Companies that want to move beyond cutting and pasting information into Excel spreadsheets will have to adopt a set of APIs and create lightweight "mashup" applications that automate business processes, executives said during a Webcast last Thursday.
The event was a first of a projected series of online discussions hosted by software provider Nexaweb, which also announced a partnership with Kapow Technologies. Under the agreement, Kapow will help companies implement its Mashup Server, a visual scripting tool for making Web 2.0 applications, along with Nexaweb's platform, whose platform focuses on asynchronous Java and XML (Ajax) within service-oriented data systems. The idea is that companies that are trying to create a more efficient IT environment based on a service-oriented architecture (SOA) could also develop online applications that tie into those systems.
Kapow Technologies' CTO, Stefan Andreasen, said the partnership would facilitate the creation of so-called enterprise mashups, which combine services in network-based data into multiple applications and make them available through a dashboard of some kind. These kinds of tools make it much easier for companies to offer self-service features to their users, he said, while making use of existing IT infrastructure.
"This is not a competition with SOA but a complement that meets a different set of needs," he said.
The mashups will give users better automate tasks and the ability to deliver software programs more quickly, Andreasen said. They would in essence be what developers are calling rich Internet applications, or RIAs, that use APIs such as SOAP and RSS and offer a downloadable "offline" mode as well as an online one.
"The No. 1 obstacle is to get access to the data," he said. "A lot of enterprises have 6,000 internal Web applications with no API . . . the information the knowledge worker has is only what they can personally see on their screen."
Nexaweb's chief architect, Bob Buffone, said the prime candidates for enterprise mashups will be complex, composite applications with dynamic, non-linear workflows.
"We're not talking about (spreadsheets) with a few rows of information. We're talking about data that has thousands of rows that need to be updated in real-time," he said, using the example of a foreign exchange application that has to update information about currency prices with minimal latency. "Right now in companies there's a lot of heads-down data entry. These kind of applications will need something that doesn't require a mouse, more of a tab-type interface."
Buffone said it will be important that enterprise mashups leverage existing code tools and development infrastructure and build on the paradigms that are already in place. The goal is to create software that has the performance of a desktop application but can be deployed in a browser -- or just on a PC.
"This concept of offline Web application is going to grow predominantly in the enterprise," he predicted. "No one can always be sure the Internet is going to be there when they use their application."
Although some firms have been making their own mashups on an ad-hoc basis, Andreasen suggested that is going to change. "To make this work well, you will need a mashup infrastructure and products in place to leverage the opportunity," he said.
Nexaweb will be hosting its next Webcast, on securing Web 2.0 applications, this Thursday.