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Web 2.0 Is Fundamentally About Empowering People

Exclusive Q&A with IBM's VP of Emerging Internet Technologies, Rod Smith

"Unlocking content to be remixed into new business value" is the driver of Web 2.0 in the enterprise, says Rod Smith, IBM VP of Emerging Internet Technologies, in this Exclusive Q&A with Web 2.0 Journal's Jeremy Geelan given April 2008 on the occasion of IBM's release last month of a new technology created by IBM researchers, codenamed “SMash” - short for Secure Mashup.

Web 2.0 Journal: The movement to empowering business users via Enterprise Mashups in 2006 and gathered momentum in 2007. Do you think that 2008 will be the year that they go mainstream, or is that point still to be reached?

Rod Smith: We are seeing a number of activities blossom. First, the idea of unlocking content to be remixed into new business value is translating into strong adoption of RSS and ATOM, making enterprise data broadly available - and mashable.  Security is now being addressed with the SMash contribution into the OpenAjax Alliance, and will address the needs CIOs have regarding composing secure, interoperable mash-ups.  And finally, the introduction of products from us and others in the industry does indicate a shift.

Q. So if the enterprise, or a large portion of it, was waiting for the security issue still to be resolved, then it follows that IBM is hoping today's release of SMash will be a major adoption tipping-point?

Rod Smith: That's what we're aiming for.  Almost from day one of our participation in OpenAjax Alliance, security and interoperability were highlighted as the two major challenges that enterprises wanted to see addressed - in an open standard or de facto standard way, of course.  I  don't think enough credit is given to the folks in OpenAjax Alliance for taking on these issues - and we're pleased be a part of helping to achieve their goals.

Mashup security aside, to what extent do you still have to evangelize around the theme of self-service IT, and make businesses understand that high performance people can be empowered through mashup technology to serve themselves with the information they need and then choose themselves exactly how to exploit applications to solve their business priorities?

Rod Smith: Good question.  We still need to evangelize - but let's call it in a Web 2.0 style.  We're now able to show IT how empowering their high performance counterparts in business roles helps them as well, and seeing is believing. Instantly demonstrating the value has a huge impact.  What's exciting today is listening to a customer describe a dashboard or mashup they've been dying to have - and then let them drive!

Q. How would you unpack "situational applications" so that everyone knows exactly what IBM means by that?

Rod Smith: Wikipedia's excellent definition is it's software created by a small group of users for a specific purpose. I'm sure your readers think of useful applications that have been just out of their reach or skills to assemble - so we've expanded the thought a bit to include the idea of time to market - situational apps should be able to be composed/assembled quickly.

Q. So do Mashups mean the end of IT departments, or just a re-arrangement of priorities?

Rod Smith: There's no riding off into the sunset for IT.  This does offer IT a way to reshape their role with the line of business folks - offering SOA and Informational services to make their jobs easier.  It also means new responsibilities for IT around governance of information as data becomes easily sharable/remixable beyond the intranet, additional quality of service as business ecosystems grow, and of course new ways to approach security.

Q. At AJAXWorld next week in New York we have an entire all-day Bootcamp devoted to AJAX Security issues. Do you see any reason to imagine that such a Bootcamp would ever be less than fully subscribed (which it certainly is)? ;-)  If so, how long before we get to that point?!

Rod Smith: Bottom line, AJAX is going to be a cornerstone for open clients for enterprises.  Rich Internet applications will need to exhibit the necessary security - and I don't think there's a better place to get fully immersed than Bootcamp next week!

How great a role do standards play in all of this and how does IBM currently channel its activities in that area of things?

Rod Smith: Huge - both formal standards like W3C but also de facto standards like many of the technologies underlying AJAX.  As I mentioned earlier, standards are necessary for interoperability today - they go hand in hand.  In our area, we have a team dedicated to emerging standards who's full-time mission it is to collaborate broadly with customers and others in our industry. It's really in IBM's DNA to work across the industry to develop standards, and we'll continue to do that so that our customers can have the best functionality in the most secure way. 

Q. Is it your belief that non-technical users within the enterprise really can be persuaded to "get" 2.0 and avail themselves of the new benefits of freeform applications? Isn't there always a risk that even secure mashups will always be deployed only by the early adopters within each company, but not get adopted beyond that?

Rod Smith: Nope. I think there really is this thing called "shadow IT" where non-technical users have always looked for ways to be more productive - to empower themselves.  This is especially true as the younger generation enters the workforce, as they're more technically savvy than any generation before them. Because they grew up on blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 tools, this generation is largely expected to embrace mashups.

How will IBM know when the wider world of business has caught up with your team at Emerging Internet Technologies? What kind of metrics do you use to track adoption?

Rod Smith: IBM has had the pleasure of seeing a number of our industry collaborations blossom - Java, XML, web services and now Web 2.0.  We have a methodology on measuring the adoption of new, disruptive technologies - in part to keep from not drinking our own Kool Aid.  Each technology has a different set of metrics;  for mash-ups one measure was the reduction in time to market from months to years - to hours.  We measure every proof-of-concept with customers to validate our approach - which helped refine each iteration of the technology and standards.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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