Transcript of BriefingsDirect podcast on data mashups with IBM and Kapow.
Listen to the podcast here. Sponsor: Kapow Technologies.
Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you’re listening to BriefingsDirect. Today, a sponsored podcast discussion about the state of choice in the modern enterprise around development and deployment technologies.
These days, developers, architects and even line-of-business managers have many choices. This includes things like Web applications, software-as-a-service (SaaS), Services Oriented Architecture (SOA), RESTful applications, mashups, pure services off the Web, and pure services from within an Intranet or even the extended enterprise. We’re talking about RSS and Atom feeds, and, of course, there is a traditional .NET and Java going on.
We also see people experimenting with Ruby and a lot of use around PHP and scripting. The good news is that there are a lot of choices. The bad news is also that there are a lot of choices.
Some of these activities are taking place outside the purview of IT managers. People are being innovative and creative, which is good, but perhaps not always in the way that IT would like in terms of security and access control. These newer activities may not align with some of the larger activities that IT needs to manage -- which many times these days includes consolidation, unification, and modernization of legacy applications.
To help us weed through some of the agony and ecstasy of the choices facing application development and deployment in the enterprise, we have on the call, Rod Smith. Rod is Vice President of Internet Emerging Technologies at IBM. Welcome to the show, Rod.
Rod Smith: Thank you very much. It’s nice to be here.
Gardner: We also have Stefan Andreasen, the Founder and CTO of Kapow Technologies. Welcome to the show, Stefan.
Stefan Andreasen: Thank you.
Gardner: Let’s go first to Rod. We spoke last spring about these choices and how there are, in effect, myriad cultures that are now involved with development. In past years, development was more in a closed environment, where people were under control … white coats, raised floors, and glass rooms come to mind. But now it’s more like the Wild West. What have you been finding in the field, and do you see this as chaos or opportunity?
Smith: A little of both. In times of innovation you get some definite chaos coming through, but IT, in particular, and line of businesses see this as a big opportunity. Because of SOA and the other technologies you mentioned, information is available, and line of business is very interested in capturing new business opportunities.
Time to market is getting shorter, and getting squeezed all the time. So you’re seeing line of business and IT coming together around what they have to do to drive more innovation and move it up a couple of notches, from a business perspective.
Open standards now are very important to IT. Line of business, with mashups in particular, can use those types of services to get the information and create solutions they couldn’t do in the labs, when the propeller heads and others had to be involved five or 10 years ago.
Gardner: So we have dual or maybe multiple tracks going on. I suppose what’s missing is methodological and technical management. That’s an area where IBM has been involved for some time. Does IBM look at this as an opportunity?
Smith: A big opportunity. And you hit it on the head. The methodology here is very different from the development methodology we’ve been brought up to do. It’s much more collaborative, if you’re line of business, and it’s much more than a set of specifications.
Here is where we’re seeing people talk about building mashups. Usually they have a really good idea that comes to mind or something that they think will help with a new business opportunity.
Often the second question -- and we’ve seen a pattern with this -- is “Where is the data? How do we get to the data? Can IT open it up for us? Do line-of-business people have it in spreadsheets?” Typically, when it’s valuable to the business, they want to catalog it and put it together, so other people can share it. Finally, they do a mashup.
So methodology is one of the things we call a self-service business pattern. It starts with the idea, from a developer standpoint. "I really need to understand the business. I need to understand the time to market and the partnerships, and how information can be exposed." Then, they get down into some of the details. "I've got to do it quickly."
What we are seeing from an opportunity standpoint is that many businesses, when they see an opportunity, want a vendor to respond in 30 days or less, [and do more] within six months down the road. So that’s a challenge, and it is an opportunity. We think about tooling and middleware and services. How can we help the customer?
Gardner: Let’s go to Stefan. When you see these activities in the enterprise around mashups, SOAP, REST, HTML and XML, there’s an opportunity for bridging the chaos, but I suppose there’s also a whole new type of development around situational applications.
