Enterprise applications: Pay attention to the user interface

Enterprise applications are going to increasingly come with Web 2.0 wrappers.

Enterprise applications are going to increasingly come with Web 2.0 wrappers. And the early innings of the game are under way.

While many observers are talking about mashups, lightweight applications and public APIs in the enterprise the real advantage Web 2.0 brings is better user interfaces. The software as a service types already have this edge. Traditional enterprise application vendors will soon follow.

At the Enterprise Search Summit this week in New York you're likely to hear a lot about user interfaces. The challenge: Enterprise software companies need to make their applications look like the Googles, Facebooks and MySpaces of the world so workers will adopt them.

That point isn't lost on enterprise search company Siderean, which focuses on semantic search and finding relationships in search results (see video at right) from inside and outside the corporate firewall. Siderean powers Oracle’s semantic search beta on the Oracle Technology Network.

Siderean just announced an update to its Seamark Navigator search system.  The new version, Seamark Navigator 4.5, improves security and scalability of the prior 4.1 version. But the real selling point to the enterprise masses may be the user interface.

Brad Allen, founder and chief technology officer of Siderean, says the company spent a lot of time on the "widgetry," Web 2.0-ish touches that resemble what you'd find on consumer applications (see tag navigation left).

"User experience and quality is key to success of any software app inside or outside the enterprise," says Allen. "A lot of the experiences people are getting out of consumer application are things that they are demanding in the enterprise."

Allen adds that Siderean spent a good bit of time trying to make search visual--this is the first version of Seamark Navigator that tackles visualization (see demo screen below--Harrison Ford could just as easily be Joe Schmoe in accounting). On the surface, usability of a consumer application and the requirements of an enterprise would appear to be a problem. Allen is betting there's a happy medium. If a customer's employees use an application because it's effective and looks good it's more likely ROI will follow. Siderean's goal is to unearth data a user may not know he needs. Meanwhile, the lightweight development techniques embedded in Siderean’s search doesn't hurt either.

However, looks only go so far. One of the big issues addressed at the Gartner powwow in San Francisco last month was security surrounding Web 2.0 apps in the enterprise. The takeaway: The more companies adopt Web 2.0 widgets and APIs the more of a security risk they face.

That's why Siderean is pitching its wares with a heavy security angle too. The company has government customers that want more security. In response, Siderean is using its semantic Web foundations to model relationships and users. Companies can create rules and limit results based on role--that way technology managers don't spend time mapping names. For instance, a content manager couldn't get access to a financial document because he had no relationship with the financial department. Just as a search would link tags it can also find relationships among people.

"The goal is to knock out classes of people that shouldn't have access to these documents," says Allen. "It's crucial to making security scale."

Those issues are still being worked out in many respects. Enterprise 2.0 has to be a secure environment to work. That's why Allen reckons that Web 2.0-ish applications will hit the workplace "in an incremental fashion." The good news is the game appears to have started.


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