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Serena Treads New Ground With Mashups

It's an odd day when a software developer takes off in a new direction from the latest flagship product upgrade, but that appears to be the case with Serena Software and its new mashup service. The service, known to some under the code name of "Vail," was devised to let business personnel create their own simple applications, without bothering IT.

For years, Serena made its name by specializing in providing application lifecycle management (ALM) and portfolio product management (PPM) solutions. I asked Carey Schwaber, senior analyst on application development for Forrester Research, if Serena's move into mashups was part of a general trend for such ALM vendors.

"No other vendors in this space have made any comparable moves to sell mashup tools or any other tools that put development capabilities in the hands of business people," she replied by e-mail. "So at this point, Serena is the only data point of this type, and one data point certainly isn't enough to make a trend."

Free the Business User
Business users are frustrated because they can build a mashup, but they have to go through the IT department to provision a server and run these mashups, explained René Bonvanie, Serena Software's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, partner programs and online services. The solution to that problem is Serena's hosted mashup service, he explained.

"We are convinced that many of these mashers [business user mashup creators] will also want to deploy to the Internet and do that on a Serena on-demand service that allows them to deploy these mashups in a pay-as-you-go or subscription model."

Serena's mashup solution consists of two key components: Mashup Composer and Mashup Server. Mashup Composer will be available for free. The only time people will pay Serena is when they deploy their mashups for commercial use on the Mashup Server -- either behind the firewall or in the cloud.

The Mashup Server will handle all of the orchestrations, transformations and security to make these business processes work, Bonvanie explained.

Ease of Use
With its new venture, Serena expects to empower business developers to build mashups, which are really just process mashups, Bonvanie said. These developers are people with technical skills who can write a formulas or macros in Excel or who can do things in Sharepoint, he added.

Moreover, the Mashup Composer application is easy to use, according to Bonvanie. He said that Serena has invested about 75 man years into developing its mashup technology, with the aim of making it easy for business people to use.

"We've chosen the Microsoft Office look and feel for the Mashup Composer because most of the people who work on the business side work in Excel, PowerPoint and Visio," he said. "If you can draw a picture in Visio or write a formula or expression in Excel, you should have no problem going into this user interface and building a mashup where you can mashup a service in Salesforce.com with a service in SAP."

Mashups can be diverse and can focus on functional areas and industries. So, there's an infinite number of mashups that can be created. Some of these mashups will be become successful applications, but they are still fairly simple, Bonvanie said.

"The whole idea of mashups is sharing and reusing," he added. "So I can see a big market emerge about mashups that are spanning multiple processes in HR and management, using Salesforce.com, Quickbooks Online, SAP, etc."

Mashup Sharing
Serena has an additional element to its mashup service, a repository of mashups called the Mashup Exchange.

The Mashup Exchange lets you download mashup blueprints that are 80 percent to 90 percent done, Bonvanie said. With minor tweaks, companies can use them as their own mashups.

"We think there is going to be a pretty big market out there for sharing these mashups," Bonvanie said.

On the Mashup Exchange, each publisher is going to be responsible for their own intellectual property. They may make the mashup available under a creative commons or under open source. It's whatever they want to do.

"It's their IP and therefore they protect it under their means -- including no means at all," Bonvanie said.

Governance Is Not a Problem
Will freeing business personnel to write and deploy their own mashup applications lead to IT chaos? Bonvanie doesn't think so. His analogy comes from the consumer-based Web app world, such as the social networking Facebook site.

Facebook provides a social experience for its users by combining a photo database and a user profile database. The Web site combines the information and tracks friends based on the number of references to a person that gets posted. The developer of the application never went to the IT department of Facebook to get approval. There was no IT governance committee, budget committee, no QA process and no user assessment process, Bonvanie explained.

No permission was needed to build the application and now 12 million people use it on Facebook. The app didn't create new data or employ separate databases. There are no API calls that violate any of the governance or security put in place. So this is a very well-governed model from an IT perspective, he explained.

On the business side, the situation is no different, according to Bonvanie. You have an order database and a human resources database, accessed via an SAP user interface and a PeopleSoft user interface, respectively. Thanks to SOA, you can effectively access these systems at a data level and also at a process level. You can create a mashup that understands SAP and PeopleSoft. This is no different than what Facebook is doing, he added.

IT should have no cause for worry with Serena's mashup technology.

"From a governance perspective, this architecture is as governable as any other application that is going to be developed by IT or someone else," Bonvanie said. Serena's Mariner tool can provide governance by providing insight into what is being developed by IT and business developers, he added.

Enabling IT
Currently, IT organizations are challenged by the volume of requests from business users, who typically want simple applications. For every application that IT delivers, there's at least four or five that do not get delivered, Bonvanie said. IT tends to ignore the simple requests and focus on building the more complex applications.

"Our revelation here is to give IT more tools to do things," he added. "And we can give these business people a technology that is easy enough to use so they can build these simple applications."

Bonvanie foresees mashups as a possible way for a lot of the backlog that businesses have today to go away.

"We want to help business users use this mashup technology not to replace IT but to add on to IT," he explained.

The product will have a public preview where anyone can try mashing up applications. In November, the Mashup Composer solution will be generally available. Serena is also planning a Mashup Server beta. In February, Serena plans to go live with its Mashup Exchange service.

Serena is also considering offering its Mariner PPM application as an on-demand service, Bonvanie said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.

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