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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Delivering Real-Time Data that Users Can Act On

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Listen to my interview with John Crupi, CTO of JackBe, the maker of the Presto enterprise mashup platform.

In this podcast, hear why IT retains a crucial role in enabling and managing mashups, and learn the practical applications of mashups in a variety of use cases, includng real-time integration of enterprise data sources into SaaS applications such as Salesforce.com.

Listen to or download the 11:25 minute podcast below:

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PW: So John — mashups is something which has been talked about a lot in the field of service-oriented architecture, and more recently with the advent of the Web. A lot of people see it as a way of enabling the common-or-garden business user to be able to join integrations together, effectively on-demand, to meet situational needs that they see in their day-to-day work. Does IT still have a part to play in the mashup scene?

JC: Well, yes, that's a great question. IT has a huge role in mashups. We view, essentially, IT as the owner of the data and that's — IT is responsible for their data; they're responsible for the security; they're responsible for the governance. So part of the big design tenet behind enterprise mashups is to make sure that the services, or the data sources, that are being mashed up or made available outside of the firewall are secure and governed; and that access to any of this data — whether it's internal in your data center, or your partner's data center, or public — is all coming through the server; and that users are authenticated — they're authorized to access the data. That is an element that IT owns and puts in place.

That's why, actually, enterprise mashup platforms such as Presto have a two-step process. One is, you publish the data services or sources into Presto and make sure that you're hooked into the security and governance; and then you can put policy around what users can access, what data, and what type of mashups they can create.

Right. So effectively, what you're doing with the server platform is sanitizing those sources, so that IT is comfortable that users can then use them in other applications without affecting the security or the reliability of the backend servers.

Exactly. What you can't do is, you can't disrupt the security that's already in place. What makes IT nervous is that they're going to provide access to this data to users, so that they can potentially go and analyze the data and even share the data within a mashup. Now what we have to do is, we lock down, essentially, the access to the data services, to be able to give that flexibility and innovation that you want to give to the business user. But at any point in time, IT can go and look, and monitor, and analyze any type of auditable event, and they can go and change policy, and change characteristics — but they're not doing anything different than how they would implement security within their existing architecture. And that's the key. You don't want to disrupt the way they do security.

So IT is becoming an enabler of that by making sure that those services can be used without creating problems. That gives the users the freedom to go ahead and then do the things that they need to do. And what sort of things are people doing with these services when they go to mash them up?

Yeah, Phil, that's a great question. What users do with data — and when they're able to get access to data and put it together and put it in context for the types of things they're doing — that's the key question of, what are the killer use cases here? What we're seeing is, essentially, there's a few of them.

One, from an IT perspective. This allows IT to be able to get data from disparate sources and quickly get it into their portal. Many IT organizations have very large portal implementations and investments and they don't want to get rid of them, they want to augment them and add more value to the types of things that they can get to the user in the portal. And mashups allows for that to be very quickly accomplished and, again, using the existing portal platform.

Now other things that we're seeing from the business unit side in the public sector and in the intelligence community, we're seeing things called situational awareness. Being able to get all this data from disparate sources and putting it together in context for a particular situation is key to how the public sector, and the intelligence community and DOD, works. They want to be able to get all these data sources — and you can imagine how many there are — and look at this data real-time, be able to put it in context in a situation and make actionable decisions on it.

On the commercial side, we see things that are not as general-purpose as situational awareness but are more fine-tuned. Things like performance management or telecoms expense management, or marketing awareness. Being able to plug in to internal data sources — and external, and even live news feeds, and live public sources — and aggregate or mashup that data so that they can have a real-time view of information that they have never been able to get at before, because it's essentially been locked up in silos in their organization.

Yeah, and I think that's when it starts to get really quite exciting, this capability doesn't it? Because I think the situational awareness thing, a simple example of that is, you mashup with Google Maps and you know where you are. That's a sort of situational awareness, isn't it? In the business environment, you can imagine having the data that you need on a [sales] call with the customer that is relevant to that customer's current situation — or a call center agent taking a call and having information about where a package is in its journey to the customer, because the customer is wondering why it hasn't turned up.

