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Coffee with Jonathan Sapir

Last week, I spent an afternoon with Jonathan Sapir, president of InfoPower Systems Inc., an Illinois-based application development company. Currently counting 50 employees, the 10-year-old firm has spent the last year stepping slightly away from its traditional software development work in order to design and implement a Web services system in which business people can create their own applications as new needs arise.

Last week, I spent an afternoon with Jonathan Sapir, president of InfoPower Systems Inc., an Illinois-based application development company. Currently counting 50 employees, the 10-year-old firm has spent the last year stepping slightly away from its traditional software development work in order to design and implement a Web services system in which business people can create their own applications as new needs arise. Sapir and I discussed how the need for software development is changing — and how event-driven personal services built by users might be the wave of the future. Here are some highlights:

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At the end of 2002, at the end of the dotcom thing, we realized that companies wouldn’t spend lavishly on technology any more. We focused on traditional systems, where we know what’s going to happen and there’s a planned response. What should we be addressing? The types of systems production works need are different than knowledge workers.

The workforce was also changing. Technology is just a tool people use now. And people want to do stuff. They don’t just want what’s given to them. Change has become so compressed. What do you mean, “Freeze requirements”? Just having a system changes its requirements.

Let’s walk away from the concept of making the programmer more productive. We need to allow people to do what they need to do. Let’s give users an environment that gives them the bulk of what they need. I’m going to build objects. If I don’t have a piece that I need, I need to go out and see if someone else has it.

Social software is now a critical component of what’s going on. Often, the guy who knows the most is the most introverted guy. Every company should have a Wikipedia. We looked at all the categories of software that exist.

We want to focus on the individual. People will create services that matter to them. In the future, there won’t be such a thing as an application. Applications are artificial barriers. You just need services that you can synchronize. People don’t really care about what goes on behind the scenes. They want to build things. Users don’t want to know about the structure of the data. One of the problems with computers is that you are focused. You lose peripheral vision. Our 3-D Modeler could help you see what else is around.

This isn’t going to kill the programmer. We’re always going to need special services. You’ll have a master builder on staff. The really good programmers will be fine. It’s the middle guy, the data manager, that will be squeezed. No one wants to develop customer applications any more. But they have to.

We need to break it down into little chunks.

The system, SnapXT, is currently in beta, but Sapir has written a book entitled Igniting the Phoenix: A New Vision for IT that outlines his ideas for the future, and he’s begun to hash out a SnapXT Consortium through which Web services developers in different organizations will be able to trade services.