It's time to mashup
BY DAVID E. ESSEX
NO LONGER JUST A CONSUMER NOVELTY, WEB “MASHUPS” HELP PROJECT TEAMS BRING TOGETHER INFORMATION FROM ACROSS THE ENTERPRISE.
Information is the lifeblood of most projects, but it's not always in one convenient spot. In the brave new world of Web 2.0, “mashups” may help solve that.
In essence, Web mashups are applications that combine data from multiple sources into a single tool to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. One prime example from the consumer world is Mapdango, which merges Google Maps with information sources such as Wikipedia, Flickr and weather.com to tell users everything they need to know about a given location.
On projects, a mashup might blend resource data from an internal project server with time-sheet data submitted by outside contractors.
Theoretically, non-technical users should be able to use mashup design tools, or “composers,” to create their own applications and integrate them with one another without the help of an IT department. But for mashups to be viable in the enterprise, they need security features and other standards for controlling access to organizational resources.
SERENA BUSINESS MASHUPS
I recently tested some business mashups from Serena Software to see what they might offer project teams.
To start with, these aren't pure mashup tools. Serena's Mashup Composer focuses more on workflows and other human-centered processes instead of the data that underlies these processes. But I see that emphasis as a strength rather than a weakness.
Users can design a mashup in Serena using a drag-and-drop process that allows them to “wire” the entities the software will model—an invoice and all the systems and people who touch it, for example.
Or, when designing a mashup for processing new hires, users might ask their human resources managers to identify the information sources they look at, such as Facebook, when building a file for a new employee. Once users have identified the source, they can direct the mashup to automatically search the site to pull data related to the new employee.
Not only will the mashup automate a formerly manual procedure, it will fetch the most current information at the right time in the process. Users can also command certain elements in the mashup to export data to a blog or to generate e-mails.
Like other mashup tools, Serena's software handles the integration you need to extract information from third-party data sources. The company demonstrated a mashup that takes documents stored in a Microsoft SharePoint repository and routes them through an approval process. With SharePoint playing an increasingly important role for project teams that rely on Microsoft software, this kind of mashup could find an immediate place in many toolkits. Serena is planning to expand the software's ability to pull popular building blocks such as Google gadgets, Amazon widgets and RSS newsfeeds into Mashup Composer.
The company also publishes pre-built mashups, including one for change requests, that can be labor-saving starting points for customized mashups.
THE FINAL WORD
Cobbling together your own application is a big part of mashups’ appeal, but that's not necessarily what you get here. Mashup Composer is a visual programming tool, not one of the little Web apps it's designed to help make.
I found the learning curve to be steeper than advertised and was stymied by login errors for a while. However, I quickly became comfortable moving around Mashup Composer's interface, which has the familiar look and feel of a Microsoft Office application. Designing a mashup with Serena's Composer is a relatively easy process, but I‘m not convinced non-techies will be comfortable with it. Users need to understand the logic behind application development to know what objects to drag where and how to select from multiple choices.
Serena does let users play around with mashups for free. That's both a smart marketing trick for Serena and a workable strategy for any organization interested in experimenting with mashups. PM
David E. Essex is a Peterborough, New Hampshire, USA-based journalist specializing in IT.
SERENA BUSINESS MASHUP COMPOSER
Requires: Windows Vista or XP
Price: Free until mashup deployment; on-demand, browser version starts at $11 per user per month; desktop version, $500 per seat per mashup ($1,000 for two or more mashups)
At-a-Glance Review (5s is best)
Ease of Use:
Performance and Reliability:
Project Management Support:
PM NETWORK JULY 2009 WWW.PMI.ORG