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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ajax webcast

Webcast: Ajax for the Enterprise - Nov. 29, 12pm EST. zune

JackBe, the leader in Rich Enterprise Application software and services, will
host 'Ajax for the Enterprise' on November 29 at 12pm EST. JackBe will share
it's experiences in proving enterprise-grade Ajax solutions for over 4 million
users in organizations like CitiGroup, the Defense Intelligence Agency, Sears,
and Tupperware. To register for this webcast go to
Send inquiries to chris.warner@jackbe.com.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

When Companies Do the Mash

by Rachael King
Richard Hababou scouts out technology deals for the corporate venture arm of French banking giant Société Générale. Yet the nine-hour time gap between Hababou's San Francisco office and Société Générale's Paris headquarters can make communicating about multimillion-dollar transactions a big challenge. For years, Hababou and some 1,000 colleagues have used an online portal where they can collaborate, share documents, and track progress on deals.

As useful as it was, the portal needed a facelift. Hababou wanted to add several features to the deal-tracking application and ditch others. So, in mid-October, he brought in software company ActiveGrid, which added a host of tools, from Yahoo! (YHOO) news feeds to Google (GOOG) Maps to AltaVista's Babel Fish for on-the-fly English-French translation. Best of all, the upgrade took all of three days, compared with the three months it took to build the application at the outset. "It's all the applications I need, but simplified," Hababou says.

That makeover is known in software circles as a mashup, or the combination of disparate software or Web-based applications, often from completely different sources. Mashups aimed at consumers trace their roots at least to early 2005, when Paul Rademacher created HousingMaps.com, a combination of Google Maps with real estate listings from Craigslist (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/25/05, "Mix, Match & Mutate").
Companies Raise Questions

Now, the tools are beginning to take hold with businesses. Companies see enterprise mashups, also known as composite applications, as a faster, cheaper way to create customized applications. Already, companies such as E*Trade (ET), Siemens (SI), JDS Uniphase (JDSU), Pfizer (PFE), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and Realogy (H) subsidiary Coldwell Banker Commercial are using enterprise mashups in some capacity.

Yet, mashups are far from a slam dunk among enterprises. For starters, IT executives need to make sure mashups are secure, reliable, and able to be applied on a sufficiently large scale. "It's very difficult for a company like Société Générale to bring in some new technology and put it into production like that," says Hababou. While he was impressed with ActiveGrid's presentation, Société Générale has yet to become an ActiveGrid customer. Many companies are similarly testing the waters. Dun & Bradstreet (DNB), for instance, is testing IBM's (IBM) Enterprise Mashup Maker, also known as QEDwiki.

For any company mulling mashups, there's a growing variety of case studies. Caryn Truitt owns Cookies, a small Seattle shop that sells cookie-baking gear. She keeps track of inventory using an accounting program sold by Microsoft (MSFT). Now that Microsoft has woven eBay's (EBAY) auction tools and PayPal payment service into Microsoft Office Accounting 2007, Truitt can upload items for sale onto eBay directly from her accounting software in just a few mouse clicks. Truitt hadn't sold on eBay before, but it looked so easy that she decided to try it. "It was something I had always planned to look into, but being a small-business owner there are always too many things to do," she explains.
Software Vendors' Services

Other software makers also use mashups to build new tools for business customers. Intuit (INTU) integrated certain Google (GOOG) services into its small-business accounting software package, QuickBooks 2007 (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/14/06, "Google, Intuit Pair Up Against a Foe").

Several vendors offer tools to help clients build their own mashups. These include some of the biggest names in software, such as IBM, SAP (SAP), and Salesforce.com (CRM), as well as newer players Nexaweb, JackBe, ActiveGrid, and Above All Software. A handful of companies—including Salesforce.com, SugarCRM, WebEx (WEBX), StrikeIron, and Rearden Commerce—are creating marketplaces where companies can buy various services that are either pre-mashed or can be easily integrated into existing applications.

Having someone else do the heavy lifting can take a lot of time and cost out of developing just the right set of software tools for a business, says ActiveGrid CEO Peter Yared. "We're about five to 10 times faster than previous technology," he says. Shrinking into one month a project that would otherwise take a programmer five months to complete can save in the neighborhood of $50,000, he adds.

When software becomes easier and cheaper to develop, suddenly it's possible to create many more customized applications than before. Some IT departments don't have the time or resources to develop requested applications that can number more than 1,000. "Previously, you had to have a problem that was big enough to warrant a project manager and five or six months to staff it up," says Dion Hinchcliffe, president and chief technology officer of consulting firm Hinchcliffe & Co.
Adding Resources for Sales

For some, the challenge isn't more software, but less—or at least making better use of existing programs. Many companies sell multiple services to the same customer, winding up with multiple representations of that customer in different databases, sometimes with slightly different spellings. That can make it difficult to offer services like integrated billing or get a holistic view of a customer's activities.

