Mashups: The end of one-size-fits-all software

Mashups democratize the relationship between IT departments and end-users, says Mike Ogrinz, author of Mashup Patterns: Designs and Examples for the Modern Enterprise. For years, developers have been crying, "Separate your business logic from your presentation logic!" and yet who maintained both artifacts? The IT department. Mashups finally resolve this state of affairs and empower users to create solutions for themselves - a kind of usability nirvana.

This is part of a regular series that highlights new books and their authors. Also in this series: Nelson Ruest and Danielle Ruest with 5 Rules for virtualization success, Joel Scambray on exposing the hacker's advantage, and Scott Hogg on IPv6 security. (You can find all the installments in this series here.)

Mashup Patterns

"Enterprise 2.0" is based on importing technologies that have been successful in the consumer space into the modern organization. The goal is to apply the advances inherent in "Web 2.0" to tangible business problems. At the forefront of this effort are Enterprise Mashups. Many of you will be familiar with mashups based on sites that show you nearby restaurants or cheap gas on a Google map. However, these simple examples barely hint at the potential business benefits. Using new mashup tools and platforms, enterprise software developers and - most importantly - business users can unlock a world of disparate resources and shape them into their own personal solutions.

What do you like best about mashups? Mashups democratize the relationship between IT departments and end-users. For years, developers have been crying, "Separate your business logic from your presentation logic!" and yet who maintained both artifacts? The IT department. Mashups finally resolve this state of affairs. The best shepherds of business needs and requirements are the business users themselves! As a strong proponent of user-friendly software, I think empowering users to create solutions for themselves is a kind of usability-nirvana.

Words of advice for those just getting started with mashups: There are a lot of tools out there, and almost a complete lack of standards. Don't fall prey to a slick advertising campaign or sales pitch. You need to do your own due-diligence and make sure the mashup platform you adopt is both easy-to-use and also fulfils your technical requirements. And don't put security and governance on the back-burner. Excel-based solutions are notoriously thorny because they can spread across an organization without any supervision or control. Don't let this happen with mashups. IT has decades of expertise in managing solutions development and they should be engaged early to help implement your firm's mashup environment.

5 keys for success

  • Stop viewing resources (Web sites, spreadsheets, PDF files, etc.) intended to be user-facing as something that only a person can consume. Imagine what you would do with the resources "behind the glass" if you could get to them. Mashups make this possible.
  • Partner with IT. Mashups aren't just for empowering end-users, they can help IT work faster. An IT-centric pilot is a great low-risk technique for exploring mashup technology.
  • Credit your sources. If you mash-in data from other places and don't take this step, those other resources might be shut-off one day if no one realizes they are critical to your solution.
  • Find the ROI. Doing mashups for the sake of mashups won't be successful. Start with use cases that have a clear return-on-investment attached.
  • Choose your platform wisely since standards are only just emerging. Hit up potential vendors for a free pilot. Times are tough for everyone right now, mashup vendors included. Get them to prove their product, ideally by tackling a project already on your plate.

5 don'ts

  • Don't ignore security and governance issues. Mashups face many of the same audit and control mechanisms that traditional applications do.
  • Don't steal. Mashups can harvest huge amounts of intellectual property. Be careful not to violate any subscription or terms-of-use agreements.
  • Don't use mashups in mission-critical situations (right now, anyway). Mashups are only as strong as the Service level agreement (SLA) of the weakest system they leverage. This makes them potentially more subject to failure.
  • Don't avoid mashups for the prior reason - any application can break unexpectedly regardless of how it was constructed. As long as the benefits achieved exceed the remediation cost, the solution should be investigated.
  • Don't keep user-created mashups hidden. Publicize them. Otherwise, you run the risk of re-work as employees solve the same problems over and over.

Parting words: We are in the midst of a fundamental upheaval in how we experience our lives. We no longer watch TV on the network's schedule, or buy albums assembled by a faceless record label. New freedoms permeate almost every aspect of what was once our static, mass-marketing world. The last remaining bastion of "one size fits all" are the enterprise applications that we accepted as "good enough" and that held us at their mercy for lack of the skills or tools to make them better. Mashup platforms are breaking this cycle. The tools are becoming more powerful and easy to use alongside the increasing technical acumen of users who tinker at home with Facebook or Twitter. We are all becoming IT, while at the same time IT is empowering us. Mashups are a key step in viewing systems and information as raw materials for this new age.

Michael Ogrinz is author of the new book, Mashup Patterns: Designs and Examples for the Modern Enterprise, published by Addison-Wesley Professional, ISBN 032157947x, Copyright 2009 Pearson Education, Inc. For more info, please visit: www.informit.com/title/032157947x Safari Books Online subscribers can access the book here: http://my.safaribooksonline.com/9780321592088

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