What TikTok teaches enterprises about tech entanglement

The flurry of interest in acquiring TikTok shows the value of a popular social network with vast troves of consumer data. The deal also holds an important lesson about technology use that other businesses can learn from: the need to design applications in a flexible, portable way. 

One challenge for any company that buys TikTok will be how to carve up its technical infrastructure outside of China without destroying its value in the process. The impetus for the deal is that the US doesn’t want China “spying” on its citizens through the app. That will require untangling the data and application code on the back end. 

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TikTok owner ByteDance also runs a similar app called Douyin, available only in China, and the apps reportedly share technical resources including user data, server code, and the algorithms that determine which content and ads a user sees. ByteDance needs to separate those elements in the narrow timeframe it’s been given, and its ability to do that effectively will be a factor in how much a suitor is willing to pay — and perhaps whether a deal happens at all.

There are lessons here for other businesses. It’s not uncommon to sell or spin off a product or company division for strategic reasons, and how those assets are architected can impact their value and the ease with which they can be sold. 

The days of building giant monolithic applications are long gone. Most new apps are built in the cloud using smaller microservices that can be scaled up and down as needed and updated independently. That’s good for introducing new features quickly but it can be hard to disentangle apps if they’re not designed carefully using open standards and technologies.

There are three main areas to consider: the cloud infrastructure, the application code, and the data. Here’s how to design each in a way that makes them portable and flexible enough that they can be separated cleanly if needed. 

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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