That is to say that, an opportunity exists to access content that hadn’t really been brought into an application development activity in the past. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re seeing in the enterprise and how these new types of development are manifesting themselves?
Andreasen: Let me comment on the chaos thing a little bit. It’s important to understand the history here. At first, central IT worked with all their big systems. Line of business really didn’t have any access to IT or tools themselves, until recently when they got desktop tools like Excel.
This current wave is really driven by line of business getting IT in their own hands. They’ve started using it, and that’s created the chaos, but chaos is created because there is a need.
Now, with the Web 2.0 and the mashup wave, there is an acknowledgement of a big need here, as Rod also said. So it’s necessary to understand why this is happening and why it is something that’s very important.
Gardner: These end-users, power users, these line of business folks, they’ve been using whatever tools have been available to them, even if it’s an Excel spreadsheet. I suppose that gives them some productivity, but it also leaves these assets, data and content, lying around on hard drives in a fairly unmanaged perspective.
Can we knock two birds down with one stone in terms of managing this chaos in terms of the data, but also bring together some interface and application development benefits?
Andreasen: The worst thing would be to shut it down, of course. The best thing that’s happening now is acknowledging that line-of-business people need to do their own thing. We need to give them the tools, environments and infrastructure so they can do it in a controlled way -- in an acceptable, secured way -- so that your laptop with all of your customer data doesn't get stolen at the airport.
When we talk about customer data, we leap back to your earlier question about data. What are line-of-business people working with? Well, they’re working with data, analyzing data, and finding intelligence in that data, drawing conclusions out of the data, or inventing new products with the data. So the center of the universe here for this IT work is really dealing with data.
Gardner: SOA is one of the things that sits in the middle between the traditional IT approaches and IT development and then these newer activities around data, access, and UIs and using Web protocols.
I wonder if you think that that’s where these things meet. Is there a way to use an enterprise service bus (ESB) for checking in and out of provisioned or governed services? Is there a way that mashups and the ERP applications meet up?
Smith: The answer is yes. Without SOA we probably wouldn't have gotten to a place where we can think about mashable content or remixable content.
What you are seeing from customers is the need to take internal information and transform it into XML or RESTful services. There’s a good match between ESB things … [and] thinking about security and other pieces of it, and then building the Rich Internet Application (RIA) type of applications.
The part you touched on before is interesting, too. And I think Stefan would agree with me. One thing we learned as we opened up this content is that it isn't just about IT managing or controlling it. It’s really a partnership now.
One thing Stefan has with Kapow that really got us talking early was the fact that for Stefan’s content they have a freshness style. We found that same thing is very important. The line of business wants to be involved when information is available and published. That’s a very different blending of responsibility than we've seen before on this.
So thinking forward you can imagine that while you are publishing this, you might be putting it into a catalog repository or into services. But it also has to available for line of business now to be able to look at those assets and work with IT on when they should be available to business partners, customers and others.
Gardner: It’s interesting you mentioned the word "publish," and it’s almost as if we are interchanging the words "publishing" and "application development" in the sense that they are munging or overlapping.
Does that fit with what Kapow has been seeing, Stefan, that publishing and syndication are now a function of application development?
Andreasen: There are several sides to this question of which data you need, how to access it, how it is published, etc. One thing you are talking about is line of business publishing their data so other people can use it.
I split data into several groups. One is what I call core data, the data that is generally available to everybody in the company and probably sits in your big systems. It’s something everybody has. It’s probably something that's service-oriented or is going to be very soon.
Then there is the more specialized data that’s sitting out in line of business. There's a tendency now to publish those in standard formats like RSS, RESTful services, etc.
There's is a third group, which I call intelligence data. That's hard to find, but gives you that extra insight, extra intelligence, to let you draw a conclusion which is different from -- and hopefully better than -- your competitors’.
That’s data that’s probably not accessible in any standard way, but will be accessible on the Web in a browser. This is exactly what our product does. It allows you to turn any Web-based data into standard format, so you can access what I call intelligence data in a standard fashion.
