New Mashup Tools Look to Penetrate IT

Vendors add links to Excel, and the ability to support SOAs.

Mashup tools have so far been used mostly for simple applications like adding geographical information to corporate data by pulling Google Maps into common processes.

In recent weeks, though, several vendors, including IBM, have brought out updated tools that they hope will pique the interest of IT managers. Corporate- focused features include links to Excel spreadsheets -- the lifeblood of many businesses -- and the ability to better utilize service- oriented architectures (SOA).

Vendors say the tools enable corporate users to quickly integrate data from disparate systems to upgrade a variety of corporate IT processes, such as monitoring competitors' prices and automating manual processes.

Several of the mashup tools were introduced at the O'Reilly Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco last month.

JackBe Corp. and Kapow Technologies Inc. both added support for Excel to existing tools, while Serena Software Inc. launched its online Mashup Exchange, where users can quickly find, buy and sell prepackaged mashups and Web services.

The new Presto 2.0 release from Chevy Chase, Md.-based JackBe allows users to let Excel directly consume mashups. A plug-in is connected to the spreadsheet so that whenever data is changed, the Presto server updates the data.

Campbell, Calif.-based Kapow unveiled an on-demand enterprise mashup service that allows companies to incorporate data from various Web sites and services directly into Excel.

IBM's entry into the mashup business on April 8 included two offerings: one to help nontechnical business users quickly build new applications by melding data from multiple sources, and another that's positioned as a mashup development environment for technical users.

The emerging technology has already attracted some large users, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the lead intelligence operation of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Bob Gourley, chief technology officer at the DIA until six months ago, when he joined consulting firm Crucial Point LLC, said the agency uses JackBe Presto to gather data from different internal systems and geographically display it to analysts. The tool has helped the agency slash the development time normally needed to link such data sources.

Gourley noted that the DIA is also looking to take advantage of the tool's gradual increase in support for SOA. Mashup tools are starting to provide what he called "the last mile of the SOA" -- or the ability to mash data from disparate sources.

Cleveland-based Corporate Screening Services Inc., a pre-employment screening and background investigation firm, plans to use mashup tools so that workers no longer have to manually extract data from public Web sites and subscription- based Web services for background screenings of potential employees.

The company expects to be using enterprise mashup software from Palo Alto, Calif.-based Denodo Technologies Americas by June to extract Web content and mash it into its SQL database, said Tom Drellishak, the company's CTO.

Recently Announced Mashup Tools

Company Product Key features
JackBe Corp. Presto 2.0 Includes links to Excel, HP SOA Systinet, Adobe Flash/Flex, Java and multiple portal products.
Kapow Technologies Inc. Kapow OnDemand Hosted service includes Robot Designer to construct custom Web-harvesting feeds, a link to Excel and a visual scripting environment.
IBM WebSphere sMash Supports dynamic scripting languages and widget-development tools.
IBM Mashup Center Allows business users to drag and drop components from local, enterprise and Web sources to create new applications.

Today, he said, data feeds are not aggregated in real time, "and a lot of times it is a bulk upload, so you get more data than you need or there is a massive delay. We're basically replacing humans with a computer."

Jason Bloomberg, an analyst at ZapThink LLC, a Baltimore-based consulting firm, said that although "mashups are becoming killer use cases for SOA," IT managers need to be careful when using the technology.

For example, they must make sure that data collected by the mashup tools meets corporate governance guidelines. "You can't just let anybody mash up anything. All [of] that has to fit into the governance framework an organization has," said Bloomberg.

Gourley added that companies should lay the groundwork for their mashup strategies even before choosing a vendor's offering.

Kanaracus and Niccolai write for the IDG News Service.

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