a little extra attention. Later in the day, Business 2.0 gave a party for all the folks they recently nominated to a list they’re calling the Next Net 25.

I didn’t get a chance to attend either of these events but I did get the chance to get the scoop from folks that did attend (including Jeff Clavier) at a dinner hosted by IBM. Willy Chiu is a VP in the High Performance, On Demand Solutions Software Group and runs an applied development lab at IBM’s research campus down south of San Jose. The dinner could be best described as a "salon" in the spirit of the gatherings hosted in the late-1800’s. The topic was broadly "Web 2.0 in the Enterprise" and covered topics such as applying the concept of mashups to corporate application development.

IBM clearly sees the excitement in consumer application development going on and is trying to understand how they can better participate in the ecosystem and introduce the concepts to the enterprise. Anyone who has worked in a large company knows that there is a growing gap between the tools available to an individual working on the internet and a worker dependent upon corporate systems.

Why does it take less than a second to get to a results page on Yahoo while it takes sometimes minutes to search for something on your hard disk. Why is it so easy to locate someone with expertise on the web but so difficult when you need to resort to often out-of-date company directories? Rod Boothby’s been doing a lot of thinking about this and has some good ideas.

IBM knows there is a big opportunity to bring best practices being used on the web today (interative development, modular and addressable APIs & information, AJAX/realtime UI feedback) and bring them to their large enterprise clients in concert with some of these new startups and are struggling with figuring out how to make this happen while still adding value.

It was interesting because I’ve been listening to a talk that Clayton Christensen (Innovator’s Dilemma) gave back in 2004 and he addresses  some of the very things that IBM is grappling with at this moment when faced with disruptive technologies. As the startups such as Joyent and Zimbra repackage and improve upon components such as shared address books and group calendaring that used to be the sole domain of companies such as Microsoft and IBM, these bigger companies need to realize they can no longer extract value by selling a standard Exchange license. The value is moving up the stack and is going to move to applications that work on top of commodities such as corporate email and calendars. Consulting services around integration is one way to keep creating value, extended services such as mobile access and specialty hardware devices is another.

The Clayton Christensen talk on Capturing the Upside is worth a listen. Download it to your iPod. It’s a little over an hour but worth it if you’re stuck in traffic. Clayton’s voice has a calming effect. 

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