Gardner: This is the type of data that had not been brought into use with applications in the past?
Andreasen: That is correct. There is a lot of information that’s out there, both on the public Web and on the private Web, which is really meant to be human-readable information. You can just think about something as simple as going to U.S. Geological Service and looking at fault lines of earthquakes and there isn't any programmatic API to access this data.
This kind of data might be very important. If I am building a factory in an earthquake area, I don’t want to buy a lot that is right on the top of a fault line. So I can turn this data into a standard API, and then use that as part of my intelligence to find the best property for my new factory.
Smith: When we talk of line of business, it’s just not internal information they want. It's external information, and we really are empowering these content developers now. The types of applications that people are putting together are much more like dashboards of information, both internally and externally over the Internet, that businesses use to really drive their business. Before, the access costs were high.
Now the access costs are continuing to drop very low, and people do say, "Let’s go ahead and publish this information, so it can be consumed and remixed by business partners and others,” rather than thinking about just a set of APIs at a low level, like we did in the past with Java.
Gardner: How do we bring these differing orbits into alignment? We've got people who are focused on content and the human knowledge dimension -- recognizing that more and more great information is being made available openly through the Web.
At the same time, we have this group that is API-minded. I guess we need to find a way of bringing an API to those folks who need that sort of interface to work with this data, but we also need for these people to take this data and make it available in such a way that a developer might agree with it or use it.
How does Kapow work between these constituencies and make one amenable to the other? We're looking for a way to bind together traditional IT development with some of these “mashupable” services, be it internal content or data or external services off of the Web.
I wonder what Kapow brings to the table in terms of helping these two different types of data and content to come together -- APIs versus content?
Andreasen: If you want to have automatic access to data or content, you need to be able to access it in a standard way. What is happening now with Web Oriented Architecture (WOA) is that we're focusing on a few standard formats like RESTful services and on feeds like RSS and Atom.
So first you need to be able to access your data that way. This is exactly what we do. Our customers turn data they work with in an application into these standard APIs and feeds, so they can work with them in an automated way.
It hadn’t been so much of a problem earlier, maybe because there wasn’t so much data, and people could basically cut and paste the data. But with the explosion of information out there, there's a realization that having the right data at the right time is getting more and more important. There is a huge need for getting access in an automated way.
How do line-of-business people work with the data? Well, they work with the data in the application interface. What if the application interface today is your browser?
Kapow allows the line-of-business people to automatically access data the way they worked with it in their Web browser.
That’s a very powerful way of accessing data, because you don't have to have an extra level of IT personnel. You don't have to first explain, "Well, this is the data I need. Go find it for me." And then, maybe you get the wrong data. Now, you are actually getting the data that you see the way you want.
Gardner: Another aspect to this is the popularity of social networking and what's known as the "wisdom of crowds" and wikis. A lot of contributions can be brought into play with this sort of gray area between content and publishing, different content feeds, and exposure and access and the traditional IT function.
Wikis have come into play, and they have quite a bit of exposure. Maybe you have a sense of how these worlds can be bridged, using some of what's been known as social networking?
Smith: Software development now is much more of a social networking activity than an engineering activity. At IBM, we have Blog and Wiki Central, where people use wikis to get their thoughts down and collectively bring an idea about.
Also at IBM, we have Innovation Jam, which we hold every year, and which brings in hundreds of thousands of people now. It used to be just IBM, but we’ve opened it up this last year to everyone, friends and family alike, to come up with ideas.
That part is great on the front end. You then can have a much better idea of what the expectations are, and what a user group wants. They're usually very motivated to stay in the loop to give you feedback as you do development.
The big part here is when it comes to doing mashups. It's the idea that you can produce something relatively quickly. With IBM’s QEDWiki, we like the idea that someone could assemble an application, wire it together in the browser, and it has the wiki characteristics. That is, it's stored on the server, it’s versioned as to enterprise characteristics, and it’s sharable.
