As more and more enterprises move to adopt MashUps the question of what content, and from where is it coming, is being asked more and more often. I guess it’s part of the move we are all taking part in from using structured data, created by our own computers, to an increasing use of unstructured data, which could be described as created, and used by, people with the resulting ‘inconsistencies’.
Users are increasingly recognising the value of a MashUp to combine this mass of unstructured content found on the Web into a focussed view that suits their requirements. Maybe we should coin the term ‘structured presentation’? A well built MashUp is truly a satisfying experience, producing the same feelings in the user as I think the spreadsheet must have produced when they first experienced it. Freedom to do what I require the way I need it to be done.
However there are a couple of concerns;
The first is that the MashUps can only handle content that is already available in a web formatted presentation format, so if what you want to MashUp is not in this format then it’s not available for you to use. That’s a little more serious then it sounds. It’s basically saying that the huge amounts of data / information from valuable legacy enterprise applications are simply unusable, and as this is going to cover a lot of very valuable internal data this is definitely not a good thing.
The second point is the provenance of the data being used; there is a very, very, wide range of choices out there on the web, but who knows if that data is reliable? Back to a comment that I have quoted before; ‘too much of what we find and use today is given its provenance by the search engine’.
Extract Transform and Load, ETL, is pretty old technology used through the shifts from Data Warehousing, DW, into Master Data Management, MDM, but right now I am seeing some real interesting products that bring ETL bang up to date for use in the Web 2.0 era. Essentially these products allow a wide range of data types to be processed into Web formats ready for use by a MashUp. Extremely useful for the ability to build and populate a particular MashUp, but consider a different approach. One aligned to the freedom that Web 2.0 delivers to people to do what they want, the way they want to do it.
Why not liberate a lot of enterprise data by using ETL to create an enterprise ‘pool’ of data in web presentation format, then design MashUps for different user groups that draw on this pool. This way you will achieve massive flexibility to provide each user or group of users with what they want, but it will also be safely based on data that has a known provenance. If you need to, then good quality external data can also be selected and added to the pool. That’s a safe way to get a combination of enterprise control plus the benefits of MashUps in place without the risks or limitations that are otherwise present.
It also allows the auditors to be faced, and answered, with the truthful reply that you really do have control of how data enters the enterprise and is used. A not insignificant point when you realise that any date brought into the enterprise for use in a MashUp is deemed as the responsibility of your enterprise. Makes provenance management pretty key! There are several vendors for this but here are two interesting ones; http://www.topshareware.com/Apatar-Data-Mashup-Integration-download-51419.htm and http://www.kapowtech.com/index.html.