Jefferies & Co. (JEF) wanted a common database for its investment banking customers. So it tapped Nexaweb to build business productivity and research applications that mash up customer information from a common database. "Once you have the data standardized, you can slice and dice it the way you want," says Omer Soykan, a senior vice-president at Jefferies.

Enterprise-security vendor PGP Corp. went a similar route to create a master customer records list. Above All helped PGP mash up existing customer records with standardized company information from Dun & Bradstreet. Now, when salespeople add new accounts, the mashed-up application automatically fills the screen with relevant company information culled from Dun & Bradstreet, saving data-entry time. "The effect was that we got cleaner data," says David Burnett, director of informatics at PGP.
Mashups are often used to help sales staff more readily clinch deals. E*Trade wanted to give its sales teams new software features, so it mashed up its homegrown customer relationship management system with software from Salesforce.com. "We really wanted to avail ourselves of some of the nice features that a product like Salesforce.com provides," says E*Trade Chief Information Officer Greg Framke.
Making Companies More Collaborative

Another area where mashups can make a difference is in collaboration among employees from different parts of a business. "Complex collaborative problem solving is one of the last places we haven't automated," says Hinchcliffe. In fact, somewhere between 25% to 50% of employees exchange information with colleagues, customers, and suppliers, and make judgments by drawing on many different forms of information, according to a recent report by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Industries where more than 50% of employees use complex collaborative problem solving include insurance, securities, and health care.

In many cases, employees won't even realize they're using mashups. Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and JDS Uniphase have begun to use a Web application from Rearden Commerce to make travel and dining reservations. Rearden Commerce provides a marketplace of corporate services, essentially mashing up many services from different providers in the areas of travel, dining, entertainment, conferencing, and package shipping (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/21/05, "A Man for All Services"). Rearden Commerce is integrated with corporate applications such as Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes so that travel and dining reservations automatically appear on an employee's calendar once they're made.

The next frontier for some companies is figuring out how to break products and services down into components that consumers will be able to mash up on their own. "Someone could take a component from E*Trade and mash it up with something from Quicken or Yahoo or Google or anywhere they wanted, to form something that's new and interesting," says Framke, who expects E*Trade to start providing such components to consumers in 2007.
Tools for Consumers and Business

Already, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have made maps available, so companies can create mapping applications, one of the most common mashups for enterprises. In an effort to lure potential buyers, Coldwell Banker Commercial took the property listings on its Web site and mashed them up with demographic data from Claritas and a mapping application from Microsoft.

Companies like Salesforce.com, SugarCRM, and WebEx are opening up their products so that third-party developers can mash in other capabilities. In January, Salesforce.com started AppExchange, an online service where companies can buy business applications that have already been mashed up with Salesforce.com (see BusinessWeek.com, 8/22/06, "Salesforce Dives into the Mash Pit"). Today, that marketplace boasts more than 400 applications, giving companies the ability to essentially buy customized on-demand software.

Experts say that although enterprise mashups promise to help make software development easier, they also present a new set of challenges. One of the key characteristics of enterprise mashups is that they put more power in the hands of end users. "The average IT establishment is reluctant to give users more power," says Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst at consulting firm ZapThink. The answer, he says, is for the IT department to provide oversight, defining what kinds of mashups are allowed, and then to govern that process. Software and service vendors can help companies implement management tools.
Foremost Challenge: Security

In most mashups, companies will use external services over which they have no direct control. "When you develop a mashup, you need to rely completely on that service," says Kirk Crenshaw, vice-president of Demandbase, a small software company that uses Salesforce.com mashups.

Other possible challenges include user identification, especially when mashing up two or more applications or Web services that each require user IDs and passwords. Once companies decide to allow data such as customer records to be used in mashups, they need to be able to make sure it's secure and accessible only to certain employees to guard against privacy breaches. "You always need to worry about security and performance," says John Crupi, CTO of JackBe, a company that sells enterprise mashup software.

