The Developer as Customer

by Minda Zetlin

“From my perspective, the output of middleware is the face of a company,” declares Benjamin Stein, founder and CTO of Mobile Commons. “That’s the best way to look at it when you’re thinking about the developer who’s going to be the customer for that data. That developer will take that data and turn it into something consumable.”

This is just the kind of perspective that can turn traditional thinking on its head. After all, if an enterprise has hired an outside firm such as Mobile Commons, then the enterprise is the customer, not the other way around. Right?

While that’s true, it’s equally true that large organizations need small startup firms like Mobile Commons to keep up with the rapidly changing needs and opportunities in the new world of social and mobile communications. And their ability to serve a large organization is dictated in part by the form in which that organization supplies data for them to use. They, in turn, are building applications for customers to use. So thinking of the developer as the customer for a company’s data is a good approach. It can lead an organization to supply data in the way that will best help reach that organization’s business goals.

So what are the best ways to serve your developer-customers? “If someone comes to me with data in a proprietary format, and it’s something I need to learn, that’s a huge impediment to rapid implementation,” Stein says. “The current trend in development is very lightweight. Web services are easier to work with than the older heavyweight XML documents of the past. So you’re better off presenting the developer with a lightweight API than an older technology that requires more-significant work at our end.”

With that in mind, he advises choosing a middleware platform that can provide data in multiple formats. Stein prefers to work with the REST protocol, he adds. And, he says, enterprises may increasingly need to work with firms such as Mobile Commons, as mobile communications become more and more essential in what some are dubbing the “post-PC era.”

“A lot of large organizations have been slow to adopt mobile,” he notes. “But every organization should have mobile on its radar, because it’s not going away.”

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and coauthor of The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don’t Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive.

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