A Real Social Enterprise Mashup

Updated: April 30, 2009

The term "mashup" originates from mixing a combination of musical tracks and voices into a new song. Often the musical selections seem vastly different, yet when combined, they produce a pleasant rhythm and sound. In referring to Internet applications, Wikipedia defines a mashup as a "Web application that combines data from more than one source into a single integrated tool."

The outcome of any mashup — be it musical or Web 2.0-related — is a new composition that the original sources wouldn't have necessarily envisioned. It is creative and artistic. Just as a DJ orchestrates a new recording using a multitude of disparate tracks and sounds, a user composing an Internet application chooses from a variety of components, widgets and services to build a new and interesting way of accessing or viewing the mix of information.

The outcome is just as impressive as a new musical score; something unique is produced from seemingly unrelated information.

What Is the Genre?

An enterprise mashup, then, is simply a creative combination of enterprise data such as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), CRM and business intelligence that contextually combines the information business users need to do their jobs. An enterprise mashup platform supports new compositions and applications that harness the disparate information and collective intelligence in the enterprise. An enterprise mashup platform consists of:

  • Services and information produced in a format that can be mashed, such as RSS/Atom, Web services or REST (Representational State Transfer)
  • Visualization components such as portlets, widgets and gadgets
  • A tool to compose the mashup and wire components together
  • A robust infrastructure to manage all the change and new combinations

Social mashups are a new genre that take this one step further. Ultimately in an enterprise, social interaction is a key part of how information is tied together and increasingly more relevant to how individuals want to visualize information. Linking people, processes and information through new Web 2.0 tools , and mashing these up into different views that can be reused and mashed up again, creates a real social enterprise mashup.

Let's say a sales manager has been appointed to analyze why sales numbers dropped during the last quarter. As they view the quarterly sales mashup from CRM and ERP systems overlaid geographically on a Google map, they create a team workspace from the context of this sales mashup that exposes the most critical services already pre-mashed on a set of pages.

Then they identify a project team; invite the members; and start assigning tasks, scheduling team meetings, and uploading a set of critical reports and documents. As team members start to collaborate and work on their tasks, links between the people and information will either be created explicitly or formed implicitly.

Better, connected social and enterprise information allowed the sales manager to determine the reason for the drop in sales. Combining enterprise mashups and social networks can enable these efficiencies in the enterprise.

Who Is the DJ?

In the enterprise mashup world, the DJ can literally be anyone. A mashup can start with developers combining various components from their CRM and ERP systems; then a partner might customize the application, adding a Google gadget to the mix; then the mashup is turned over to business users, who tailor the application even more to their view of the world. Enterprise mashups can generally be categorized into two areas based on the skill set of the originator: developer mashups and business -user mashups. Both of them are equally important to the enterprise, and they should both operate seamlessly together.

Developers make original sources accessible through service-oriented, Web-oriented or proprietary architectures. They create reusable ("mashable") components (such as widgets, gadgets and portlets), wire components together to be more contextually relevant, and define the security and governance for how these applications evolve.

Developers empower business users within the guidelines set by their corporate culture and policies to easily assemble all the information and applications they need into a mashup that they find most productive.

Assuming the mashup components are generic, business users are able to plug and play them into new mashups. The only tool required for a business-user mashup is a browser enabled by rich client technologies such as AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) and DHTML (dynamic HTML).

Using the catalog of components created by developers in combination with gadgets and widgets available on the Internet — plus existing mashups — business users can compose, evolve and mash up applications in order to personalize them or customize them for others.

Who Is Downloading the Music?

For enterprise social mashups to be successful, they must create real tangible value to the business. There are many factors that indicate enterprise mashups are poised to take off:

  • Is hip-hop the latest trend? Enterprise expectations are increasingly driven by mashup and social- networking consumer tools, including iGoogle, MyYahoo, Yahoo Pipes, RSS, PopFly, MySpace.com and Facebook. Business users who mash up Internet information to make it more useful in their personal lives feel they should be able to do the same at the office.

  • More distribution channels are available now. SOA (service-oriented architecture) is driving a change to expose information and applications as independent and distributed services. IT is now able to harness these information silos to create more useful, integrated, composite applications.

  • Everyone is a songwriter. In the enterprise, the amount of data to mix is enormous and growing every day, especially when you consider combining enterprise resources and social networks with Internet sources. Business users need creative, nonintrusive ways to bring this abundance of information together in the context of their daily lives and processes. With business moving at a fast-forward pace, enterprises can't afford to let IT push pause.

