A new breed of Web-based data integration applications is laying its foundation across the Internet. Collectively called mashups, their popularity stems from the emphasis on interactive user participation and the manner in which they aggregate and stitch together third-party data. Very much a product of the Web 2.0 movement, the “foundation” metaphor is a reasonable one; a mashup is characterized by the way in which it draws content and functionality from disconnected data sources outside its own boundaries.This vague definition of a mashup certainly isn’t a rigorous one. We find insight of what a mashup actually is in the term’s etymology: it was borrowed from the pop music scene, referring to a song is mixed of the vocal and instrumental tracks from two different source songs. In terms of Web or application development, a mashup is a technique for building an application that combines data from multiple sources to create an integrated experience. Many mashups available today are hosted, providing visual representations of publically available data. Given their consumer-driven background, mashups, until recently, have had an uncertain role in the enterprise, and have played a relatively minor role in the development and deployment of business applications. But what is certain is the impact and importance that mashups will play in the development and deployment of business applications over the coming years. According to a recent Gartner report, enterprises are now investigating taking mashups from the world of Web hobbies to enterprise-class systems to augment their models for delivering and managing applications. Through 2010, the enterprise mashup product environment will experience significant flux and consolidation, and application architects and IT leaders should investigate this growing space for the significant and transformational potential it may offer their businesses, according to the study. 

Influence of New Software Architectures

Architecturally, there are two styles of mashups: Web and server. Web-based mashups are typically constructed within a browser. Server-based mashups are done on the server either in a data center or hosted in the “cloud.” In either case, both methods provide increased flexibility for the developer and are highly representative of the next generation of software as a service and cloud computing-based applications.For early versions of mashups, much of the implementation was tedious and time-consuming, with many developers leveraging JavaScript for creation. It was common for the developer to create custom code to parse return sets that they received information from their data sources. But with time, the development process inherent in the creation of mashups has matured, with much of the coding having been replaced by frameworks and better codification standards. Standardized libraries and management tools are replacing custom scripts, shortening and easing the process. As a result, the creation of mashups, once the strict domain of the developer, is moving into the hands of system administrators and end users. As the frameworks to create mashups are becoming simpler and foundational formats are becoming more standardized and open, administrative tools to build mashups are now being developed and offered by some vendors, such as Google’s Mashup Editor or Pipes by Yahoo. Parallel to CRM systems, these administrative tools give nontechnical users and business administrators the capability to customize and develop custom mashups into business applications to increase application effectiveness and increase end-user adoption. 

Mashups in the Enterprise

The best way to explore the use of mashups within the enterprise is via examples. In terms of customer service, a call center that receives inbound calls for warranty and parts service is one example. The certificate signing request would already have relevant customer information, including purchase history, contact information and prior cases. But what if a mashup could plot the customer’s location on a map via a mashup that’s pulling data from Google Maps and could display a list of local service centers or parts suppliers for products? With such data, a CSR could answer a customer’s question in seconds. In this example, customer service is being improved by combining data from public data services with data already housed internally, all via the accessibility of a mashup portal. This same scenario can be extended across other enterprise applications, such as: 

  • Product management: A vast wealth of information about your competition is publicly available – key announcements, news, financial performance and marketing campaigns. Mashups could be leveraged as RSS feeds directly into an enterprise desktop application. In addition, this competitive intelligence mashup could be tailored to your particular product or territory. 
  • Transportation: Logistics companies often operate very sophisticated and very expensive predictive analytic solution to coordinates supply and demand for their services. When these calculations are off, time, gas and money can be wasted as empty trucks are forced to drive to different locations to reposition themselves. While mashups can’t perform the predictive analysis, they could be used for postmortem analysis by feeding poll data from prediction systems with data from real-time logistics systems. Bringing this data together allows performance to be reviewed and adjustments to be made accordingly. 
  • Financial services: Traditional risk modeling has always been a challenge because it can provide an incomplete picture of true risk. This is largely due to the fact that any internal and external data sources are missed, resulting in inaccurate forecasts. Some within the financial services industry are now leveraging mashups to improve decision-making by combining traditional risk scoring models with external information such as economic and job data, supplemental payment histories or third-party research on companies and individuals. 

Looking Forward

There is now a strong focus among business application vendors toward the development and implementation of mashups as businesses are getting more serious about applying them to make the development of Web-based business solutions faster, less costly and more intuitive. But before this impact can be felt, it remains to be seen how these rapidly evolving technologies will be implemented by enterprises, which have been slower to adopt such developments than the world of the consumer Web. To this end, open source and open application programming interface will be the vehicle by which the next generation of mashups and cloud computing platforms will deliver their results. Gartner says that by 2010, 80 percent of all commercial software will include elements of open source technology, which are now mature and reliable. Open source will provide significant opportunities for both vendors and users to lower their total cost of ownership and increase ROI. The Web is becoming a ubiquitous platform for applications of all kinds, including CRM, and the success of concepts like cloud computing, mashups and enterprise collaboration depend on the continued penetration of open source into the application layer. Without open, standards-based development languages and APIs complementing ever-present open source infrastructure and delivery methods, the “cloud” cannot truly support interoperability across solutions and organizations.Mashups are an exciting new genre of Web applications. The combination of data modeling technologies stemming from the semantic Web domain and the maturation of loosely coupled, service-oriented, platform-agnostic communication protocols is finally providing the infrastructure needed to start developing applications that can leverage and integrate the massive amount of information that is available on the Web. As mashup applications gain visibility, it will be interesting to see how the genre impacts social issues such as fair-use and intellectual property as well as other application domains that integrate data across organizational boundaries, such as grid computing and business-to-business workflow management.With vendors now focused on developing high quality Web parts and open APIs compelling sourcing options are offered for the adoption and use of mashups within the enterprise, especially when taken in the context of SOA. Combined with the consumer Web’s focus on ease of use to gain adoption, vendors have paved the road for the cost-effective assembly of software mashups.

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