Security and reliability are front of mind for Hababou at Société Générale as he considers ActiveGrid's handiwork. "We have to be sure that we have all the processes and all the tools to be able to monitor this application in production," he says. Right now, ActiveGrid is in the early stages of demonstrating its software to technology experts in Société Générale's Paris office. Studivz

"It will be a long process," says Hababou, "but these talks are a start."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Seminar: ‘Ajax for Breakfast: How to Deliver on the Promise of Rich Internet Applications’

Seminar: ‘Ajax for Breakfast: How to Deliver on the Promise of Rich Internet Applications’

Will you be in the Mid-Atlantic area on December 13? If so, JackBe would like to invite you to attend ‘Ajax for Breakfast’, an interactive discussion about Ajax in the enterprise including live demonstrations of production Ajax applications in the corporate world. To attend, contact Jessica Agunsday at Jessica.agunsday@jackbe.com or (240) 744-1274.

Unrelated. For those who wondered, Heidi and I loved Borat.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Zeichick's Take: AJAX Shouldn't Be a Hairball

November 1, 2006 Have you looked at the code behind AJAX implementations? Forget about spaghetti code. We're talking about shredded wheat. We're talking about heaps of jumbled rubble.

I'm a wholehearted believer in AJAX. Many of the user interface examples that I've seen are incredible. While there's no mistaking AJAX apps for true native applications, well-designed UIs are an order of magnitude more responsive and intuitive than classic Web applications. I've seen some, though, that are pretty terrible. Alas, most Web developers simply aren't good UI designers. They're far too used to dealing with the constraints of standard HTML and CSS, and in thinking about postbacks, to know how to use the freedom that AJAX offers.

That's one problem with AJAX, but I dare say it's not the biggest. The challenge is that AJAX is being retrofitted to existing Web applications using immature tools, immature libraries and immature runtimes. It's a kluge, a hack, a hairball (to quote Scott McNealy, albeit from a different context).

Many developers and software architects-myself included-think that elegant code is more than aesthetically pleasing. Code that's well designed, well architected and well written is easy to read. It's easy to understand. It can be tested, tuned, debugged. It can be extended. It can be maintained.

AJAX code that I've seen, for the most part, doesn't fit any of those considerations.

As I write this, I've just finished editing a special supplement on AJAX development for SD Times. You'll see it with your Nov. 1 issue of the newspaper, and you'll also be able to download it from sdtimes.com. In that supplement, a number of tools providers talk about their AJAX controls and libraries. They make an impressive case for why enterprise developers shouldn't roll their own AJAX plumbing, but should instead go with packaged solutions.

Despite the lure of canned software, I am fascinated by the technical underpinnings of AJAX. I'm starting to dig into Microsoft's Atlas implementation, which just came out as an official beta (as opposed to the early Community Technology Previews). I think they've done a good job of removing a lot of the complexity, mainly by leveraging their tightly integrated stack. Even so, the Atlas code samples that I've seen still look like shredded wheat.

Three points, therefore, to close with: First, take the UI design seriously with AJAX development. It's not standard Web UI development, or at least it shouldn't be. Second, look at packaged offerings for enterprise deployment, to reduce the amount of plumbing. And third, keep an eye on the code. AJAX development shouldn't mean putting up with inelegant spaghetti code or coughing up a hairball.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Intel Packages Blogs, RSS, And Wikis For Businesses

At the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Intel plans to announce SuiteTwo, a business-oriented collection of blogging, wiki, and RSS applications from the likes of NewsGator, SimpleFeed, Six Apart, and Socialtext, coordinated by open-source software integrator SpikeSource.

Intel Capital, the chipmaker's venture capital organization, helped realize the arrangement. Intel's venture group has investments in each of these companies and aims to be a matchmaker that can add value to the Intel platform, not to mention its portfolio.

"Small- and medium-sized businesses purchase software best when it's an integrated suite that's going to be available very easily through an ASP model, through a SaaS [software as a service] model, and that will be supported by a third party," says Lisa Lambert, managing director of the software solutions group at Intel Capital.

SaaS accounted for about 5% of business software revenue in 2005, Gartner said in October. The research firm expects that 25% of new business software will be delivered as a service by 2011.

Intel's decision to endorse consumer and open-source tools for business use reflects the shift toward bottom-up technology adoption that has been occurring over the past few years, says Ross Mayfield, CEO and co-founder of wiki software company Socialtext. "These are tools that have been designed for users first, because they've embraced this bottom-up demand pattern," he says. "This is the first time that you have in effect an enterprise 2.0 solution being offered that an IT department could in one fell swoop deploy to meet those grassroots demands for the tools that users actually prefer."

Most large companies, says Mayfield, have some wiki and blog use and are now at the point of deciding how they're going to manage it. Citing Gartner figures, Mayfield says that half of enterprises will have wikis and 80% will have blogs by 2008.

