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IBM Goes Goo-Goo for Gadgets

The consumerization of the enterprise is in full swing.

What began in 2006 as a trickle of consumer-oriented web applications like podcasts and gadgets making their way into the enterprise, has today become a veritable torrent.

In what may be the signature moment of this consumer-enterprise mashup  in 2007, IBM  announced a deal with Google  today that will allow its customers to integrate Google Gadgets into their WebSphere enterprise portal software application. Gadgets are Web applications made for limited but sometimes sophisticated uses.

The deal means that corporate customers will be able to pick from nearly 4,000 Web-based services and utilities and add them to their personalized portals. Those could include consumer-oriented applications like a Wikipedia search utility or YouTube access, as well as cross-over applications that could be used for both personal and business reasons, like language or currency translators or podcast searches.

Corporate customers will also be able to integrate gadgets with external-facing sites built on the WebSphere platform, such as a package-tracking application for an e-commerce site or Wikipedia search for a content site, to help improve the user experience on their sites.

The deal is also symbolic of a larger trend, which is what some analysts refer to as the "consumerization of IT."

Indeed, it wasn't that long ago that business people started adding smiley faces to clarify the tones of their e-mails. Emoticons have also become standard fare as instant messaging makes its way into the enterprise. Now, noted Lauren Wendel, IBM WebSphere portal manager, "there is a blurring of the distinction between what you use at home or in your Internet experience with the services you expect in your daily work experience."

Companies typically try to prevent employees from doing personal chores while on the job, and also want to ensure that their workforce doesn't download applications carrying malware  or services that could otherwise destabilize their infrastructure.

But Wendel said that allowing some of this experience to seep into the workplace in a controlled manner might be a better way than trying to ban them altogether.

She said that some customers are "looking at how portals can be used to govern how those services can be used in useful ways... and integrate those services ubiquitously where it makes sense within the business context," she told internetnews.com.

IDC analyst Sue Feldman agreed that the move gives companies the opportunity to control which gadgets get implemented while providing some latitude to employees.

"It's adding an enterprise spin to something that's getting pervasive anyway," she told internetnews.com.

Moreover, she said, the deal allows business owners to fetch applications and mash them up to their portal without requiring them to embed the code.

Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Research, agreed that businesses look to invest in technology that works in predictable ways. "There are incremental steps that tools like Google is offering that can allow businesses to increase the capabilities of their IT infrastructure in a pretty seamless way," he told internetnews.com.

He noted that the deal not only helps IBM earn street cred with customers looking to assuage their increasingly tech-savvy workforce, it also gives Google the imprimatur of a heavyweight enterprise IT company.

"Getting the seal of approval from a partner like IBM is incredibly valuable to Google, especially as they move into the enterprise," he said.

Google vice president of search products and user experience Marissa Mayer said the new mashup capability will allow enterprise customers to customize experiences for both internal and external users. "Google gadgets will allow IBM's users to harness a wide range of rich and interactive content," she said in a statement.

In a December 2006 round-up with internetnews.com, Gartner analyst Gene Phifer said that, of all the Web 2.0 technologies, the mashup may prove to be the most interesting cross-over application.

Phifer said that while the most common mashups include some form of mapping application and e-commerce-type store front, 2007 will be the year mashups become a huge part of human resource departments to cross-reference employee information.

He also said we could see mashups being used in supply chain management and customer relationship management software to improve the way suppliers and consumers work together.

Phifer predicted that vendors like IBM, Oracle  and others will continue developing software tools that enable businesses to create new ways of interacting with partners and customers.