Dashboard: Enterprise Platform and App Giants Take Web 2.0 to Heart

Hype or not, all this vendor action suggests Web 2.0 will find some life inside the enterprise.

Even as pundits debate the meaning and substance of all things Web 2.0, vendors are working the concept as a pitch to enterprise customers.

Oracle, for example, claims its new WebCenter Suite, which was promised by the end of 2006, will bring Web 2.0 to the enterprise. Mashup, Ajax, wiki and blog capabilities are said to give the product its Web 2.0 credentials. WebCenter Suite, says Greg Crider, senior director of technology marketing at Oracle, will use open standards to provide interfaces that "maintain the power of enterprise apps, but retain the ease and flexibility of portals." The software can, for example, give new employees a single interface into several different back-end systems, such as HR benefits, payroll and 401K planning, thereby streamlining the "on-boarding" process, Crider says.

There was a time, not so long ago, when we heard that portals were supposed to do this. "Enterprise portals turned out to be hard to build, and they just didn't scale very well," says Jim Murphy, analyst with AMR Research in Boston. Dennis Gaughan, also with AMR, explains that HTML just isn't up to the task of replacing all those legacy interfaces. Ajax, he explains, should do a better job.

SAP also has a new Web 2.0-friendly product, called MUSE, being developed in partnership with Adobe and scheduled for release this spring. Dan Rosenberg, senior VP of the SAP User Experience says there is no standard definition for a Web 2.0 interface, but the characteristics are a higher degree of interaction and light client software. "We gave up some GUI behaviors like drag and drop when we went to just HTML. Now with Ajax we're getting some of that back."

Going one step beyond the interface, the mashup "allows you to create a composite application that follows the natural behavior of the user," Gaughan says. There's no denying the power of mashups, such as the linking of Google Maps to Craig's List to make it easy for apartment hunters see where a unit is located. Rosenberg cautions, however, that enterprise developers shouldn't expect miracles from mashups. "Lightweight" mashups are fairly easy to create with Web 2.0 technology, he says, "but if you want to create robust, enterprise-quality composite applications, you are going to have to get closer to the business logic, and we're working on some new tools to make this easier as well."

IBM has a new release of IBM WebSphere Portal scheduled for early 2007 that will incorporate wikis and blogs. "This will let users create social networks and track interactions and people they communicate with," says Larry Bowden, VP IBM Workplace Composite Products. "That's where the market is now--what the new Web 2.0 technologies are about."

BEA's AquaLogic User Interaction incorporates Web 2.0-style collaborative features, and there are more to come according to Bill Roth, VP of BEA Workshop. The Graffiti, Builder and Runner additions to AquaLogic, slated for release in the first half of 2007, will let users create what Roth calls "ad hocracies."

Hype or not, all this action suggests Web 2.0 will find some life inside the enterprise. Even Microsoft is paying attention, according to Murphy. "Its strategy with SharePoint has been brilliant," he says. "Embrace the portal along with new Web 2.0-style interaction, embed these in Office, thereby making Office more interoperable with enterprise systems and more irreplaceable."

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