Enterprise 2.0: Enterprise Mashups Panel

David Berlind hosted a panel on enterprise mashups, with Michalene Todd of Serena, Nicole Carrier of IBM, Lauren Cooney of Microsoft (recently of IBM) and Charlotte Goldsbery of Denodo. I was supposed to moderate this panel, but when the vendors started treating it like a sponsored panel by switching out participants, and the conference organizers refused to kick in for any of my expenses (in an outrageously biased policy where they pay some speakers’ expenses but not others depending on who you complain to), I decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle and bowed out. David’s a great moderator and knows a lot about mashups, but ultimately, I think that he allowed this panel to be hijacked by the vendors, with the exception of Lauren, who speaks her own mind rather than the Microsoft party line. Serena totally screwed up on this one by bumping Kelly Shaw off the panel — a panel that’s described as being full of “girl uber-geeks” — and replacing her with a non-technical corporate marketing person who was out of her depth, and Denodo didn’t do much better by putting in a self-described salesperson.

There was an interesting discussion about how data is exposed to be consumed by mashups, e.g., ATOM/RSS, and the implications with respect to the security of the underlying data, the ability of mashup platforms to consume that data, and how to appropriately encapsulate data so that a non-technical person creating a mashup can’t do evil things to the underlying data source, like doing a search on a non-indexed field in a large database table. You need to consider the interfaces for accessing the data and services: SOAP, RESTful services, web services, etc.

Realistically, business users still can’t do mashups, in spite of what the vendors tell you: there’s just too much technical stuff that they need to know in order to do mashups still. Although it’s easy to drag and drop things within a graphical environment, that’s not the issue: it’s understanding the data sources and their interactions that’s critical. The real target for many of the mashup platforms, as I’ve stated many times before, is for the semi-technical types within business units who are now creating end-user computing applications using Excel, Access and other readily-available tools. I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of, and striving for the goal of allowing any business user to do mashups is unrealistic. I was at a client site recently, and of all the claims adjusters and their managers who I talked with there, I can’t imagine that a single one of them would be inclined to even try to create a mashup or — without intending any insult to them in any way — have the skills to do so. Likely the closest that business users will come to building mashups will be configuring their own personalized portal within an existing framework, similar to iGoogle; a proper mashup framework may also allow the portal widgets/gadgets to interact, such as using selections in one widget as a filter for another on the same page. A lot of the good business applications, the things that are now being handled by other MS-Office-based end-user applications, are spreadsheet-like in nature; data visualization is a critical part of mashups, but there’s rarely a Google map involved.

Another issue is whether mashups are ready for prime time: are they really intended to be deployed as production applications, or are they just an easy-to-use prototyping environment? What about underlying data sources that aren’t under your control (like Google Maps) in terms of SLAs and fault tolerance? Although internal systems can also have failures, at least you have some degree of control over your own IT resources in terms of high availability of applications and their data sources, and any critical external services that you use — whether in a mashup or any other type of application — has to come from a company with whom you can nail down a believable SLA.