Integrated System, Disconnected Information
“I know that we like the fancy, techie stuff,” Nuwan said to the audience of IT professionals. However, he noted, the primary concern for an organization’s management team is getting the right data pieces in a view that is relatively easy to understand in order to make educated business decisions.
Therefore Nuwan said, “You need to create your presentation layer correctly so that you can give the information or message correctly to the world.”
Unfortunately, Nuwan said, there are limitations with the traditional way of presenting data: writing a Web application. When a separate Web application is created for each system—for example enterprise resource planning (ERP), human resources (HR), and production monitoring—it means there are separate user interfaces and log-ins for each one. There is no single sign-on or connectivity between the interfaces.
“If you think for a moment,” Nuwan observed, “Aren’t we re-inventing the problem we had in the underneath layers? Even though we solve all the integration problems in the underneath layers, we still have problems in the UI layer where we have disconnected pieces and where we show disconnected information.”
The Case for Self-Service User Interfaces
One solution is to give users the option to build UIs for themselves. It might sound crazy at first glance, Nuwan acknowledged. However, he noted that this is simply an extension of the trend in user self-service already occurring. Mobile phone and tablet users simply go to the vendor’s online store to download the applications they want to run. Meanwhile, iGoogle lets users personalize their Google Web home page using Google Gadgets.
“So why are we deciding content for our users?” Nuwan asked. “Why can’t we give bunch of small portlets or applications to our CEO and let him decide what he wants to view?”
Of course, the success of such an approach will require a very solid platform that creates a smooth, seamless experience, Nuwan said.
“If you check the technologies out here—the WSO2 Gadget Server and the iPad, Google+, MySpace, LinkedIn—all these platforms are very, very strong and really smooth,” Nuwan noted. To enable a similar experience in the enterprise, he said that IT professionals will have to do the same.
New UI Approaches: Gadgets and Mashups
Today there are numerous technologies available that can be used to create amazing interfaces, Nuwan said. Among these are HTML5, CSS3, jQuery, jQuery Mobile, and Sencha Touch.
However, in order to ask people to create gadgets or mashups, IT professionals need to create an application programming interface (API) that interfaces with their platform, Nuwan explained. This API must be simple enough that people do not have to think about it or read about it, he stressed, and he pointed to the Google Gadget API and WSO2 Visualization API as being two good examples.
Once IT developers have created a user-friendly API, the next step is to create an easy-to-use tool that is “almost like a playground,” Nuwan said. People should be able to simply drag and drop pieces, wire them, and create their own views of data. Among the products that enable this is the WSO2 Gadget Server.
Getting Social with OpenSocial
Another factor developers need to consider is the social aspect, Nuwan said: “I’m sure you guys are very fond of Facebook…and about LinkedIn. We need to take this to the enterprise as well.”
Nuwan observed that the OpenSocial set of APIs enables the sharing of social data. “If you create something according to the OpenSocial specification, it doesn’t matter if it runs in your enterprise system or if it’s in another container,” he explained. “The gadgets can communicate in a social friendly manner.”
While Facebook has not adopted it, Nuwan said, others such as iGoogle, LinkedIn, High Five and MySpace have.
Toolbox for the last SOA Mile
“So what is the SOA Last Mile is all about? It’s about providing right information at the right size,” Nuwan said. He added that developers “need to make this social, so people can socially interact” and provide a toolbox, “so users can build their own castles.”
To learn more about the presentation layer and how to create a better user interface, view Nuwan’s full presentation here.