Friday, August 3, 2007

OpenSpan report card: Plays well with others

Quick question: What is the most-used technology for integrating apps on the desktop? If you said "copy-and-paste," then you'd be right, and it probably means you've been listening to Francis Carden, CEO of OpenSpan Inc.

Carden uses the copy-and-paste statistic to emphasize how little integration has advanced in the industry, despite all the effort of the last two decades.

OpenSpan of Alpharetta, Ga., offers what it claims is a new and unique way to integrate the multitude of currently siloed apps on which many operations rely today. How OpenSpan works is that it identifies the objects that interact with the operating system in any program -- whether a Windows app, a Web page, a Java application, or a legacy green screen program -- exposes those objects and normalizes them, effectively breaking down the walls between applications.

The OpenSpan Studio provides a graphical interface in which users can view programs, interrogate applications and expose the underlying objects. Once the objects are exposed, users can build automations between and among the various programs and apply logic to control the results.

For example, the integration can be designed to take information from legacy applications, pass it to an Internet search engine, perform the search, and pass the result on to a third application. All this can be done transparently to the end user with a single mouse click. The operation can run with the applications involved open on the desktop, or they can run in the background while the integration runs in a dashboard.

Setting up such an integration in OpenSpan can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, depending on the complexity of the operation and the number of programs involved.

What happens if the objects in one of the source programs changes, something that could happen frequently if third-party Web pages are involved? According to Carden, it's a simple matter of re-interrogating the affected objects on the revised page and replacing them in original workflow, using the OpenSpan studio.

While others are trying to do what OpenSpan does, Carden says that the others do it in different ways and that his company's approach is unique. It does not require specific programming knowledge, nor does it require access to the source code of the underlying programs or recompiling those codes.

"I like to say were the 'last mile to SOA,'" Carden said. "We can take a 25-year-old application and make it consume a Web service."

According to Carden, the idea of digging into applications and objects at the operating system level was something that was always able to be done by what he calls "rocket scientists." The only problem, he says, is that it was a time-consuming process and was basically a one-off effort. OpenSpan is a way to productize the process and make it available to non-rocket scientists.

For some companies, integrating applications is critical to performance and agility. Carden tells of one client, a large bank, where workers had to deal with 1,600 applications -- although that's a little extreme. The average is about eight.

OpenSpan is currently riding high with an infusion of venture capital from Sigma Partners and Matrix Partners and an infusion of talent with the addition of four key players who were formerly executives with JBoss.

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