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24 January 2012

Universal business computer 6: Gaining value

By Andrew Clifford

Thinking through the universal business computer is hard, and building it is harder still. But working out what to do with it is the greatest challenge of all.

Over the past few weeks I have been sharing some ideas about a more standardised and versatile IT architecture, a consistent approach to developing and delivering IT systems that is an order-of-magnitude more efficient than other approaches.

This "universal business computer" vision is not about standardising a technology stack or adopting an application development framework. I am not trying to find an incrementally better way of doing what we do now. What I want is something fundamentally different. The ideal is a single IT system which can be used without modification for any business requirement, and which is much faster to set up than conventional development and deployment.

The main pieces of my vision are:

  • An external architecture in which each system is a self-contained peer.
  • An internal architecture in which all significant functionality is available as XML-based services.
  • Data storage based on a directed graph, or data graph.
  • Meaning added through metadata in the same data graph structure.
  • A single processing engine for all application execution and development.
  • A user interface based around individual data graph nodes.

This design allows new solutions to be defined in metadata in the system itself, and executed directly from that definition. This provides the order-of-magnitude improvement in the time take to set up solutions.

This design is not a just a theory. All these parts are possible, and from the work I have done so far, it does deliver unprecedented levels of versatility and development efficiency.

Having got to this point, I am not now sure what to do. How can we gain value from this design?

I could go on a campaign, promoting it as a "super-pattern" for IT. However, this would be in direct competition with other well-established approaches - including nearly every web application technology. Given that our implementation is not as mature, I would not make much headway. I do not want to spend years arguing why data graphs are a better paradigm than object models.

Instead, I think the most sensible approach is to use our own work to prove (or disprove) the ideas.

We have invested a lot of time and money rebuilding our Metrici Advisor product around this design. This has made Metrici Advisor much more versatile and efficient, which is particularly important in its core market as an assessment and advisory platform, for example for advanced surveys and consultancy tools. It could be used for much more, nearly any web-based application. Rather than tackling this wider market straight away, we plan to develop and prove the technology in its core market first, and then gradually expand the scope of solutions for which we promote it. This way we can prove the technology as we go.

We are not going to do this alone. Over the next few weeks we will open up Metrici Advisor for anyone to try out this new approach, and to create and share new solutions. I hope you will join in.

Next: Testing and forgiveness

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