Along with social networking, Gartner indentified enterprise mashups as one of its Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2009: "Enterprises are now investigating taking mashups from cool web hobby to enterprise-class systems to augment their models for delivering and managing applications." However, while the workplace learning and performance community is familiar with social networking tools for learning, mashups are still a new concept for many.

What is a mashup?

According to Wikipedia, a mashup is generally known as a web application that combines data or functionality from one or more sources into a single, integrated application. The term mashup implies easy, fast integration, frequently done by access to data sources to produce results that were not the original reason for producing the raw source data.

Although you may not have realized it, most of you have used a consumer mash up. Probably the most familiar example is the use of cartographic data from Google Maps to add location information to real estate data, thereby creating a new and distinct web service that was not originally provided by either source. Another familiar example is Digg, which is a mashup of various news websites controlled almost entirely by the users of Digg website.

Mashup use is expanding in the business environment. Business mashups are proving useful for integrating business and data services. Business mashup technologies provide the ability to develop new integrated services quickly, to combine internal services with external or personalized information, and to make these services tangible to the business user through user-friendly web browser interfaces. Business mashups differ from consumer mashups in the level of integration with enterprise computing environments, security and access control features, governance, and the sophistication of the programming tools used.

The Department of Defense provides an example of how to use a business mashup. Recently, U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) deployed an enterprise mashup server running JackBe software to bring together strategic information from disparate sources that could be used across Department of Defense agencies. DISA has enabled the creation of mashups to address several distinct threats, including natural disasters, terror attacks, and ballistic missile launches.

Enter learning and performance

The concept behind the creation of business mashups lends itself naturally to learning and workflow performance opportunities because although a particular mashup may be useful to the person who created it, an enterprise stands to benefit more when users share mashups with others who may have the need for similar information.

For learning, mashups offer a way to collect and contextualize information from many internal and external information sources and systems of record in such a way that business users can analyze it and take action. By working with mashups, business users can incrementally build in the functionality and information they need. Developers can create an initial mashup with one or two sources of information and then add a little more, perhaps information from another system of record or online information source. In essence, mashups enable workers to adapt to change, develop new insights, or act on new business opportunities.

Advertisement

Some examples specific to learning and performance may include a mashup developed as a workflow-based EPSS for a call center or an interactive array of selling techniques for overlayed with past financial data. Workers learning a new software package could use a mashup created by in-house experts that outlines favorite features and uses sorted by departmental usage.

Keep in mind, however, that the quality of the mashup is only as good as the quality of the information it is incorporating. Therefore, with regards to learning and performance support, critical decision-enabling information must be accurate, up-to-date, and free from tampering.

Getting started

Indeed, mashups are an important new development for learning practitioners as they provide a new and accessible means of creating large numbers of business applications without requiring complex IT projects or large numbers of people with deep technical skills.

Mashups are typically built using such programming tools referred to as mashup editors. One of the key benefits of a mashup is that these tools used to build and edit them are relatively simple and intuitive enough for users to create unique juxtapositions without much handholding. Some popular tools, such as JackBe and IBM Mashup Center are listed in May Downloads.

Bottom line

More and more companies are turning to enterprise mashups that combine information and capabilities from more than one source to deliver new functions and insights. Businesses can remix information from inside and outside the enterprise to address situational problems quickly. Individual users can create such applications themselves, by mashing together multiple information sources into a lightweight web application that is good enough to solve the issue that pops up. Given this ease of use and the relative low cost o develop and maintain mashups, it's worth it to try them out as a potential learning solution.