Web Feeds in the Enterprise

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While listening to Adam Curry's Daily Source Code podcast last August, it occurred to me that Web Feed technology has a huge potential inside the enterprise.

There a lot of information that you need to know but don't want to keep checking the system for. I'm sure if you're a PeopleSoft user you can think of several things that fit into this category. If you work in support, maybe it's new or escallated issues. If you're a manager, maybe it's the latest P&L report for your cost center. For many, you need the latest new-hire list. If you're a customer, maybe this would be new product information, order status, or timely invoice information. Vendors might want to get the latest change orders. You get the idea.

E-mail has been the traditional channel to push this information to your desk, but it has limitations. First, it's not anonymous. You must give your e-mail address which can then be used for other purposes. Second, it's not secure. Anyone can read your e-mail as it travels across the internet. Third, e-mail is an over-used channel. In addition to receiving e-mail messages from employees, managers, customers and vendors, we also receive e-mail messages from a variety of automated systems both inside and outside of the enterprise. It's difficult to keep up with, pritorize and respond to each one.

I think the solution to liberating e-mail and giving users the information they need is with Web Feeds. Web feeds allow all kinds of information to be published and subscribed to by users who have the correct access. The web feed model would provide a great anonymous, opt-in, spam free channel to get all kinds of enterprise information delivered to the users who need it.

Think about it. How much junk is clogging your e-mail inbox right now? Are you crazy about getting request to approve purchase orders, requisitions, etc., delivered there? How about new cases, leads, or opportunities that are assigned to you?

Wouldn't it be easier to subscribe to all of this via a web feed the same way you can subscribe to this blog or CNN's news feeds?

With Web Feeds, instead of checking their inbox for the latest worklist items, employees can check their Worklist web feed. Instead of e-mailing links to reports, employees can just subscribe to the reporting feed that are relevant to them. Instead of periodically emailing customers information about products, customers can now opt-in by subscribing to the product web feeds that interest them. No more spamming users, and users no longer need to send notes to the helpdesk asking to be removed from a mailing list because the consumer controls the subscription.

Currently there are some very good feed readers you can install so that you can subscribe to web feeds. NewsGator allows Outlook to subscribe to web feeds, the FireFox browser allows web feeds directly in your browser, and FeedDaemon is a nice stand-alone feed reader.

But in the near future you won't need to push a separate web feed reader to everyone's desktop. Internet Explorer 7 and the 2007 version of Microsoft Outlook will support web feeds when they are released later this year. The Firefox and other browsers have supported web feeds for some time.

Once your company rolls out IE7 or Office 2007, you'll for the first time have afeed reader on every employee's desktop. That opens up a whole new information delivery channel with little incremental cost.

It's not just about notifications. Documents and reports can be "attached" to web feeds via the Enclosures functionality so users don't have to make a trip back to the web server to get them. What a great way to deliver reports to the desktop without bogging down e-mail servers!

And web feeds already work great on mobile devices. I use PocketRSS on my iPAQ to keep my web feeds synchronized and download my podcasts. There's no reason emloyees couldn't do the same on their blackberry or Treo too. Combined with the Enclosures functionality, mobile users can now access corporate data like never before.

You might be thinking that web feeds don't send content that is specific to an individual's role and security settings. Well actually most feed readers support several different types of HTTP authentication. A web feed publishing servlet could authenticate each subscriber against PeopleSoft's security model and provide content specifically for that user's roles.

As with all good ideas, I wasn't the first to think of it. MediaThink has a great white paper which discusses the same concepts. Spanning Partners already provides web feeds out of SalesForce.com.

I've been working on a proof of concept for PeopleSoft to publish web feeds, and I'll share my findings in the near future. If you would like to know more, please send me an e-mail at brent.martin@erpassociates.com.
Comments (5)Add Comment
Comment from Joe
written by Joe, March 07, 2006
You might be interested to know that there is already someone pushing a product like this targeted for PeopleSoft:

(Zipline) http://www.voiceoftech.com/default.aspx />

PS. I'm not affiliated with the site, I've come across the author's announcement in peoplesoftpros.net a few months ago.
Brent Martin
written by Brent Martin, March 07, 2006
Thanks, Joe. I looked for resources like this when I started but didn't find them. It looks like Zipline is a stand-alone system that subscribes to Integration Broker messages and turns them into web feeds.

I took a different approach by using iScript functions to deliver web feeds directly from PeopleSoft. I don't like it in that it requires app designer changes (i.e. customizations), but I think it will ultimately allow deeper integration with PeopleSoft.

I'd be interested to compare the two approaches at some point.
Comment from Joe
written by Joe, March 08, 2006
Hmm.. doesn't IB messaging also require app designer changes (message definition, onrequest peoplecode) as well? I think the author decided on that approach because he wanted it to be ERP-independent.

Also, for an unauthenticated client trying to navigate to an IScript page directly, doesn't PeopleSoft redirect you to the login page first? Are aggregators capable of handling/authenticating this way?

Great post, btw. IE7 may really have a great impact on the relevance of RSS.
Brent Martin
written by Brent Martin, March 08, 2006
IB certainly requires App Designer changes. My approach would require a couple additional custom objects, but they'll be easy to spot during an upgrade and well documented.

As far as the unauthenticated client trying to navigate to an IScript -- I see two options.

Option 1 would be to include userid and password in the URL. I'm not crazy about that one since even if it was done via SSL you could still find usernames and passwords in the browsing history.

Option 2 would be to use HTTP Basic authentication to challenge the user for a username and password, then pass these credentials to PeopleSoft. I have a Java servlet that does this. Most feed readers including Firefox and IE work with basic authentication. It would still need to be called via SSL otherwise usernames and passwords oculd be intercepted.

I think the Java servlet that does authentication could be extended to do other forms of authentication -- possibly using Windows Challenge and Response kind of like Sharepoint uses so the user doesn't see the signin page at all. But that's beyond the scope of what I'm trying to accomplish right now.
Blackberry Approvals
written by Ashok, September 25, 2009
Can you please provide me a view regarding Purchase order approvals with blackberry devices i.e how to setup to send workflow approvals..

Ashok K.

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