Everyone talks about aligning IT with business goals, but alignment is usually as far as it goes. IT and line-of-business remain largely separate, even if their aims are in tune. Promoters of enterprise mashups want to bring these camps closer, erasing some divisions by empowering otherwise nontechnical staff to develop their own applications. But many IT pros are wary, and with good reason.
Like an increasing number of new technologies, mashups demonstrate that innovation is now led by consumers, not business customers: Google Gadgets, Yahoo Pipes and countless other sites have turned the Web into an open platform that anyone can access. Millions of amateur developers are mixing Web services into new applications far more quickly than can be done within SOAs (service-oriented architectures), the closest enterprise equivalent.
But unlike previous consumer fads that infiltrated the enterprise, mashups represent more than just a security threat, a way to increase employee satisfaction and/or a chance to get technology on the cheap. Staffers who use mashup sites and tools outside of work represent an untapped source of innovation. Some vendors claim to make development as easy as surfing the Web, while others aim their mashup platforms at power users of office applications—people who might create fairly sophisticated Excel macros, but only as a way to help them do trying tasks.
Not every IT department will want to empower its employees this much, of course. In our reader survey for this article, fewer than half of respondents said they're considering letting non-IT staff build applications. But don't dismiss the technology out-of-hand: Even in environments where every desktop is locked down and employees can't change settings on their own machines, let alone on a server-based application, mashups can still add value. By integrating different applications or data sources into a single front end, they can boost productivity, simplify workflows and let enterprise applications benefit from Web services on the public Internet.