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Mashing up a minefield

AJAX could cause as many problems as it solves

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A recent survey from market researcher Evans Data Corp shows some interesting, if slightly contradictory, trends in the acceptance of mashing up as a future business tool.

This is the capability of pushing together functionality from different applications to create new, additional services for users: the classic current implementation being putting Google or Microsoft mapping services into other applications such as van delivery management services where finding locations quickly and easily is a genuine business benefit.

The key technology here is AJAX, and the Evans survey asked respondents about their take up of the idea. The results suggest a fair degree of interest in the capabilities of the technology, but at the same time it is rather gratifying to see there is an appreciation that its potential needs to be kept under some degree of control.

For example, the survey showed that some 30 per cent of respondents plan to start using AJAX for applications mash ups by the end of this year. It is interesting, however, to see that 48 per cent of the respondents – whether they are imminently planning a mash up move or not - already have plans to restrict who gets to build the actual mash ups. This group at least seems to understand that allowing end users carte blanch to build their own mash ups for business use could be a dangerous step.

More importantly, the survey shows that eight per cent of respondents are already allowing end users to build their own mash ups, and a further 23 per cent are planning to allow it within the year.

Somehow, I can only find that number worrying. Why? Well, while it may be extremely liberating to both end users and business managers to have the ability to mash up new services, as and when they feel the need, out of bits of existing internal applications or external services they may not always understand the finer points of managing business governance and compliance through which a mash up could readily cause management and legal mayhem.

In addition, they may not realise the voracious lust with which the legal departments of external services IP owners would descend upon them for their unwitting transgressions.

Mash ups are a theoretically wonderful solution to a business need to build useful services, but letting users build their own in an uncontrolled manner could create more management and legal problems for the business managers than they ever reduce in operational terms.

This has to be done within a framework of policy management, coupled with an understanding of not just the interactions between functions, but the wider implications of what is being used, who owns it, and what it might do to break compliance to regulations the business operates under. ®

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