Web 2.0 Expo preview: Mashups upgraded for the enterprise

Vendors set to unveil links to Excel, new ways to mash up Web content, corporate data

A strong argument could be made that any new type of software can't make it to the enterprise without a link to Excel, the lifeblood of many businesses.

Makers of mashup tools are making their move this week to expand their potential customer base by unveiling such links and other features at the O'Reilly Web 2.0 Expo set to get under way in San Francisco Tuesday.

Several enterprise mashup vendors are set to detail new technologies aimed at helping users go beyond the most common use of their tools today -- adding geographical information to corporate data by pulling Google Maps into a common process. Now, mashup vendors said, the updated tools can be used as a quick and easy way to integrate data from disparate systems for a wide variety of processes such as monitoring competitor pricing and automating manual processes that include Web services or content.

For instance, Kapow Technologies Inc. on Tuesday plans to unveil an on-demand enterprise mashup service to allow companies to incorporate data from various Web sites and services directly into Excel spreadsheets.

The new Kapow OnDemand hosted service is based on the Kapow Mashup Server, which is deployed at more than 300 companies, including Audi, Morgan Stanley and Simply Hired. The new product adds an Excel Connector that can be used to point to a wide variety of data sources on the Web for automatic insertion into an Excel spreadsheet. For example, a company could use the application to monitor competitors' product pricing schedules or to add user reviews of their own products to adjust sales efforts, noted Joe Keller, Kapow's chief marketing officer.

The service could help eliminate the manual efforts most companies now use to scour the Web for such information, Keller said. Once the data has been populated into spreadsheets, it can be analyzed with installed products like business intelligence tools and visualization technology, he added.

"By connecting [Web mashups] to Excel, users can have real-time data inside their spreadsheets along with their corporate data to get that 360-degree view of the data they are analyzing," Keller said.

Kapow OnDemand also includes a robot designer to construct custom Web harvesting feeds and services in a role-based execution runtime, along with tools for monitoring and managing services and feeds to provide site administrators with control and insight into their environment, the company said.

"If users can build spreadsheets, if they can do the programming of those spreadsheets, the plug-in makes [mashups] a native element inside of Excel," Keller added. "Mashups provide that layer we need to really let the business do a lot of the work themselves. It still governs the services and creates the services, but it allows the business start doing business themselves."

JackBe Corp., which first launched its Presto enterprise mashup server a year ago this month, will unveil Presto 2.0 at the Web 2.0 show this week. Presto 2.0 aims to allow users to make mashups portable and includes a connector to Excel.

Presto 2.0 allows users to create what JackBe calls "Mashlets" by syndicating existing mashups into widgets -- small pieces of code that can contain information from the Web or from ERP or other systems. The Mashlets are then available to users in their portals, on their iPhones or in an Internet start page.

"Users want to be able to get at smaller pieces of information quickly," said John Crupi, JackBe's chief technology officer. "They want to be able to point and click and get this data ... and to be able to customize it, tag it and send it to others."

In addition, like Kapow's new connector, Presto 2.0 allows users to consume any mashup directly into Excel. The new Presto Excel plug-in is connected to the spreadsheet so that whenever data is changed, the Presto server updates the data.

"This is the whole difference between the consumer side of mashups and the enterprise side -- strong adherence to security and governance," Crupi noted. "You still get that same foundation of security and governance. No matter what services or systems are accessed, the proper auditing or authorization polices are in place."

The enterprise mashup business will grow from $61 million in 2008 to $165 million in 2010 and $682 million in 2013, according to a study due to be released by Forrester Research Inc. on Monday. According to that report, the overall enterprise Web 2.0 market will grow from $764 million in 2008 to $4.6 billion in 2013. Forrester defines the enterprise 2.0 market as social networks, RSS, blogs, wikis, mashups, podcasts and widgets.

For many companies, mashups represent an easy way to eliminate "swivel chair" applications, where employees take data from one or more computer screens and then swing their chair around to another screen where they manually re-enter that data.

Cleveland-based Corporate Screening Services Inc., a pre-employment screening and background investigation firm, is turning to enterprise mashups to eliminate the need for workers to manually extract data from multiple public Web sites and subscription-based Web services for background screenings of potential employees.

The company expects to be using enterprise mashup software from Denodo Technologies SL by June to extract Web content and mash it into its SQL database, noted Tom Drellishak, the company's CTO.

"Denodo allows us to add more resources" to get data from more Web content sites for aggregation, Drellishak added. 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."

Bob Gourley was CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the U.S. Department of Defense's lead intelligence agency, until he left six months ago to join consulting firm Crucial Point LLC. The DIA gave Gourley permission to speak to Computerworld about the DIA's use of mashups.

The agency has used JackBe's mashup server to mash together data from different internal systems and display that data geographically for analysts, Gourley said. "We'd really like to empower our users to take any data from any source and interact with it and sometimes plot it over a map but sometimes put it on a bar chart," he noted. "We really want to maximize the way that users interact with data and discover new knowledge."

While the goal of using mashups was to help users access and analyze data from disparate sources, the agency found that JackBe also helped it slash the development time needed to mesh these different data sources.

"JackBe allowed us to produce better results than that old-fashioned hard coding in just a matter of weeks," Gourley said. "After you get the Presto components loaded on a server and do a tiny bit of training for your developers, they are able to program much, much faster using declarative programming models."

Gourley added that enterprise mashups are evolving their support for service-oriented architectures (SOA) to provide what is in essence "the last mile of the SOA" -- the ability for users to mesh information from disparate sources.

Gourley, who wrote a large part of the Wikipedia entry on SOA, added that "in hindsight, I wish I never used the word 'SOA.' The SOA was something you are doing in the IT department to open up the databases, but you opening up a database doesn't mean a user can interact with it. We really needed something like Presto to help us complete the SOA and let people truly do things like create composite apps."

Serena Software Inc. plans to announce at the conference this week that it has launched a Mashup Exchange online marketplace to allow users to find, buy and sell prepackaged mashups and Web services.

Serena will provide a public exchange to provide users of its Mashup Composer mashup server or subscription service with access to 100 mashups for things like easing the process of bringing new employees on board, noted Jeremy Burton, CEO of Serena. That mashup could encompass various steps that span different systems, he noted. For example, an on-boarding mashup could monitor the status of offer letters sent to potential employees all the way though alerting the IT department that a new employee has been hired and will need laptop.

"Today, all of this stuff happens in e-mail," Burton noted. "It is untraceable and untrackable. It is a nightmare."

Or, companies can create a private mashup online marketplace where, for example, an IT department could publish mashups to business users. Companies also can create online communities where they can collaborate around mashups, Burton added.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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