Making mashups work in the enterprise

Businesses can benefit from using mashup applications, but they should consider the business case carefully and pick the right approach, according to an IBM executive.

There is value in enterprise mashups, but businesses need to engage in careful planning when taking the plunge, according to IBM's chief technology officer for emerging technologies.

Enterprise mashups are growing in popularity and there are many mashups on the Web today, David Boloker said in an interview with ZDNet Asia. A mashup refers to a Web application that combines content from multiple sources, typically created using application program interfaces (APIs).

Echoing Gartner's view that Web 2.0 technologies such as mashups will mature in two years' time, Boloker pointed out that the push toward mashups would not come from the ability to create mashups but the ability to solve business problems.

The potential value that mashups can create for organizations and the people they serve is significant, noted Boloker. Citing the example of a public-private partnership, Boloker explained that if an aged driver has been advised by his doctor to stop driving, he could still be on the roads because the authorities would not be alerted to the doctor's advice. Using mashup technology, information from the database of licensed drivers can be integrated with healthcare warnings to create more meaningful data to various stakeholders, for instance, a car rental company.

Navigating the world of mashups

Mix and match
Mashups allow for different information and services to be combined to form new content. In more technological terms, mashups are custom programs that are created from merging multiple application program interfaces. Companies such as Google and Yahoo have made their APIs publicly available for programmers to create mashups, while IBM is working on a project that allows business professionals without programming knowledge to create mashups by dragging and dropping content onto a dashboard.

The world of mashups
One popular enterprise use of mashups is in the area of property. Conventional sites do not allow buyers to view the exact location of the available properties, but mashups such as HousingMaps in the United States are able to do just that.
BookJetty.com is a mashup that brings together Amazon's site search with the online catalogue of Singapore's National Library Board (NLB). Created earlier this year, the beta site also displays most popular search keywords.

As long as sensitive information is protected, there would not be an issue of loss of privacy, said Boloker. The doctor only needs to indicate that the patient is not fit to drive and for how long, but he does not need to reveal the cause behind the advice.

Organizations need to do "a bit of thinking" about the businesses or services it wants to cultivate with the mashups, said Boloker. They also need to look at how they can build up their capabilities to create the mashups, which could include having IT shops build the expertise, relying on Web-based services and equipping business professionals with mashup tools.

In addition, the organization has to decide what data can be used, Boloker explained. Within IBM for instance, there is still certain information where access is restricted, such as in the case of data that is too hard to replace or information that is too private.

Security, as well as identity and governance--the "same issues we have on the Web today"--are issues to contend with, Boloker pointed out. This affects trust, and organizations need to trust the providers of mashup service, he said, adding that only when such issues are resolved will enterprise mashups take off in a big way.

To reach out to enterprises that want to be able to create mashups without having to know programming, IBM has its QEDwiki project, which provides a set of enterprise mashup-making tools using AJAX scripting and wikis.

According to Boloker, IBM is working on some 20 proof of concepts associated with QEDwiki globally, which span across industries including government, financial services, telcos and media companies.

The 20 businesses provide a good platform for understanding not only the requirements for the generation of widgets but also the issues surrounding security, and identity and governance in working with mashup technologies.