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The three components of a Digital Disruptor’s application


Over the Christmas / Holiday period, my family and I drove from the South of England up to Glasgow in Scotland.

We used Google Maps to guide us. While it’s a very simple routing under normal circumstances, because of the weight of traffic on the roads at this time of year, detours are required and we needed Google Map's help with these. 

I noticed that we started to refer to Google Maps as “she” - “she is suggesting we detour around Birmingham”, “she has said we will arrive in 5 hours”. We did this, of course, because the voice giving us advice was female. But more than that, there was a tacit assumption that the “she” lived inside my mobile phone.

And this is a common misconception. When “she” said, “there are two accidents on the M42 and one on the M6. I can detour you on the A456, and it will save you an estimated 42 minutes”, this was not something "she" in the mobile phone worked out. It was something a huge amount of processing power back at “Google Central” did. 

The same is true of Uber. When “Uber is doing surge pricing”, this is not the mobile Uber client, this is a complex algorithm back at Uber Central. 

When Airbnb recommends a price when you put your “space” on the market, this is not the mobile client. It is, in fact, one of the world’s most sophisticated recommendation engines running at Airbnb central. 

Let’s look in more detail at these “disrupting applications” like Airbnb, Uber and Google Maps. They contain three components :


14.three components of apps.png


1. The customer-facing, “mobile” app

It’s the customer-facing app that people think about when they think about the digital disruptor’s application. Of course it’s important that your customer facing application looks nice. And in the future, we’ll see “digitally disrupting” applications on smart devices, like with the Nest thermostat or the in-car system in a car.


2. The “serving” server-based application

 But give a thought to the poor “serving” server-based application. People give far too much credit to the customer-facing application. They will say things like, “the Spotify app just made recommendations to me”. Actually, it was the server-based application that did the work. 

So often, it’s the server-based application that is doing the work. Its the server-based application that is fuelling the digital disruption - Netflix, Airbnb, Google Maps, Spotify or Uber.

What are the characteristics of digital disruptors’ server applications?

Server applications are hybrid applications

Firstly, they are hybrid. There is a lot talk about hybrid at the moment, meaning a lot of different things to different people. What do we mean by hybrid in this context? Digital disruptors are not scared to use other people’s functionality if it helps them get to market quickly. So, a digitally disrupting server application may use 5, 10 or even 20 cloud providers’ “functions as a service”. Thus, we have server applications with some portion running in our data centre, calling out to a number of cloud providers. That’s what I mean by hybrid in this context - Hybrid Applications.

We therefore need to put in place development, testing, deployment automation, management, security and governance systems that are “hybrid native”: 

      • Can we test the performance of our server application without hammering our cloud service providers, running up huge bills and upsetting their other users in the process? 
      • Can we automatically deploy across the data centre and our cloud providers? 
      • If there is a performance problem in testing, can we find these this problem is - in the data centre, where in the data centre; in the cloud, where in the cloud? 
      • Do we have governance over all these cloud suppliers, or are 21-year-old engineers with no business experience making digital supplier decisions for us?

Server applications talk to the Systems of Record thru APIs

Around 2002 (no-one outside of Amazon is sure of the exact date), Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, sent out the following mandate … 

  • All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.
  • Teams must communicate with each other through these interfaces.
  • There will be no other form of inter-process communication allowed: no direct linking, no direct reads of another team’s data store, no shared-memory model, no back-doors whatsoever. The only communication allowed is via service interface calls over the network.
  • It doesn’t matter what technology they use.
  • All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions.

The mandate closed with:

 Anyone who doesn’t do this will be fired.  Thank you; have a nice day! 

 I’ve run a number of workshops with central IT groups on the impact of digital disruption. The number one conclusion that comes from these workshops is that central IT must put APIs around their Systems of Record. These APIs will allow their own people and developers in the business to create applications and do data science while keeping the Systems of Record safe. 

Server applications are “fluid” in their use of digital suppliers

Secondly, these application are fluid. Yes, the code of the applications changes - weekly or biweekly. But the cloud providers used by the applications changes too. One service provider might go out of business, or be bought by a competitor. Another may increase prices so much that it becomes too expensive. Or, a better alternative may come onto the market. So, we have to put aside this idea that we will have a multi-year relationship with our digital suppliers.  


3. Fuelled by Data Science

How does Uber determine it “surge pricing”?  How does Airbnb make its pricing recommendations?  How does Spotify decide what music you’d like to listen to in the evening?

They all do it thru data science. 

In the past, data science was used to create weekly or monthly reports for business managers. Now, data science is being used to power digitally disrupting products. I’ll go into this new and exciting use of data science in a future blog post. 



“My Spotify iPhone app just started making evening playlist recommendations to me”. Actually, the Spotify server application, using data science analysis of millions of playlists, has made an evening playlist recommendation to you. 

Yes, the cool mobile application is important, and you’ll probably need more mobile application developers moving forwards, especially those who can program on smart devices like cookers, fridges or 3D printers.

But don’t forget the server-side application that is typically doing a lot of the heavy lifting. This application is going to be hybrid, in that there will be portions in your data centre calling out a number of “function-as-a-service” cloud providers. So, we need to put in place development, testing, deployment automation, management, security and governance that is “hybrid application native”. 

And in turn, that server-side application will probably be fuelled by data science - a recommendation engine, a machine learning application, or a prediction engine. This requires data science and thus, that ever-more-expensive resource, the data scientist. 

Mike Shaw
Director Strategic Marketing

linkedin.gifMike Shaw

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About the Author


Mike has been with HPE for 30 years. Half of that time was in research and development, mainly as an architect. The other 15 years has been spent in product management, product marketing, and now, strategic marketing. .

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