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The Business Value of RIAs: An Informal, Virtual Round Table

It's a "perfect storm" for Rich Internet Applications right now, just add up the factors...

With Morris in such laser-focus good form, it seemed only natural to ask him to nail down with equal concision if possible how the business value of Rich Internet Applications can best be explained.

He rose immediately to the challenge and came up with a three-word answer...almost!

The three words were Ubiquity, Flexibility, and Integrity, and Morris unpacked each of them as follows:
  • Ubiquity - "Once you are licensed to run a piece of software, you can use it anywhere: in your office, at home, on your laptop, on someone else's laptop, at your grandmother's... Your 'desktop' travels to wherever you are.
  • Integrity - your data lives inside databases or behind web services. No more copying your work on and off Flash drives, or losing CD-ROM's with precious data. Cross-link multiple sources of data. Your data is always up to date, and (hopefully) backed up.
  • Flexibility - swappable UIs for desktop and PDA mean you can work with your data on the go. Off load heavy processing onto servers, while you work from low-spec 'thin client' devices. Customize your app from standard components: don't like your current spell checker? Plug in a new one, it's just another web service after all!"
Judah Phillips had a top three business benefits lost too, albeit slightly different:

  • Reduced costs - "RIAs can be centrally deployed and maintained, and, in most cases, don't require a specific client configuration or OS.
  • Increased incremental revenue from your existing online audience - RIAs can be tailored for maximizing direct response and conversion to an already indentified key audience or customer segment. They can also be used for brand awareness - Advertising can be placed within them, or the RIA can be the ad.
  • Increased user engagement - RIAs are more interactive and tend to be focused around a highly-specific user experience where you provide a user with a targeted message and functionality that can be much "richer" than the traditional web. As such, users tend to interact more with RIAs creating 'engagement.'"
    • The next important question was to try and find out why exactly it is that so many industry executives, analysts, and engineers are saying that 2008 will for many enterprises be the Decision Year for their choice of RIA platform?

      Bert Halstead, Chief Architect of Curl, was crystal clear "It's really time for US enterprises to start switching to the Web as a platform for application delivery. They have stayed in the client-server world for too long, compared to the rapid adoption of Web 2.0 in the consumer space."

      He continued:

      "The easiest way for stepping up to Web 2.0 (Web as a platform) is through the door called RIA. Improve the aesthetics of user interfaces and give them interactive visualization without compromising flexibility, scalability, security, and high performance. On top of it, the economics are very attractive - users are more satisfied and productive, and the total cost of ownership is a lot lower. Which RIA platform to choose? Whichever one can deliver the best functionality combined with industrial-strength reliability, performance, and scalability will win the race."
      Microsoft's Stagner agreed completely, even going so far as to call 2008, as we have seen, a "Perfect Storm" for RIAs.

      Microsoft of course has a broad strategy for rich web enablement, of which just a few are ASP.NET AJAX, Silverlight, Media Server, and the Expression Tools Suite. Even though he concedes that HTML and Javascript will continue to dominate, Stagner was equally adamant that Silverlight will continue to enjoy very rapid growth in adoption throughout 2008 and beyond.

      For anyone who harbors doubts about 2008 being the decision-year for RIAs, Curl's Halstead had the following to advance by way of proof points based on his own company's experience:

      "Curl was introduced in Japan 3 years ago and we have 300 very large household-name enterprises using it for mission-critical applications. US enterprises are behind in RIA adoption because many depend on packaged applications, in contrast to Japan where there is a lot more custom software development to improve process efficiency and reduce cost. But the key factors speeding RIA adoption now are twofold.

      First, everybody is finally waking up and realizing that Web 1.0 user interfaces are seriously lacking and that improved user interfaces make good business sense. Second, great technology platforms such as the Curl RIA have proven that building mission-critical rich Internet applications on the Web is totally practical."
      Appcelerator Co-Founder & CEO Jeff Haynie isn's as convinced that 2008 is going to be the decision year for RIAs though he does think it will be a hot topic of discussion and concedes "I do think we’ll see the players emerge this year."

      "In order for RIAs to truly become mainstream," Haynie contends, "developers and enterprises alike will need a next-generation RIA platform. A next-generation platform that will enable developers to rapidly assemble SOA-ready RIAs – client applications that can consume services regardless of language or platform."

      This is a challenge Appcelerator is solving with its own integrated platform, he notes; adding "but enterprises will need more options before they can fully-embrace RIAs to extend the value of their SOA investments."

      Next page:
      Which RIA Technology To Chose?

      More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

      Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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