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Data Could be the Next Frontier for IT

3852839454 1652e98cf2 mAOL has been pushing MapQuest as a service to developers for years, long before Bing was a twinkle in Steve Ballmer's eye. Developers can do a lot with map data using well-designed APIs to take advantage of location information, which has become even more important with the rise of social media applications and smart phones.
That's why an article recently on ReadWriteWeb called Is Microsoft's Future in Data-as-a-Service? caught my eye. The possibilities for both Microsoft and other companies with lots of data are compelling and it got me thinking about the power of data and good APIs.
In fact, Microsoft has been selling Bing map data in this fashion already, just not on a large scale yet. They even have a case study about the state of Washington using Bing maps to track spending across the state on a map on their web site. 
Vendors generally open up APIs as a way to let enterprise applications play nicely with one another (or not -- depending on the quality of the API), but using APIs as a way to get at data is perhaps even more powerful, giving enterprise developers the ability to tap into existing data stores.
In the previously mentioned ReadWriteWeb article, author Klint Finley wondered if the real value of Bing wasn't in the consumer-facing front end, but in the APIs and SDKs that provide an avenue to the data behind it all. In fact, Finley points out that Microsoft is spending inordinate amounts of money to get consumers to use Bing, and as Search Engine Land reported last January, so far it doesn't seem to be working.
Which brings us to the data idea; what if instead of luring eyes to Bing, Microsoft monetized the data itself on a large enterprise scale? Finley backs up this idea with a quote from a developer who complains about how difficult it is to use Google to tap into the translation service, but Bing already has a license system in place.
Microsoft certainly understands licenses, much better than Google. Google might have great data, but if it's not sharing it or providing tools for IT pros and developers to use, it's just sitting there powering Google's systems when it could be making money.
Some have suggested in the past that Microsoft sell its consumer units and concentrate in the Enterprise where it is clearly stronger. It's probably not going to do that any time soon, but what it can do is tap into what it knows well and monetize the data and systems it has in place for its consumer tools, then market them to the enterprise where it already has a strong base of support.
With the tools already in place, it doesn't cost Microsoft nearly as much to get the enterprise users involved as it appears to get consumers engaged.
Whether Microsoft does this on a large scale or not remains to be seen, but Finley is onto something here, and if Microsoft and Google won't do it, surely some enterprising companies will step in and fill the void. Data has value. Good APIs have value. There's money to made there. Someone has just reach out and grab it.

Photo by Inha Leex Hale. Used under Creative Commons License.
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