And you can start to see why that kind of real-time information, — which is one of the beauties of the mashup, I think — giving people the real-time information they need can be a big commercial advantage.

Exactly. I mean you can think of a call center application. Call center applications really plug into your internal systems. If you think, just a wireless call center that's selling — or is supporting — data, if they were to get a call in and say, well, this other carrier's offering these specials and how can you match that or do those sorts of things? To get that into your call center application — you may just never be able to do it, to have the call center rep bounce out, and go into a browser and go and search. It's very inefficient and they can lose time and potentially a sale.

Integrating live data, such as competitive information or other type of information, and mak[ing] it a seamless part of the experience that the call center has, that is just a value add. Because, ultimately, if you really go and ask people such as call center reps what they need — they just need more information integrated, so they can make faster decisions and essentially close better deals, or help support the customer better.

And are we just talking about integrations into on-premise applications, or do you see customers integrating into SaaS applications as well?

Yeah. Well, so last year we saw a big rise in SaaS, especially SaaS such as Salesforce.com. And it makes a lot of sense. There's a natural trend here where you have complete sales organizations that will get onto a SaaS such as Salesforce.com. And then it doesn't take too long for them to start making requests into IT: well, I'm in Salesforce and I'm looking at my customer opportunity and then I want to know where the shipment is — or I want to know other information about the products or the order — so I have to bounce out and I have to go into my portal or look in my ERP system. Why can't I do the whole thing from within Salesforce? So traditional integration would lend you to believe, well, this means that I have to go and move data from my internal ERP into Salesforce and that's a big IT effort.

What mashups allows you to do is just treat the SaaS as yet another service or service provider. So if I can treat my internal Seibel system or SAP system as another source, and I can secure and govern that, and I integrate that into the context of what I'm doing within Salesforce, then I get a seamless experience in context.

So that means, underneath the covers I might be looking at a customer opportunity, and instead of actually going and moving that data into Salesforce, I actually am mashing up the data from my internal systems and putting it right in that same presentation that Salesforce has. So that's the experience that we want in the business context that mashups allows you to achieve.

Okay. So rather than having some kind of batch update going on behind the scenes from the enterprise servers to the Salesforce servers — and then you've got duplicated information — you're actually having the feeds from the enterprise data going straight into the Salesforce application that's running in the browser, and giving that real-time information to the user rather than replicating it through the server.

Exactly. Salesforce — if we're in context of Salesforce and we know what customer we're looking at — we can easily go and use that information to gather other data within our external systems and create the user interface or the presentation. Actually, the terminology is now widgets, we call them 'mashlets' because they're mashup widgets — and get those in the same look and feel right within Salesforce, because it's a web page, and have it look as though it's part of Salesforce. I think Gartner is starting to call this application extension, being able to take your existing applications and extend them with mashups in a very, very subtle but powerful way.

Yeah, I think it's a very interesting use of the Web technology to be able to do the integration in the browser interface, rather than going through the server — because the browser, of course, is on the Web just as the server is, so why not link into the browser on the desktop rather than between the application servers. So it makes a lot of sense.

Exactly right. We used to say that we put a face on SOA, or mashups put a face on SOA. And the reality here is that, if mashups can get data to the user very quickly in context so that they can make decisions, it makes a lot of sense to be able to put it in a presentation form so that the user can interact with it. That's why when you hear a lot about mashups, you hear about it from the data perspective, but then you also hear about it from the user interface perspective, and the two are very symbiotic with each other.

So you can just get out the data if you want and you can pull the data that's mashed up. But you can also syndicate out that data in the form of a mashlet or widget and get that data into whatever destination you want, whether it be Salesforce, or an iPhone, or some of the new generation portals or web personal portals like Netvibes or Pageflakes.

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

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