Go Bedouin

One thing we like to do around here is look at the possibility of replacing local infrastructure with online infrastructure. Can Google Docs and Spreadsheets replace Word and Excel? Can Google Mail replace OutLook? Can applications from 37Signals replace your to-do list (OutLook), your calendar, and your project manager? In our case the intial motivation has been to allow real-time collaboration with others, but what about having all of your office applications on-line? The Coghead blog has an entry about going Bedouin, that describes this approach. Not incidentally, the Cogheads are marketing a framework that allow users to build online applications that would allow you to go Bedouin. I particularly like the image of roving bands carrying laptops and cell phones…

I’m interested in something more radical. By focusing almost exclusively on service-based infrastructure options, a business could operate as a sort of neo-Bedouin clan – with workers as a roaming nomadic tribe carrying laptops & cell phones and able to set up shop wherever there is an Internet connection, chairs, tables, and sources of caffeine.

In any business, infrastructure needs will arise that are best served by “in-house” approaches. What makes a neo-Bedouin approach different than traditional approaches is the commitment to seeking service-based alternatives to building or acquiring infrastructure that must be managed, moved or otherwise dealt with. Companies that make such a commitment can focus more of their energy and their resources on building products, supporting customers, or other core business needs.

The primary reason software businesses don’t “go Bedouin” is because they think they don’t have to. Fatness is easy. Executives like to construct monuments. Managers like to build empires. Engineers and IT professionals like to buy and play with technology. People like to settle in and nest. As swifter, more nimble competitors enter the software technology marketplace in greater numbers; however, companies will pay an increased penalty for their fatness. Like many resource rich kingdoms that faced the Mongols, recognition of the threat may come too late.

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