  • Record labels are feeling the pain. As business users demand more from limited IT resources, IT understands that LOBs (lines of business) increasingly have other choices. Software as a service and consumer applications offer real competition to in-house IT operations. If the IT department is to maintain control of vital enterprise data, it must empower business users to compose and tailor applications while ensuring the necessary governance and security is in place to comply with the organization's culture and policies.

Who Is at the Party?

Fortunately, in this new enterprise mashup world, everyone can party. From the DJs that compose the new mashups to the flies on the wall just listening to the music and enjoying the new creations, everyone is rocking to their own rhythm. It isn't a coincidence that mashups and social computing are intersecting on the dance floor. Mashups provide a way for all users to be more expressive and participate in the enterprise social networks and collective intelligence.

Social-software tools themselves transform into — and fully enable — mashup environments. As people collaborate and socialize within an organization, the logical next step is to empower them with software that supports these efforts.

Whether a group of people needs to work together on a project or collectively solve a business problem, or if they simply share a common interest, they require a set of tools, such as: discussion forums, wikis, content management and integration, search, instant messaging, presence information, lists, tasks, business processes, workflows, tagging, object relationships, group calendars, and email.

They also need software that supports them in mixing and mashing these Web 2.0 components into an intuitive and effective user experience: a true social enterprise mashup.

Think about tagging a person in your organization, a page in a community and a document in a partner portal all with the same keyword. Browsing this connected information with a tag cloud provides a new view and links into these different information sources. Mixing these tag clouds into other mashups enhances their usefulness. Over time, a social network emerges that enables everybody to quickly find relevant information based on the collective experience of others.

In the past, the real bottleneck in an organization wasn't creating and managing information — it was finding relevant information in a reasonable time.

What About the Hangover?

Fabulous party, wasn't it? But there lingering concerns about the consumer tools, technologies and solutions that have worked their way into the enterprise. Making sense of the mashup party on the day after can cause real headaches.

  • Security: iTunes or peer-to-peer? Security and governance are vital in the mashup world, since information can be consumed from and published to outside sources. Understanding and restricting where your corporate intellectual property gets mixed is essential. The challenge is in establishing the right balance between enforcing corporate policies without being so restrictive that you inhibit creativity, collective intelligence and user adoption. Each organization must define how much freedom the corporate culture is willing to embrace, and the underlying architecture must support the dials to change accordingly.

  • Performance: What happens when someone knocks over the stereo? High availability and performance are important considerations for enterprise social mashups. When you create a mashup that relies on external services, you're placing your trust somewhere you may not have intended to or been aware of. Ensuring that systems can scale as the user population grows, and that new services are deployed, are important considerations when deciding on the underlying architecture.

  • Extensibility: The music never stops, and new songs continue to be produced. Having an extensible architecture up front is necessary. Your underlying mashup architecture must be fluid, permitting both developers and end users to grow and extend it.

  • Change Management: While some people like the mashup, others may prefer the original song. When business users mash up enterprise applications, they're effectively changing and customizing base applications. Later, when applications are upgraded and new solutions rolled out, users expect that the results of their effort and creativity will be preserved. The architecture must provide controls so that customizations are retained when appropriate but can be overridden when necessary.

  • Industry Standards: Can I mash up my eight-tracks and LPs with my MP3s? Industry standards are becoming more and more crucial to ensure that components and services from different vendors interact seamlessly with each other in an enterprise mashup. As leading vendors adopt standards for areas such as content integration, data bindings, portlets, communication and Web services, the result is a massive reduction in the effort required to integrate systems.

The Bonus Track

Enterprise social mashups enable developers and business users to solve problems in ways that were never possible before. Empowering everyone to be a DJ and come to the party is at the heart of Web 2.0 and social networks. As everyone participates and contributes to defining the collective intelligence in the enterprise, real enterprise social mashups emerge that produce real enterprise value.

James Owen is a senior product manager for Oracle WebCenter, responsible for page composition, social networking and content management technologies. He has been a featured speaker at industry conferences such as JavaOne, holds several patents in the content management space and was an active participant in the JSR-170 expert group.

Christian Hauser is a principal product manager for Oracle WebCenter. Christian has also served as a support analyst as part of Oracle Support Services organization, where he was the EMEA Portal team leader. Currently, he is responsible for social networking capabilities within Oracle WebCenter.

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