Mashups Make Their Way Into Business Apps--Slowly - InformationWeek

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2/16/2007
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Mashups Make Their Way Into Business Apps--Slowly

Oracle and IBM roll out business-oriented products that raise the profile of this Web 2.0 technology.

Mashups are one of those fuzzy Web 2.0 concepts with questionable business value. But as tech vendors roll out products to make them easier to build, they're likely to get more interesting to businesses.

Oracle last week unveiled its WebCenter Suite, which includes a Java 2 Enterprise Edition development environment, Web services, and developer tools for creating mashups and other Web 2.0 work environments. IBM this month began offering QEDWiki, a free hosted service that developers can use to assemble mashups and build widgets that let business users create their own. Both companies say they have more business tools planned. "We're just at the beginning of mashup land," says David Boloker, IBM's CTO of emerging Internet technology.

For businesses, mashups bring together information from various sources on the Web into a dashboard-like view. Essentially, they're an evolution of business-customized applications, making use of Web standards, JavaScript, Ajax, open APIs, RSS and Atom feeds, and the growing volume of Web-based information to layer multiple Web data sources on a single site, making the combined data more relevant. Vendors see the opportunity in making them easier to build.

Still, mashups aren't part of the lexicon at most IT shops. They aren't used at all at 54% of companies recently surveyed by InformationWeek Research in a study on business use of Web 2.0 technologies, to be released Feb. 26. They're widely used at only 7% of companies surveyed. Yet mashup is such a trendy Web 2.0 term that vendors latch on to it to describe all sorts of activities. A PR official at Kapow Technologies, which last week offered a new version of its mashup software, says customers don't always know if what they're doing with the software should be described as a mashup.

Semantics and marketing aside, there's an intriguing concept behind mashup technology--think of all the workers who pull data from sources inside and outside their companies. Mashups provide one interface where they can get multiple data streams that can be changed to present new types of information.

STORM CENTRAL
The U.S. Navy's Critical Infrastructure Protection Center is using Kapow's Mashup Server for a hurricane disaster-response system. The system queries the National Weather Service every 30 minutes for updates on hurricane activity and pulls them into mapping software. It also queries the Federal Communications Commission for data on cell tower locations and lays that on top of the map. Analysts can use the resulting mashup to predict which cell towers are likely to go down and make better emergency communications plans.

"If we had to use Java APIs to do the same thing Kapow does, it would have taken five times more programming to do an equivalent type of application," says the center's deputy director, Karl Burkheimer.

Other business mashups include a home-improvement chain that's using IBM's QEDWiki to help employees determine where to send weather-related products, such as snow shovels, by putting inventory data and weather service feeds on one interface, Boloker says.

Most businesses have yet to tap the potential of mashup technology. It requires an IT department that's bought into the service-oriented architecture approach, so that it's simple enough to mix, match, and change the data sources they're delivering to users in the form of mashups, says Jason Bloomberg, an analyst at ZapThink. Some sort of governance is needed to dictate who can create mashups, who has access to the data collection tools, and what mashups can contain. And governance requires technology investment in identity management systems to regulate data access.

But as Web technologies evolve, and businesses get more comfortable with SOAs, it's a good bet that mashups in one form or another will become commonplace.

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