Enterprise Mashups Need Complexity To Create Value

Gilyehuda By Gil Yehuda
Those who drink the Web 2.0 Kool-aid live in a idealistic world where we can mentally connect a great idea to a great implementation of that idea. We live on faith that the great implementation will come, since there are plenty of smart people out there who will eventually figure out how to make value out of technology building blocks. Sometimes our faith is tested when the killer-app does not show up for a long time. But evidence can restore our faith.

When I first saw mashups, I thought they were pretty cool. The canonical examples of this technology were all about the placement of data points onto a map. With mashups you can visualize where Fortune 100’s top companies to work for are located, and you can find a mailbox nearby. It’s certainly nice to use once in a while, and maybe worth bookmarking. But will this alone transform a business? Likely not.

Sharing location information via an online travels social network, like Brightkite, FireEagle, Bluenity, Dopplr, or TripIt, is also pretty cool. Using the integration hooks into Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, I can begin to share location information with those I trust. I can post where I am located now, and where I plan to be in the near future. I believe there could be value in this activity, but it’s not yet transforming the way I use information into business results.

But I am now beginning to see how these services combine to build a useful application. The “aha” moment for me was when I stopped looking for one mashup, or one sharing app, and saw how companies can combine multiple streams to create value out of data. What if you take a map mashup, a calendar mashup, a travel micro-share feed, an events feed, and dataset from a CRM system containing the names of locations of my customers? I trust that smart people can take these and create value. Why? Am I drinking the Kool-aid? No – I see signals that indicate this is happening.

Look at the new LinkedIn application widgets that mash-in LinkedIn data. My TripIt tool reminds me of a future trip to London, and tells me that I have a few LinkedIn contacts there. Based on information in my LinkedIn profile, LinkedIn tells me about relevant upcoming events. I found an interesting event in London. Will my contact attend that event? What if they’ll be traveling to Boston when I’m in London. Doh! So close.

But I see the outline of a new pattern. Whereas each data mashup is interesting, the right combination can transform my work behavior. There’s a who, what, when, and where, that all have to intersect onto a map and onto a calendar.

I recently met Sanjay Vakil of LuckyCal, who understands this pattern well. He is connecting the dots to create transformative value out of data streams. His product has some growing up to do before it is ready for enterprise rollout. But his product today combines a mapping mashup (telling me which of my contacts are where I am going to be), with a calendar mashup (matching when contacts of mine will be near me), and with an events stream (telling me what other events are taking place there at that time). Hey, that's the pattern: a set of data streams intersecting to create valuable information out of available information – but onto multiple mashup surfaces.

Suddenly the neurons start to fire. We need more than a single stream of data pins on a map to get our attention. As the LuckyCal product matures, it can become the paradigm for an enterprise mashup - triangulation. If it adds the data streams that matter most to me, (e.g. my CRM data), along with other streams and network information, it results in new information. The triangulation of these data sets means that I could predict whom I meet and what to do when I plan my trips. Moreover, my manager would be able see where the team’s travelers are now, and where they will be in the near future. My sales manager could see which of us will be traveling nearby other clients, and she may want take advantage of the proximity opportunities. Travel still happens, but we can get more value out of each trip. Enterprises like to hear that.

So, if you combine two mashups and couple of data feeds, you can create transformative value from readily available information. I had faith this could be created, but now that I see signals that others are implementing solutions like this. I have renewed faith in the relevance of mashups to enterprise computing. It's just more complex than splashing a data set onto a map. That's OK, enterprises are used to leveraging complexity to create value. And mashups can be the building blocks to enable their success.