By Doug Bartholomew | December 2008
The burgeoning use of enterprise mashups - a Web 2.0 hybrid combining data from more than one source - has taken many IT departments by surprise. Some are playing catch-up, trying to figure out how to keep tabs on this largely user-driven phenomenon. As a result, skilled application architects, as well as business professionals who understand how to put mashups together, are likely to be in demand. Combining two or more applications and often utilizing data obtained via the Web, mashups create what is essentially a new application. In most businesses, this often results in users benefiting from a broader, richer set of data for use in making decisions. According to research firm Gartner, by 2010 more than 30 percent of Global 2000 organizations will be using user-assembled, composite applications built with enterprise mashup environments. Unlike most business applications, Mashups typically source their content from existing systems, and tend to have no native data store or content repository. Instead, they're usually be created - in effect, "mashed up" - by business users in an opportunistic, tactical fashion. For example, last fall the Los Angeles Police Department used a satellite-based geographic mapping application meshed with a system tracking gang members who, as part of their parole, had been fitted with ankle tracking devices. Moments after a 911 call reporting a fatal drive-by shooting, an alert watch sergeant discovered one of the ankle-fitted parolees was fleeing the shooting location in an SUV. Both ground and air units were called in, and the entire gang was captured shortly after the vehicle reached the gang's hideout. Similarly, General Electric's real estate business unit worked with MapInfo, a Troy, N.Y., company, to integrate a mapping application with its loan portfolio system. The resulting mashup enables the real estate unit's sales team to see other deals it has in the same market and how they are performing. :The list of capabilities of what you can do with mashups is virtually endless," says Jonathan Yarmis, vice president for disruptive technologies at AMR Research. "This is a Swiss Army Knife for users." Despite their popularity, mashups pose a downside for IT management. That's because often no one is tending the mashup store. Business users are fashioning mashups at will, without the CIO or director of IS any the wiser. And because many mashups contain both public and private data sources, there are data access issues. "The issue is how much access to internal data do companies want to provide?" asks Kathy Quirk, research manage for enterprise mashups and portal strategies at International Data Corp. Some software companies and IT vendors already offer systems to help manage mashups. For instance, IBM's Mashup Hub provides a level of security and control for IT management, allowing both IT staff and business users to define who can access the information. What kinds of skills will be needed by organizations looking to build mashups as well as monitor their creation and use? "Application architects need to investigate this growing space to assess the significant impact it could have on enterprise application delivery," says a Gartner report. It recommends companies "plan for an explosion of user-developed mashups, and the resulting impact on IT support, with the need to apply quality control and governance to the development environment." Technology professionals seeking to work in area should become familiar with some of the emerging standards and practices for mashups, such as OpenAjax, an IBM-initiated model for bringing in code and data from third parties, and OpenSAM, a set of standards and practices for creating mashups. Yarmis points out mashups are essentially a Web 2.0 application that's suddenly exploding in companies where management has yet to catch up to the technology's curve. "The users in enterprises today are saying, 'Let me consume these technologies in ways that make sense in my business context.' That's where you get the real power of the mashups," he says. "I think every person coming into the workforce has that User 2.0 expectation," he adds. "If you talk to an HR person these days, they'll tell you these new workers have an expectation about their workface. That is, 'If you ban or restrict the user's use of this technology, you're cutting off my oxygen.'" Ultimately, the growth of mashups means both business and IT staff with the skills to build, manage, and govern them will be in demand over the next few years. Doug Bartholomew is a business and technology writer based in California's Bay Area.