Monday, April 21, 2008

Kapow's Web-to-spreadsheet data service helps enterprises exploit cloud-based mashups

Kapow Technologies at the Web 2.0 Expo this week will aim to solve one of the biggest problems facing enterprises as they seek to solve external-internal data chaos by leveraging cloud-based data management services.

With Kapow OnDemand, a cloud-based service that uses the company's Mashup Server, Kapow will provide the ability to create data-rich mashups in minutes and then make that Web data ready for delivery into ubiquitous internal Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, or other enterprise applications and integration infrastructure.

Kapow OnDemand offers users access to a visual scripting environment for building the services and feeds that automates the access and delivery of web-based intelligence and data -- then delivers it the desktop or application of choice. According to Kapow, even Web-savvy, non-technical users will be able to build "robots" in a matter of minutes that can extract, transform, and output Web data.

The hosted service may provide the fastest way to deliver real-time data from the Web into Excel spreadsheets, and therefore into the hands of business analysts, business processes and for internal publishing feeds and streams. This will circumvent the old cut-and-paste logjam and allow analysts to rapidly collect market data on such things as competitive pricing, product mix analysis, or financial metrics, for example.

Despite a huge and growing amount of "webby" online data and content, capturing and defining that data and then making it available to users and processes has proven difficult, due to differing formats and data structures. The usual recourse is manual intervention, and oftentimes cut-and-paste chores. IT departments are not too keen on such chores.

But Kapow's OnDemand approach provides access to the underlying data sources and services to be mashed up and uses a Robot Designer to construct custom Web harvesting feeds and services in a flexible role-based execution runtime. Additionally, associated tools allow for monitoring and managing a portfolio of services and feeds, all as a service.

Deployed on a commercial-grade grid computing environment, OnDemand offers tight security, load balancing, high availability, failover, and automated backup and restore. Pricing for the service will begin at $3,400 per month.

Kapow this week will also announce its Connector for Excel, which allows spreadsheet users to find and execute Web services. By using Kapow OnDemand or the Kapow Mashup Server Web 2.0 Edition along with Connector for Excel, these users can bring XML content and Web services directly into their spreadsheets.

Kapow will offer a product preview Webinar on April 29, covering both OnDemand and the Excel Connector.

Last January, I sat down for a sponsored podcast with Kapow CTO Stefan Andreasan. He explained how much of the potentially useful data on the Internet exists in a form that is designed to be easily read by humans, and not by enterprise applications. [Disclosure: Kapow is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]
There's is a third group, which I call intelligence data. That's hard to find, but gives you that extra insight, extra intelligence, to let you draw a conclusion which is different from -- and hopefully better than -- your competitors. That’s data that’s probably not accessible in any standard way, but will be accessible on the Web in a browser. This is exactly what our product does. It allows you to turn any Web-based data into standard format, so you can access what I call intelligence data in a standard fashion.
Joe Keller, Kapow's chief marketing officer, explained to Computerworld the significance of the new OnDemand service:
By connecting [Web mashups] to Excel, users can have real-time data inside their spreadsheets along with their corporate data to get that 360-degree view of the data they are analyzing. If users can build spreadsheets, if they can do the programming of those spreadsheets, the plug-in makes [mashups] a native element inside of Excel.

Mashups provide that layer we need to really let the business do a lot of the work themselves. It still governs the services and creates the services, but it allows the business start doing business themselves.
Last month, Kapow raised another $11.6 million from investors, including Steamboat Ventures, Kennet Partners, and NorthCap Partners.

This service and the means to sidestep IT (in a good way) so that line of business decision-makers can avail themselves of all the data they can, regardless of its origins, begins the path toward solving the data management mess most enterprises are in. I expect to see many variations on this theme, with data access growing richer and varied -- but also with access and security controls.

As enterprises grasp the productivity that comes with public cloud data management, it may well spur them to bring more of their own data into the services layer where it can be delivered to where it brings the most value.