Time to get BASHED-UP! - BI greets Mashups

Posted by Karthikeyan Sankaran
May 24th, 2009

Not many applications become killer-apps in their life-time and neither have Data Mashups become one. But of what I have seen of Data Mashups is enough to get a feel of what killer applications are all about. I, for one, strongly believe that data mashups can have profound impact on the way BI is delivered to business users. Let’s explore a bit of bashups (BI + Mashups) in this blog.

A “mashup” combines applications or data from different sources (sources not originally intended to be used together) into a single site or page. Content used in mashups are typically obtained from a third party source through a public interface API, web services, RSS or screen scraping. A mashup has 3 components:
a) A Web page that creates the mashup by aggregating data from multiple sources
b) Additional content provider
c) Client / Web Browser

Mashups are not compound pages obtained by simply embedding the content from another page nor is it equivalent to a portal. Mashups must obtain real-time data from 3rd party content providers on the fly.

In the context of BI, Enterprise Data Mashups can be a game-changer in the way information has been disseminated to business users. Traditionally, BI has been delivered by aggregating data into data warehouses and marts that are modeled in specific ways to aid end-user reporting and self-service capabilities. That is, traditional BI is one of tightly coupled information chain. Though this model has served the needs of first-generation BI, this model is not going to be sufficient for future needs. With ever increasing data volumes, real-time requirements imposed by Operational BI, increased sophistication for end-user analytics and the clamor for leveraging unstructured data, it is not going to be practically possible to physically aggregate ALL the enterprise data that is required for business decision making. The future of BI is going to be one of loosely coupled information integration.

Business users have (now and in the future) the necessity to combine data from multiple sources before taking a decision. Though ad-hoc query features provided by BI tools are considered a wonderful improvement to canned reporting, the users have been restricted to view data that is available in data warehouses & marts. Data Mashups provide a way to combine this formal data (present in data repositories) with data that is available outside of this domain (informal data). Informal data can be external data provided by RSS feeds or can be any type of unstructured data like documents and mails. The only thing of importance is the fact that the combination of both formal and informal data adds significant value to the business user. In this dimension, Mashups truly empowers the business user by providing “complete” end-user self-service capability.

Here is some friendly advice to BI practitioners to get started on Mashups:
1) Mashups are closely related to webservices and so it is important for BI practitioners to get a good handle on XML, webservices, SOAP, REST etc.
2) Programmableweb.com is an excellent website that showcases exciting mashups and also provides a catalogue of mashup API’s
3) Mashup editors such as Microsoft Popfly, Yahoo!Pipes, Google Mashup editor etc. can help BI practitioners get started in creating their own mashups
4) Mashup servers like Presto (JackBe.com), WSO2 etc. once installed in your environment can help combine information from multiple sources.
5) Create prototypes of BI dashboard type mashups. Mashup that I created recently on Presto mashup server had the following pieces of information on a dashboard kind of web-page:
a) Data from a table in a DW exposed as a web-service
b) Source system information exposed as a web-service
c) Information from a RSS Feed
d) Used the Google Map Mashup API

That should give some idea of the possibilities and power of “Loosely Coupled Information Integration” through Mashups.

Thanks for reading. Please do share your thoughts.

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