Mashups offer enormous potential for new business functionality by consolidating disparate information into a single interface and streamlining the manner in which enterprise data and applications are used.
Editor's Note: This article contains excerpts from "Bringing Mashups to Your Enterprise Business Applications," a free white paper that you can download from the MC White Paper Center.
Since its roots in the music scene, where songs from different artists got blended into new versions, the term "mashup" has now morphed into an exciting new way to build Web applications. Mashup technology has garnered a lot of excitement over the last five years because mashups provide a better end-user experience, allow us to look at existing information in a new light, and are easy to create. In fact, some analysts view mashups as a way to offload a portion of a company's development and design work to their users since mashups are so easy to put together that they can be created without possessing any application development skills.
Whenever a hot new technology hits the mainstream, it's just a matter of time until there's a push to migrate it into the business world. I'll admit that I've played around with a lot of different mashup Web sites over the years. Why not? They're fun! But I'd hardly call them business applications.
This article provides a solid explanation of the key concepts that drive business mashups and sheds light on the benefits of traditional mashups and the ways they can be utilized in the business world. Most recently, mashups have entered the realm of enterprise application development. "Business mashups" have become the latest groundbreaking advancement in enterprise IT innovation and agility and, by some estimates, they've become today's fastest-growing business application ecosystem. If you're not yet familiar with this approach to delivering new applications and your head has only recently stopped spinning from the changes brought about by service-oriented architecture (SOA), AJAX, and Web 2.0, the idea of mashups may strike you at first as just another way that IT is losing control to impatient, undisciplined users who--left to their own devices and wielding the latest clever Web tricks--will wreak havoc on enterprise application security and support. But with a solid understanding of business mashups, you'll find they offer enormous potential for new business functionality and greater IT agility, without posing a threat to sound IT management.
Advancing from Web to Business Mashups
Anyone paying close attention to what's being accomplished with mashups should recognize how business mashups could have an enormous impact within an enterprise. Bringing together just the right information from anywhere within the organization, combining it with information from other sources, and presenting it in a way that's optimized for both the individual and the specific task can increase productivity and produce whole new ways to deliver goods, services, and support to customers and trading partners.
But before we get into how your enterprise can take advantage of business mashups, let's look a bit more at why you may want to add this powerful strategy to your IT arsenal. Most enterprises take advantage of only a fraction of the data, business knowledge, and employee talent they possess. As a result, there's a large potential to make business processes more efficient and less error-prone, improve customer experience and loyalty, and manage the enterprise more effectively.
Types of Business Mashups
Business Mashups can be categorized into four types:
- Presentation Mashups
- Information/Analysis Mashups
- Transactional Mashups
- Process Mashups
Figure 1: Evolving from presentation mashups to process mashups increases application capabilities, level of customization, and the need for IT aid and governance. (Click image to enlarge.)
Laying the Foundation for Business Mashups
An IT organization should lay a solid foundation before incorporating business mashups into its application strategy. This requires understanding the essential enabling technologies, making appropriate architectural and tooling decisions, and establishing how governance will be applied to business mashups.
In essence, business mashups are a particular way that new applications are composed from components. Software components are simply objects that have been implemented according to a standard or convention that describes how the objects will interact with each other. By following a standard or convention for interaction, components can be more easily and widely reused.
Challenge: Expanding Flexibility While Maintaining Governance
With a basic understanding of the business mashup technology, the first challenge to address is this: How can IT develop and deploy a thriving business mashup ecosystem while maintaining effective governance?
The answer involves frameworks, tooling, and sound practices.
The Big Integration Payoff
"Mashing" could be considered a hip term for something IT has sought for many years: integration. Business mashups, of course, are a particular approach to integrating information and presenting it. With traditional mashups, in particular, the integration applies most commonly to third-party data feeds and services. With business mashups, internal data and functionality are in many cases more important sources of mashup data and services.
That brings us to another important role of IT in supporting and controlling business mashups: creating mashup components. Here again, repositories and frameworks ("pillars" of application architectures) come into play. A repository provides persistent and structured storage for all the information that defines applications, including database contents and external representations of data (e.g., display, print, electronic exchange). Frameworks provide all the infrastructure and "plumbing code" for today's modern applications. Before frameworks, developers would spend a lot of time writing "plumbing code" even though it adds no business value to applications; it's purely for infrastructure.
Delivering the Benefits Widely
As we saw earlier, mashups have spread from music to the World Wide Web and can now be based on both internal and external data and services. So why limit the delivery of this integrated information and functionality to just the Web browser interface? While the browser provides a ubiquitous and immensely flexible interface, there's nothing inherent in the mashup concept that can't be extended to other interfaces.
For human interfaces, such as Windows and other rich-client platforms, what changes is the rendering components that are used (and some of the underlying "plumbing" code by which components communicate). Such variations can be managed automatically when a framework and associated tooling support multiple presentation platforms. The range of potential mashup user interfaces also includes mobile devices, again based on using appropriate rendering components.
The mashup concept also embodies the idea of APIs at its very foundation, and composite components that your IT organization creates can provide other enterprises with an API to selected data and services from your enterprise via data feeds and services. Being a supplier, as well as a consumer, of mashup feeds and services offers the potential to extend your enterprise's reach into its customer and trading partner communities.
Similarly, implementing mashup services adds another option, in addition to fully rendered business mashups, for composing workflows. Of course, this requires automated workflow support that can invoke mashup services. And, as mentioned earlier, mashups may greatly simplify the steps in a process.
To find out more about how your organization can leverage mashups, download the free white paper "Bringing Mashups to Your Enterprise Business Applications" from the MC White Paper Center.