Enterprise Mashups – Composite 5.0???

I always thought of mashups as being internet based, for example using Google Maps to link to Salesforce.com and locate your customers on a map, much like Google Analytics shows me an overlay of where my website visits come from.

This is all great stuff but not very enterprise.  So when I heard the term “Enterprise Mashup” coined recently, I listened carefully.  Then I read this post by Jeff Nolan, a top notch blogger who I have been following for ages.  Jeff contends that “mashup” is the new “composite” and that mashups can apply equally to the enterprise world as the private individual and SME sectors.  As Jeff says:

“The fact of the matter is that it’s just a word, whether you call them composite applications, web services orchestration, SOA, next generation EAI, or  mashups, it just shouldn’t matter”

I can be a bit slow sometimes but when I read this I suddenly realised that this is the space that my company, Blue Prism plays in.  I hadn’t considered Blue Prism to be about mashups, or even a composite app really.  It’s a robotic back office that can non-invasively integrate corporate systems and turn them into automated business processes.

There are a number of vendors taking this more front ended view of integration so I thought it might be of interest to highlight a few.  The common theme here is that integration is “code-free” and further up the software stack than traditional EAI techniques. 

I was chatting recently to Francis Carden a fellow Brit running Atlanta based Openspan.  Their product is aimed mostly at the front office and uses UI integration technologies to create code free interaction between disparate systems.  As I understand it, the product creates interfaces that sit behind current applications and react to agent actions.  For example when the agent hits the “submit” button to complete a loan deal, Openspan nips off to update the CRM system.  I am interested to know how they handle exceptions (if one or other of the processes fails) but I am assuming this is covered off and Openspan looks like a neat product.  I know that Francis has lots of “previous” and is very bullish about the Openspan technology.

Jacada Fusion is another interesting product that encompasses a wide range of contact centre uses.  Agent augmentation, screen aggregation, and call centre business intelligence amongst the offerings.  Perhaps more like my traditional view of a composite?  I like the integrated approach and the way the various components are designed to interact.  It looks like these components are from the same source base which is a big advantage in my opinion.  (I once worked for a software company that had a number of products from different sources and integration was a nightmare played out in front of the customers).

I am also interested in Legasuite from Seagull.  The approach here seems very mainframe centric but the concept of turning legacy systems into SOA assets is very appealing and there is some mention of legacy client server applications.  I suspect that Seagull’s experience in the host emulator field makes them very strong in “mashing up” the mainframe.

So what about Blue Prism?  Clearly I can talk with more authority here than on the vendors above!  Blue Prism’s product “Automate”, can consume (or publish) web services, interact with native APIs, use in-built UI integration plug-ins, or as a last resort simply screen scrape and I suspect that Automate is not unique in these capabilities.  I guess the secret sauce is in the methods the various vendors use to make the code-free connections to the target applications.

Automate is a back office tool for automating end to end processes, but it can also receive and execute sub-processes handed off from the front office (call wrap procedures for example).  As such the capture of the business process logic in a flowchart and the orchestration of the process is a major part of the product, as is the modular (dare I say object oriented??) structure that enables reusability.  We tried to design our UI to be business user (not tech) friendly. A runtime harness that allows processes to be deployed to any assets on the corporate network in a grid computing style is the key to getting over the scalability problems that can result from this type of approach.  One of the advantages of the Automate architecture is that it doesn’t need to be installed on every desktop, merely on the PCs or servers assigned to author, or run processes.

Interfacing through the UI can be unreliable on websites (because of the volatility of the content), but can be surprisingly secure in the relatively stable world of corporate systems.  So horses for courses?  We always recommend looking for APIs or services to call, but frequently reversion to UI integration is necessary because APIs or services don’t exist (yet….?)

This type of non-invasive integration, or “mashup”, has the advantages of being quick, cost effective and flexible.  No need to change existing systems, so no additional risk to your corporate databases, since all data interactions are controlled through the existing applications.

So is it a potential route to SOA?  Is EAI dead, as one analyst suggested to me?  Is this type of approach just a quick win solution for temporary use, or is it a valid way of extending the life or corporate systems?  Is anyone going to create another silly increment and call this “Legacy Extension 7.0”?  I am interested in your comments.

2 Responses to “Enterprise Mashups – Composite 5.0???”

  1. WorkForceInABox.com » Blog Archive » More on enterprise mashups Says:

    […] my last post on enterprise mash-ups where I looked at some of the companies integrating enterprise apps to automate business […]

  2. WorkForceInABox.com » Blog Archive » BPM is a workaround then, or is it SOA? Says:

    […] are a range of solutions that meet this need.  At one extreme, I have considered previously tools with local applications.  Although generally based on desktop integration, these tools are […]

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