It’s a key aspect that it has to be immediately deployable and immediately accessible by the folks that you are networking with.
That relates to what Stefan was saying and what you were asking about on how to bridge the two worlds of APIs and content. We're seeing now that as you think about the social networking side, people want the apps built into dashboards.
The more forward-thinking people in IT departments realize that the faster they can put together publishable data content, they can get a deeper understanding in a very short time about what their customers want.
They can then go back and decide the best way to open up that data. Is it through syndication feeds, XML, or programmatic API? Before, IT had to guess usage and how many folks might be touching it, and then build it once and make it scalable.
We’re doing things much more Agile-wise and building it that way, and then, as a flip, building the app that’s probably 80 percent there. Then IT can figure out how they could open up the right interfaces and content to make it available broadly.
Gardner: Stefan, could you give us some examples of user scenarios, where Kapow has been brought in and has helped mitigate some of the issues of access to content and then made it available to traditional development? Is there a way for those folks who are perhaps SOA-minded, to become a bit more open to what some people refer to as Web-Oriented Architecture?
Andreasen: One example that was mentioned in The Wall Street Journal recently in an article on mashups. It was on Audi in Germany. They are using our product to allow line of business to repurpose existing Intranets.
Let’s say that a group of people want to take what’s already there, but tweak it, combine it, and maybe expose it as a mobile application. With our tool, they can now do that in a self-service way, and then, of course, they can share that. What’s important is that they published this mini-mashup into their WebSphere portal and shared it with other people.
Some of them might just be for individual use. One important thing about a mashup is that an individual often creates it. Then it either stops there, because only that individual needs it – or it can also grow into company-wide use and eventually be taken over by central IT, as a great new way to improve performance in the entire company. So that shows one of the benefits.
Other examples have a lot to do with external data -- for example, in pricing comparisons. Let’s say I'm an online retailer and suddenly Amazon enters the market and starts taking a lot of market share, and I really don’t understand why. You can use our product to go out and harvest, let’s say, all the data from digital cameras from Amazon and from your own website.
You can quickly find out that whenever I have the lowest price, my product is out of stock -- and whenever I have a price that's too high, I don’t sell anything. Being able to constantly monitor that and optimize my prices is another example.
Another very interesting piece of information you can get is vendor pricing. You can know your own profit margin. Maybe it’s very low on Nikon cameras. You see that eBay is offering the Nikon cameras below even your cost as the vendor. You know for sure that buyers are getting a better deal with Nikon than you can offer. I call this using data to create intelligence and improve your business.
Gardner: All this real-time, updated content and data on the Web can be brought into many aspects of what enterprises do -- business processes, purchasing, evaluation, and research.
I suppose a small amount of effort from a mashup could end up saving a significant amount of money, because you’re bringing real-time information to those people making decisions.
How about you on your side, Rod? Any examples of how these two worlds -- the peanut butter and chocolate, if you will -- come together for a little better snack?
Smith: I’ll give you a good one. It’s an interesting one we did as a technology preview with Reuters and AccuWeather. Think about this again from the business perspective, where two business folks met at a conference and chit-chatted a bit.
AccuWeather was talking about how they offer different types of services, and the Reuters CTO said, "You know, we have this commodity-shipping dashboard, and folks can watch the cargo go from one place to another. It’s odd that we don’t have any weather information in there.” And the question came up very quickly: "I wonder how hard it would be to mash in some weather information."
We took one of their folks, one of mine, and the person from AccuWeather. They sat down over about three or four hours, figured out the scenario that Reuters was interested in and where the data came from, and they put it together. It took them about two weeks, but altogether 17 hours -- and that’s over a beer.
So it was chocolate and nuts and beer. I was in pretty good shape at that point. The interesting thing came after that. When we showed it to Reuters, they were very thrilled with the idea that you have that re-mixibility of content. They said that weather probably would be interesting, but piracy is a lot more interesting. "And, by the way" -- and this is from the line of business person -- "I know where to get that information."
