If you haven’t been reading Marc Andreessen’s blog start now. It is a great read. In his most recent post, “The three kinds of platforms you meet on the Internet”, Marc defines what it means to be an Internet platform today. Specifically..
“…a “platform” is a system that can be programmed and therefore customized by outside developers — users — and in that way, adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform’s original developers could not have possibly contemplated, much less had time to accommodate.”
Sure, nearly every HR and talent management vendor can, and will, claim they are “programmable”. The real questions though is, are they programmable in today’s standards? As Marc also writes…
So, if you’re thinking about computing on the Internet, whenever anyone uses the word “platform”, ask: “Can it be programmed?” Specifically, with software code provided by the user? If not, it’s not a platform, and you can safely ignore whoever’s talking — which means you can safely ignore 80%+ of the people in the world today who are using the term “platform” and don’t know what it means.
HR technology vendors have always talked about “integration” versus “programmability”. The main question, though, is when will they evolve?
Marc talks about 3 levels of Internet platforms: “Access API”, “Plug-in API”, and “Runtime Environment”. The big difference in layman terms…
Access API – Where the vendor exposes an API (application programming interface) or, integration point, in the form of a web service.
Plug-in API – As Marc describes, “…historically [plug-in APIs have] been used in end-user applications to let developers build new functions that can be injected, or “plug in”, to the core system and its user interface. Two great examples of plug-in API applications would be Microsoft Outlook (smart client) or Facebook (web).
Real-time Environment – Whereas third party code actually runs within the platform.
In HR technology, we have a long way to go. Based on Marc’s description, we are only at Level 1 and most vendors are still struggling just to be “API-accessible”. Both SAP (Netweaver) and Oracle (Fusion) have a great opportunity right now to become that real-time environment. Can they execute on the opportunity though?
Exposing an APIs is great but opening APIs for all to consume is the leap that needs to occur. Think about all the college developers right now writing mashups for Facebook. What if we could harness the collective resources within the HR community to build more rich, interoperable applications?