Market Overview Whitepaper

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Building a Business Case for Ajax and the Next Generation of Web-based Applications Contents

Executive Summary

While Ajax is still in its early stages of adoption as a standards-based, open source Internet-based technology (Ajax is not necessarily open source in fact much of it is not - for example google maps, commercial components etc..) , this whitepaper provides some context for adopting Ajax and other Web 2.0 technologies as productivity enhancing, transformative catalysts that provide real business value. For a detailed technical overview of Ajax, please refer to: <Name of Whitepaper> also published by the Open Ajax Alliance.

The purpose of this paper is to highlight some of the current trends and use cases that Ajax enables as well as some adjunct innovations such as mashups and SOA’s that are resulting in a new generation of Web-based applications built for productivity, collaboration and social networking. The intention is to address the “so what” factor by having a closer look at these paradigm-shifting technologies from a business user perspective, focusing on how they are leading to emerging business opportunities.

<Optional paragraph>: The litmus test for any technology is whether it provides real (business) value to users. When a technology (or process) provides enough value that it enriches the lives of multiple constituents (different user types) and spans entire organizations and industries, I would argue that it becomes a “tipping point” technology, one that has the power to sustain whole new business models. A paradigm shift, in fact. What does this all mean in terms of business value? How do we measure that value and who will be its main beneficiaries?

Ajax is increasing end user productivity and even though we are still in the early adopter stages, Ajax is redefining the web at a rapid pace, thus requiring every organization with a web presence or having Internet-based applications to develop a cohesive Ajax business strategy.

Intended Audience

This document is intended for a non-technical audience, although enough technical information is provided to create a context for Ajax and other technologies that are mentioned. A detailed technical white paper has been published by the OpenAjax Alliance and is available at

What is Ajax?

The term Ajax, shorthand for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, was coined originally to indicate a development technique for creating interactive web applications. This technique enables web pages that are more interactive and responsive due to the technique of exchanging small amounts of data with the server behind the scenes so that the entire web page does not have to be reloaded each time the user makes a change. Ajax incremental update techniques are accomplished via clever use of native features found within popular browsers, most particularly JavaScript and the XMLHttpRequest API, usually leveraging JavaScript libraries that provide a cross-browser abstraction layer and deal with browser differences and idiosyncrasies under the hood.

Ajax now has a more general meaning that represents the set of techniques for delivering advanced user experiences (Rich Internet Applications - RIAs) via the native features found in popular HTML browsers, usually leveraging cross-browser JavaScript libraries that manage browser differences. With this broader meaning, Ajax represents the continued evolution of DHTML to deliver Web 2.0 experiences and RIAs. (from Open Ajax Alliance White Paper #1)

Web 2.0 Definitions

Web 2.0 refers to a second generation of services available on the World Wide Web that let people interact, collaborate and share information online. In contrast to the first generation, Web 2.0 gives users an experience closer to desktop applications than the traditional static Web pages (Source: Wikipedia)

A mashup is a website or web application that uses content from more than one source to create a completely new service. Generally it is the combination of two or more functions such as maps and MLS listings, into a single user interface. Mashups are revolutionizing web development because they allow anyone with minimal technical knowledge to combine existing data from sources like eBay, Amazon, Google, etc. in novel ways. By using simple API’s corporate intranet and extranet sites can also incorporate mashups into their operations providing employees and management, partners and outside vendors with similar innovations. While traditional integrated applications require serious programming and development at the back-end or server layers of the architecture; mashups take place at the browser or UI level greatly simplifying development and execution for combing different applications.

SOA or Service Oriented Architecture is defined as an infrastructure that enables the availability of software as independent services that can be accessed without knowledge of their underlying platform implementation. The net result is a loosely coupled architecture that is inherently easier to manage and maintain. Many SOA’s are built upon XML, SOAP (protocol for exchanging XML-based messages over a network), WSDL (an XML format) and HTML (the common Web page standard).

