Is it time for IT architecture to be more ‘social’?

Chris ConwayChris Conway
Chief Architect, Quantiv

What’s remarkable about the recent spate of flight delays is not so much there are so many, but so few. Today’s travel networks rely on such close co-ordination it’s surprising the connections don’t break more often.

Despite the inconvenience and stress these delays can cause, many air travellers accept this fragility as a trade-off for the comparatively low fares and wide variety of locations offered. Of course, this means more problems can happen than if there were stronger back-up measures in the network.

Unofficial v formal communications

But when a problem occurs, travellers don’t understand why official information about what is happening – and how it affects what’s about to happen – is so poor.

Worse, in many situations, unofficial social media comments are often ahead of, and more informative than, notices issued on formal channels.

Travel information systems are no exception, and perhaps even cases in point.

This difference could simply be because those affected by a delay have far more motivation to make a comment than those causing the problem.

But another significant factor could be the flexibility of social media channels compared to the rigid processes behind suppliers’ IT systems.

IT architectures today

Today’s IT architectures rightly incorporate services provided by multiple applications. In turn, those architectures also include mechanisms for the separate applications to exchange information.

But too often those mechanisms are based on discrete messages passed between the individual applications. This approach requires considerable formality of communication, especially because the sender and receiver both need to be aware of each other in advance.

In the travel information analogy, this would be the equivalent of users sending emails to each other to warn of problems they’ve encountered.

This technique could work. In fact, it was tried in the early days of the internet before other methods existed. But it relies on a great deal of preparation and anticipation before travelling.

Sharing travel information

In contrast, social media allows an affected user to post a simple notification of a delay without any concern for who might read it. And the simplicity of the message format imposes minimal costs on both sender and recipient. Others can use this information, both directly to avoid the problems identified and indirectly to suggest alternative routes.

As an aside, sometimes this information can be decidedly ‘raw’ and still be useful. In the UK, Realtime Trains does for trains what Flightradar24 and MarineTraffic do for air and sea travel, respectively. It takes an ‘event’ data feed from the rail operator (Network Rail) and enhances it with great annotation to produce real-time information about the location of trains in the UK. (I’m always surprised by the number of non-techy – and ‘non-train’ – users of this I encounter. I thought it was a secret way to get ahead at Euston!)

Making IT more ‘social’

Rather than follow the original email ‘message’ pattern, IT applications can now also communicate in a similar ‘social’ way.

By ‘sharing’ rather than ‘sending’ information, applications within an IT solution can make their data usable in ways and contexts they didn’t expect. And when such services exist, users are empowered to work in ways previously unimagined.

Such an approach could be seen as requiring a relinquishing of control by the application exposing the information. But the change can lead to wider improvements that significantly outweigh any local loss of control. So, although control may be lost, relevance is substantially enhanced.

Perhaps IT architectures still have something to learn from human interactions…

…even if those interactions are now themselves supported by IT systems.

NumberWorks and NumberCloud

Our NumberWorks method allows you to identify and define the things that are worth sharing, while our NumberCloud platform enables this information to be exposed with minimal changes to existing applications.

To find out more, call the team at Quantiv on 0161 927 4000 or email: