Last week the world's largest annual computer expo, the CeBIT conference, was held in Hannover, Germany. While CeBIT still covers the latest “physical” advances in things like consumer electronics, server hardware, security and access devices, etc, this year there was also a focus on the “application development” side of technology. This included a large area devoted to open-source and a number of panels devoted to general education on topics such as Virtual Worlds, Digital Content Distribution, as well as a panel I moderated on “Business Solutions with Enterprise Mashups”.
Panelists came from a range of companies. John Crupi from JackBe and Rene Bonvanie from Serena are from firms whose tools are among the most common ones associated with enterprise mashup environments. Olivier Poupeney’s firm DreamFace supplies a UI framework that has been called a “souped up iGoogle". This framework also stands behind another mashup tool, Twinsoft’s Convertigo. Stefan Liesche (from IBM’s Portal team) was able to speak to IBM’s work in the space. And Ludmila Radzevich-Vorobiova from Apatar (provider of an open-source data integration tool) was on hand to represent data mashups.
Here are some of the highlights from the discussion:
Can you explain the differences between consumer and enterprise mashups?
This was an introductory question handled by Rene and intended to draw the audience into the topic. Rene almost immediately introduced the idea of governance, something that I’ve written about recently. I don’t question Serena’s commitment in this area, but their humorous ads and viral internet videos have historically stressed user-empowerment over this concern. That particular viewpoint could make some firms nervous about empowering their employees. Rene’s remarks about the role of mashups within the enterprise – and how they need to be managed - were welcome.
What is the state of mashups as a recognized discipline within enterprise IT departments?
John Crupi offered that successful mashup implementations are going to require the involvement of IT to succeed. So the idea of unsupervised end-user mashup creation is already a bit antiquated in his opinion, too. John is a good authority on IT best practices because he also co-authored the book Core J2EE Patterns while a Distinguished Engineer at Sun. According to John, mashups are also the “last mile” in successfully leveraging SOA environments that many firms have spent the significant time and expense building out over the last few years.
With the emergence of mashups in the enterprise, is the traditional corporate portal no longer relevant?
Oliver from Dreamface argued that portals will continue to exist as a mechanism to provide common information to a broad community, but custom user-created solutions that remix existing data into highly personal solutions will become more common. It’s the long-tail applied to portals. A corporate portal may provide access to the 20% of information that affects all users (reports, company meetings, etc) but tech-savvy business people will create their own information channels.
The rest of the panel noted that many mashup tools produce JSR-168 compatible portlets and can be an easy way to integrate existing systems into existing portal infrastructures.
Is the mashup space now mature enough to attract IBM, or does IBM need mashups given the breadth of its offerings?
IBM's Stefan Liesche explained that mashups are a logical extension of the connectivity their customers are looking for and that it’s natural for them to integrate new products (like IBM Mashup Center) with the other areas of the IBM platform. IBM has many facets that explore a wide range of technology, but in the end these can be interpreted as “Yes – mashups have reached a point where we are committed to making them part of our stack”. IBM may have been experimenting in the mashup space with the late, lamented QEDWiki, but with IBM Mashup Center they are getting serious attention within Big Blue.
Is the value of mashups as supporting data to standalone applications (as part of a larger solution), or is non-visual data integration valuable enough in itself?
Although the obvious answer is, “both”, Ludmila from Apatar provided some insight that reinforced what the rest of the panel had already begun to focus on: IT can use data mashups to complete their own data integration tasks, but they are also a valuable mechanism for giving teams the raw materials they need to create their own solutions (via the tools of the other panelists, for example)
The general discussion seemed to indicate vendors are coming to a mutual understanding of how mashups will integrate into corporate environments. This was not the picture a year ago when some camps were predicting the demise of IT while others merely promised more rapid development cycles. This is partly due to the economic conditions that have evolved over the last 6 months. Risk is an unpopular concern right now and completely re-writing the IT engagement model is fraught with potential hazards. A closer partnership between developers and end-users seems the easiest way to introduce mashup technology without rocking the boat. But with decreased budgets, mashups still face an uphill battle.
No matter how promising the technology, many firms will not spend in this area unless clear benefits can be shown. John Crupi explained this best when asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most important, what is the value of enterprise mashups?” John’s answer is a prudent way for judging the value of any emerging technology. “Mashups for the sake of mashups?” he said, “Two. Mashups with a clear business case and ROI (return on investment) attached? Nine.”