The New Ecology of Technology

Vendors and users need to get a handle on the changing tech ecology landscape.

The ecology lesson for today is about the care and feeding of the technology infrastructure. Vendors that understand the technology ecology and create products and services that promote the intertwined relationship are able to prosper. Customers who understand the technology ecology are able to offer the goods and services their companies need to build a business advantage. The reason I bring up the topic of ecology is because the current one is changing—in a way that will leave some vendors and users behind and bring some to the forefront.

What got me thinking about the technology ecology was a recent meeting with Sun Executive Vice President Jonathan Schwartz. Schwartz talks fast, thinks fast and is ever ready to draw one more chart on the whiteboard. His company has a pile of work to do before it can progress beyond its current slump, but at least Sun has a plan. Unless you can plan for a direction, you will always be lost.

In the Sun ecology, there is a beneficial relationship among the communications carriers, users and vendors building applications on top of the carrier network and handset and device manufacturers. What recedes into the background are operating systems, traditional software application environments and traditional business thinking.

For an example of the kind of business a company that understands the technology ecology would be involved in, think ring tones for business. I never suspected that supplying ring tones could become a big business, but they are available for a buck or so. Now start thinking about what business applications could be delivered via that increasingly powerful, ubiquitous and user-friendly phone.

"Innovation and disruption starts on the client," said Schwartz.

The innovation of tomorrows winners will be marked by their competence in carefully considering the platform, the business process and the technology ecology development environment. Companies trying to build a better search engine than Google are heading in the wrong direction. What makes sense is thinking about search as only the first step in the buying process. Allowing users to determine whether they want to go into shopping-mode search, personalized search or broadest-based search carries much more appeal than simply contending your engine will search more stuff than the competitor. Microsoft, which acknowledged missing the rise of the Web and then missed the importance of search, has a lot of ground to make up in this area.

Voice over IP also has quickly moved from a technology always on the verge of blossoming to one that is taking center stage. The value of VOIP isnt that it is simply a cheaper alternative than the traditional analog voice systems; the value is in the new applications that can be built atop VOIP networks.

Unified messaging, allowing you to check and move e-mail forward from your car (without the dangerous juggling and thumb keyboarding now required), is an example of where VOIP can build applications that were previously unavailable. Combining VOIP with CRM, financial and security systems opens up a range of applications that were once the province of research labs and expensive custom applications.

The communications carriers, which were once seen as not participating fully in the digital age and drowned in overcapacity, are suddenly fundamental to the new technology infrastructure. As I write this column, Im sitting on an Amtrak train headed for New York, wirelessly connected via a Verizon network to the Web and my corporate e-mail system. I care about the service, not the operating system running the service.

This new ecology of communications carriers, Web services and device builders offers a vast range of new technology applications for customers. It also can crowd out many traditional technology vendors. Operating systems are becoming hidden and of lesser importance. Development applications geared toward building new services are becoming the tools that count. The important user interfaces are not only those you can see but also the audible aspects of voice applications.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be contacted at