SuiteTwo's value proposition is increased productivity because the tools don't get in the user's way "in the same way the enterprise 1.0 did," says Mayfield. "We're projecting a 50% increase in knowledge worker productivity, 25% faster project cycles, and reducing information overload by reducing e-mail volume by 30%.

"We're shifting from this push model of attention management, where nobody has control over what information is overloading them," Mayfield continues, "to more of a pull model, where we have a choice of what we want to subscribe to, at what level of interruption, and at what time," thanks to strong search tools.

Intel's Software and Solutions Group will make the suite available to its partners and resellers, including Dell, Ingram Micro, NEC, and Tech Data, through what the company calls the Intel Channel Marketplace later this month.

SuiteTwo will be the first of what will likely be many application bundles for the Intel Channel Marketplace. "Our hope is to add other features as we go down the road, among them social networking, podcasting, and some mobility functions," says Lambert. Right now, the software is available in English and Japanese, but additional languages should be available by the end of 2007.

Distributors will have the option to resell the suite and then Intel will get a nominal fee for deploying it via the Intel Channel Marketplace. The price range is from $175 to $200 per user per year.

SuiteTwo will run on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, and Microsoft Windows.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Does Web 2.0 bubble have a silver lining?

Hundreds of technology executives and investors will congregate this week to take the quickening pulse of Internet entrepreneurship.

At the third annual Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, dozens of industry players will gather to break down topics like Internet infrastructure, Net neutrality, mashups, data protection and the future of video. Among those on hand at the city's Palace Hotel will be Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg; Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie; and Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google.

High Impact

What's new:

At the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, industry players will take the pulse of the Internet industry as talk of an investment bubble builds.

Bottom line:

Many start-up companies that fall under the Web 2.0 rubric will die off or prove only modestly successful to their investors. But the current period of active experimentation is solidifying an industrywide shift to Internet-delivered software, entrepreneurs and investors say.

More stories on Web 2.0

For industry players, many of whom lived through the dot-com crash, the surging wave of new Web companies and the corresponding media buzz can mean only one thing: an investment bubble where too much money is chasing too few good ideas.

But for any similarities to the late '90s Internet craze, today's Web 2.0 buildup is a kinder, gentler bubble, say entrepreneurs and investors. Yes, the flourishing Web start-up scene will create some train wrecks. But because people can start companies for relatively small sums compared to the tens of millions doled out during the dot-com heyday, the crashes won't hurt as many.

Along the way, some Web companies will endure and make online software (also called software as a service), more compelling and viable for consumers and businesses, say entrepreneurs and investors, an admittedly optimistic bunch.

"A lot of companies will fail, without a doubt," said Joe Kraus, who co-founded Web portal Excite in the mid-1990s and JotSpot, a wiki company that Google acquired last week. "But users really benefit because the innovation space is being explored a lot more quickly."

Acquisitions by Google and other Web heavyweights like Yahoo and Microsoft are helping to fuel entrepreneurial creativity.

The purchase price of privately held JotSpot was not disclosed, but Google last month bought 20-month-old video-sharing site YouTube for an eye-popping $1.65 billion in stock.

Big-dollar acquisitions may remind people of the public stock market entries of many profitless dot-coms in the 1990s. But people say new online business models are more mature, and give today's Web start-ups a better shot at longevity.

Automated Web advertising is more sophisticated and monthly subscriptions to hosted applications are proving themselves out, particularly to business customers at companies like Salesforce.com.

"Business model innovation is the biggest difference between Internet phase one and Internet phase two," said Brad Silverberg, a former Microsoft executive and partner at venture capital firm Ignition Partners. "It used to be everything was about eyeballs but there was no way to monetize it. Today there is and that's why this is more durable."

Silverberg argued that new software companies will not be able to enter the packaged software market, which will be dominated by incumbents like Microsoft and Adobe. Instead, the race among crafty entrepreneurs is to deliver a hosted service that strikes a chord with consumers or business customers.

Two geeks in a garage

Activity in Web-related start-ups is on the rise. The number of "Web 2.0" investments from venture companies rose to more than 130 in the third quarter of this year, compared to 107 in the same period last year, according to the National Venture Capital Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

A number of technical advances, such as the Web development technique AJAX and wide-scale adoption of broadband Internet connections, are allowing software engineers to build more compelling online applications.

New businesses today have access to free open-source software, relatively cheap hardware and powerful development tools. With more Web sites providing programmatic access to outsiders, developers can also build mashup applications that combine information from multiple Web sites.

Add it all up and the money and effort to launch a Web company has gone down substantially, compared to only a few years ago--a shift with implications for both entrepreneurs and their financial backers.