Gardner: Now when you say "piracy," you mean the high seas and the Jolly Roger flying up on the mast -- that kind of thing?
Smith: That’s it. I didn’t even know it existed anymore. In 2006, there were 6,000 piracy events.
Gardner: Hijackings at sea?
Smith: I had no idea. It turned out that the information was a syndication feed. So we pulled it in and could put it on a map, so you could look at the different events.
It took about two hours, but that’s that kind of dynamic now. The line-of-business person says, "Boy, if that only took you that much time, then I have a lot of ideas, which I’ve really not talked about before. I always knew that if I mentioned one more feature or function, IT would tell me, it takes six more months to do."
We've seen a huge flip now. Work is commensurate with some results that come quickly. Now we will see more collaboration coming from IT on information and partnerships.
Gardner: This networking-collaboration or social interaction is really what’s crafting the new level of requirements. Instead of getting in line behind 18 six-month projects, 12 to 20 hours can be devoted by people who are perhaps on the periphery of IT.
They're still under the auspices of what’s condoned under IT and make these mashups happen, so that it’s users close to the issues, close to where the creativity can begin that create a requirement, and then binds these two worlds together.
Smith: That’s correct, and what is interesting about it is, if you think about what I just described -- where we mashed in some data with AccuWeather -- if that had been an old SOA project of nine or 18 months, that would have been a significant investment for us, and would have been hard to justify.
Now, if that takes a couple of weeks and hours to do -- even if it fails or doesn’t hit the right spot -- it was a great tool for learning what the other requirements were, and other things that we try as a business.
That’s what a lot of this Web 2.0 and mashups are about -- new avenues for communication, where you can be engaged and you can look at information and how you can put things together. And it has the right costs associated with it -- inexpensive.
If I were going to sum up a lot of Web 2.0 and mashups, the magnitude of drop in “customization cost” is phenomenal.
Gardner: And that spells high return on value, right?
Smith: That’s right.
Gardner: How do you see this panning out in the future? Let’s look in our crystal ball. How do you see this ability of taking intelligence, as you call it, around the content, and then the line-of-business people coming in and making decisions about requirements, and how they want to tune or see the freshness of the content?
What’s going to happen in two or three years, now that we are bringing these things together?
Andreasen: There will be a lot more of what Rod just described. What Rod just mentioned is an early move, and a lot of companies aren't even thinking along these lines yet. Over the next one or two years, more people will realize the opportunity and the possibility here, and start doing it more. Eventually, it’s going to explode.
People will realize that getting the right data and the right content at the right time, and using that to create more intelligence is one thing. The other thing they’ll realize is that by networking with peers and colleagues, they'll get ideas and references to new data. All of these aspects -- the social aspects, the data aspect and the mashup aspect -- will be much more realized. I think it’s going to explode in usage.
Gardner: Any last thoughts, Rod, from where you see these things going?
Smith: Well, as we see in other technologies moving through from an SOA perspective, this is a great deal about cultural change within companies, and the technology barriers are coming down dramatically.
You don’t have to be a Java expert or a C# expert. I'm scary enough to be able to put together or find solutions for my own needs. It’s creating a way that line-of-business people are empowered and they can see business results quickly.
That also helps IT, because if the line of business is happy, then IT can justify the necessary middleware. That’s a fundamental shift. It's no longer an IT world, where they can promise a solution to the line of business 12 to 18 months down the road.
It’s much more of, "Show me something quickly. When I’ve got the results in my hand -- the dashboard -- then you can explain what I need to do for IT investments and other things."
It’s more collaboration at that point, and makes a lot of sense on governance, security, and other things. I can see the value of my app, and I can actually start using that to bring value to my company.
Gardner: I suppose another important aspect culturally is that part of SOA’s value is around reuse. These mashups and using this content in association with other different activities, in a sense promotes the notion of reuse.
