Y Combinator Challenge #4 – Outsourced IT

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first   

4. Outsourced IT. In most companies the IT department is an expensive bottleneck. Getting them to make you a simple web form could take months. Enter Wufoo. Now if the marketing department wants to put a form on the web, they can do it themselves in 5 minutes. You can take practically anything users still depend on IT departments for and base a startup on it, and you will have the enormous force of their present dissatisfaction pushing you forward.

My Idea – InstantCMS

Nice – these next 3-4 challenges are right in my wheelhouse, solving problems with the current state of corporate IT.  I spent a couple years working on internal systems and tools at MS, so I’m pretty well versed on the problems that are facing the modern IT department.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far at MS, it’s the power of creating flexible systems.  Here’s one idea that I never got around to implementing, but definitely would have (actually, still would!) make my life a heck of a lot easier.

The basic concept of this idea is to bridge the gap between an application that was coded from scratch and a full CMS-style framework that only needs to be customized and deployed.  The CMS framework is ideal, but oftentimes you get stuck with a one-size-fits-all approach that causes serious usability and pretty-ability issues.  Custom coding definitely offers the opportunity to create the perfectly tailored app, but often requires time-intensive and costly rewrites and redeployments to make any updates down the road (and trust me, they will come). 

To get around this problem, I have an idea for a hybrid solution.  The idea is a magic piece of software that would allow power users to update sections of the custom-coded live site in real time, without the need to recompile and/or redeploy the site. 

Here’s how this could work. When the developers are creating the site, they can define regions of the site that can be updated.  To start this could be limited to blocks of text or static HTML functionality, but over time this could be integrated deeper down the stack.  Once the site was deployed, there would be a simple rendering engine running client-side within the browser that would take the output from the server-side code and re-render it in the live page.  Users with the proper permissions would see a special icon on the customizable sections, which would deploy a wiki-like editor to allow the user to make changes.  These changes would be stored back to the server in a special XML file.  Once the page was refreshed, the rendering engine would combine the original server-side code with the edits from the XML file to display the updated page to the user.  Of course, this solution would also need a way to resolve the changes on the server-side prior to the next deployment, but this could probably be done with a plug-in to the IDE. 

Here’s a quick and ugly diagram to explain the inner workings a little better:














For revenue I see this as a great freemium offering.  The basic version can be deployed for free but only within a limited capacity (i.e. can only be used for static text blocks).  The premium version offers support for updating full html and potentially even simple data-driven controls (i.e. adding an item to a drop down list). 

What do you guys think?  Better yet, does this already exist?  The awesome guys at Wetpaint are doing something similar with their Wetpaint Injected offering in the consumer wiki market, but it’s not quite what I’m looking for in terms of an enterprise solution… 

2 responses to “Y Combinator Challenge #4 – Outsourced IT

  1. Source control for web site elements + sensible revenue model. I think your idea is strong.

  2. Sounds like wiki to me.

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