Innovators And Influencers 2005

Our annual lineup of industry players to watch may be diverse in its makeup, but they all have two things in common: a keen sense of innovation and a knack for success

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

December 18, 2004

4 Min Read

Power To The People
Innovators & InfluencersAl Vermeulen, Inc.'s chief technology officer, works at the intersection of business processes, software interfaces, and human creativity. Vermeulen is responsible for putting the power of the Amazon Web site into the hands of partners by exposing the retailer's internally developed technical capabilities as Web services.

"What we try to do is break apart a piece of the business. From a technology point of view, that becomes a service," he said in an interview earlier this year. Now in its third year, Amazon's initiative has attracted 65,000 outside developers, resulting in a buzz of E--commerce activity on "associate" Web sites that flows through to Amazon. Web sites like are given access to Amazon features such as item pricing and wish lists, while suppliers whose products are sold on Amazon can use its Web services to manage inventory.

Al VermeulenPhoto by Andy Reynolds

Some enterprising developers have created Web-commerce software using Amazon's Web services that they sell to others in the expanding Amazon network. "We've learned that there was even more value than we thought there was going to be in some of the internal pieces that we have and making them accessible to the outside world," says Vermeulen, a licensed pilot who flies to work. "People have been very creative in the kind of applications they've built on our Web services." When Amazon launched its Web-services program back in July 2002, "it was really kind of an experiment," says Vermeulen, former CTO of Rogue Wave Software and co-author of a book on Java programming. The onetime experiment has evolved into a successful business model that continues to grow.

In October, Amazon released the latest version of its Web services, called Amazon E-commerce Services 4.0. The update gives developers an even richer set of capabilities with which to work, including detailed information such as color and size on all Amazon products, access to Amazon's image database, advanced search capability, and a shopping-cart feature. In other words, Amazon's technical staff has found a way to take the company's internal innovations and make them fertile ground for the bright ideas of others.

Says Vermeulen, "It's just amazing what they'll build."

--John Foley

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