You're thinking about, "How can I reuse this mashup? How can I extend this content, either off the Web or internally, into new activities?" That, in a sense, greases the skids toward more SOA, which I think is probably where IT is going to be heading anyway.
Smith: Well, what’s fun about this, and I think Stefan will agree, is that when I go to a customer, I don’t take PowerPoint charts anymore. I look on their website and I see if they have some syndication feeds or some REST interfaces or something.
Then I look around and I see if I can create a mashup of their material with other material that hadn’t been built with before. That’s compelling.
People look and they start to get excited because, as you just said, they see business patterns in that. "If you could do that, could you grab this other information from so-and-so?"
It’s almost like a jam session at that point, where people come up with ideas. That’s where we will see more of these examples. Actually, a lot of our stuff is on YouTube, where we had a retail store that wanted to see their stores on Google Maps and then see the weather, because weather is an important factor in terms of their businesses.
In fact, it’s one of the most important factors. What we didn’t realize is that very simple pattern -- from a technology standpoint it didn’t take much -- held up over and over again. If it wasn’t a store, it was banking location. If it wasn’t banking locations, it was ships. There were combinations in here that you could talk to your businessperson about.
Then you could say to the technologist or a developer, "What do I have to do to help them achieve that?" They don’t have to learn XML, Web objects, or anything else, because you have these SOA interfaces. It helps IT expand that whole nature of SOA into their enterprise.
Andreasen: One thing that's going to happen is that line-of-business people are getting a lot of great ideas. If I am working with business problems, I constantly get ideas about how to solve things. Usually, I just brush it away and say, "Well, it will be cool to have this, but it’s impossible."
They just don’t understand that the time from idea to implementation is dramatically going to go down. When they start realizing this, there is hidden potential out on the edge of the business that will now be cut loose and create a lot of value. It’s going to be extremely interesting to see.
Smith: One of the insights we have from customers is that mashups and this type of technology help them to visualize their SOA investments. You can’t see middleware. Your IT shop tells you what’s good, they tell you they get flexibility, but they want to be shown results -- and mashups help do that.
The second part is people say it completes the "last mile" for SOA. It starts to make a lot of sense for your IT shop to be able to show how the middleware can be used in ways it wasn’t necessarily planned for.
The big comment we hear is, "I want my content to be mashable or re-mixable." We figured out that it’s very much a SOA value. They want things to be used in ways they weren't planned for originally. Show me that aggressive new business opportunity, and you make me a very happy person.
Andreasen: Probably one thing we will see in companies is some resistance from the technologists, from central IT, because they are afraid they will lose control. They are afraid of the security issues etc., but it will probably be like what we've seen with company wikis.
They're coming in the back door in line of business and eventually the companies buy the company-wide wiki. I think we'll see the same thing with mashups. It will be starting out in line of business, and eventually the whole company understands, "Well, we have to have infrastructure that solves this problem in a controlled way."
Some companies have very strict policy today. They don’t even allow their line-of-business pros to write macros in Excel. Those companies are probably the ones that will be the last ones discovering the huge potential in mashups.
I really hope they also start opening their eyes that there are other roles for IT, rather than just the big, central system that run your business.
Gardner: Well, great -- thanks very much for your insights. This has really helped me understand better how these things relate and really what the payoff is. It sounds compelling from the examples that you provided.
To help us understand how enterprises are using Web applications, mashups, and lightweight data presentation, we’ve been chatting today with Rod Smith, Vice President of Internet Emerging Technologies at IBM. I really appreciate your time, Rod.
Smith: Thank you.
Gardner: And Stefan Andreasen, the Founder and CTO of Kapow Technologies. Thanks for joining, Stefan.
Andreasen: It’s been a pleasure, Dana.
Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you've been listening to a BriefingsDirect. Thanks for listening and come back next time.
Listen to the podcast here. Sponsor: Kapow Technologies.
Transcript of BriefingsDirect podcast on data mashups with IBM and Kapow. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2008. All rights reserved.