Making Business Mash-Ups Work

Users can get in over their heads when they try to combine Web-based apps. Here's what you need to know.

Mash-ups are coming to an enterprise near you. New tools and services like Yahoo Pipes and Microsoft Popfly make it easy for nontechnical users to create and share mash-ups, those custom Web applications that combine and display multiple sources of data into something new.But that doesn't mean CIOs won't need to be involved.

Business users can go too far on their own. "The very thing that makes mash-ups so beneficial will likely come back and bite you," writes Forrester senior analyst Mike Gualtieri in "Enterprise Mashups: Lead, Don't Follow." Users get started without IT but then hit a road block. Or, their simple mash-up becomes a massive application that is not scalable or built for integration.

Forrester projects that adoption of enterprise mash-ups will break 10 percent in 2012, so CIOs need a plan for how to address them within their organization.

First, understand what constitutes a mash-up. "The word is used by many companies to describe the combination of anything. The key feature of mash-ups is that they allow users to combine two or more sources of data to create a new view of that data," says Gualtieri. Host a training session before giving users access to a mash-up tool. Help them understand whether a mash-up is what they need. Once users are trained, provide support via help desk scripts and production assistance. Users will rely on their mash-ups, so they need help if they hit trouble. CIOs can assist by making sure the mash-up platform is operational and underlying data services and sources are running.

Gualtieri says enterprise mash-up platforms are still immature, but as users become more familiar with Web 2.0 technologies, these capabilities will drive corporate strategies. "Most CIOs have an innovation goal," he says. "Implement enterprise mash-ups as a way to provide the business with a tool to innovate."

Best Practices

    1. Establish a policy that defines IT support for mash-ups and spells out that users must attend training before accessing the tools and applications to build one.

    2. Don't let the business sneak in mash-ups. "If you do, you'll be sorry because they'll make a mess and you'll have to clean it up," says Gualtieri. Instead, work with users and have your IT organization take the lead on bringing in mash-ups.

    3. Use what you have. Mash-ups depend on the underlying data sources. If you have a service-oriented architecture, the services that make up that architecture are perfect mash-up sources. But be choosy: Expose a minimum number of services to users and keep the interface simple.

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