Ajax in Action

Ajax allows a Web page to conduct many exchanges of data between user and an Internet server. In other words, it affects the performance of Web-based applications by providing instantaneous data delivery instead of a whole page refresh. Take a look at DVD rental service Neflix for example. When a user moves the mouse cursor over a film title, the site responds with immediate delivery of the movie’s actors and story line. This provides a faster way of getting the information needed by the user to decide whether to rent or not and provides Netflix with a revenue impacting content delivery service. At Amazon, a user has a similar experience by rolling over some of the site’s menu items gaining a view of specific details of the user’s account and the store’s product categories without having to refresh the web page and lose time and focus. The simple rollover feature functions more naturally with the user’s workflow process. The poster child example most of us are now familiar with is Google Maps. Many sites such as those involved in real estate use the map data fed from Google’s site combined with property listings from MLS sites to provide prospective buyers with information from multiple data sources within the same page view. Prospective buyers now have a rich visual context from which to base their next decision in the buying process.

(Do you think we should supply screen shots for each of these?)

Ajax as a Key Enabling Business Opportunity

As seen in the above examples, there is clearly value to be had by incorporating Ajax-based features and functionality. While they may not be earth shattering today, the concepts are gaining traction and more questions are being asked about the business value and business barriers to implement Ajax and Web 2.0 based functionality into corporate public and private Web sites. So what exactly is needed to build the business case for Ajax? What barriers must be overcome to sell this internally?

Here are a few common barriers and therefore opportunities that Ajax and building Service Oriented Architectures (SOA’s) allow you to overcome:

  • Quickly adapt to changing business needs

In our fiercely competitive global economy businesses often need to change their strategies and be nimble enough to compete effectively. This means that implementing new projects and the underlying software code and infrastructure also need to adapt to the changing environment with minimal cost, or risk falling behind or worse. Ajax can address these needs because the underlying technologies (Java script and XML) are portable from project to project..(need to nail this better)

  • Manageability

In today’s regulated environment (SOX, HIPPA, etc.), monitoring, manageability and auditing of business services are key requirements. Ajax is inherently manageable by design.. (need to nail this)

  • Simplicity of integration with existing systems

This is probably the number one obstacle and cost factor when implementing new services: does my new application integrate seamlessly with my existing infrastructure? Ajax addresses this concern because it is built on open, cross-platform and standards-based technologies like XML. (need to expand).

  • Automation and cost reduction

Many legacy enterprise applications require manual intervention when doing basic upgrades or more complex rules writing for management purposes. The costs for these projects can be enormous. The SOA paradigm that includes Ajax as a data delivery mechanism, solves …

  • Leveraging existing systems and resources

The problem with legacy (1.0) systems eg. (ERP, CRM, Purchasing) is that they require major rewrites for even the smallest changes. As an open framework (soon to be standardized by the Open Ajax Alliance), Ajax saves time and money by allowing developers to re-use their code base across the enterprise.. (be more precise here technically)

Wide Adoption by developers: Once an Ajax standard is agreed upon (main purpose of Open Ajax Alliance), there will be wide adoption by developers thereby significantly increasing the Ajax value proposition.

(Make a point about adoption once a standard is created, it makes it much easier for the developers to adapt Ajax and therefore fuel wider adoption).

Measuring ROI

In most businesses, decision makers are interested mainly in how information technology can increase revenue, reduce costs, or make better use of information assets. The benefits of Ajax seem to come more out of the cost reduction arena. The question becomes "Where do these cost savings come from and how can we quantify them?"

There are some Ajax benefits that can be measured and expressed in terms of dollars without too much difficulty. Of course it's difficult to measure these exactly but they definitely paint the picture even on non-techies. To estimate your return you will look to these metrics to estimate value. They include:

  1. Time spent waiting for data to be transmitted: Time is money. Over many repetitions, the time employees spend waiting for the page to load can add up to significant costs.
  2. Time spent completing a particular task: Increased efficiency in the user interface can often mean that time is saved at the task level, offering opportunities for concrete cost savings there.
  3. Bandwidth consumed for the entire task: The cost of bandwidth does not increase linearly, but does increase as the company invests in larger-capacity Internet connections and new hardware to accommodate greater server loads. A firm's cost structure for bandwidth depends on the scale of their operation and these capital investment needs. That being said, the cost of bandwidth can be measured if this cost structure is known. If repetitious tasks consume a lot of bandwidth, these costs can escalate dramatically. The amount of bandwidth consumed also has implications for time savings.

For the benefits associate with productivity you calculate these savings based on the labor rate, the number of transactions, and the time savings per transaction. For example:

Ajax Cost Savings = Hourly Labor Rate X (Seconds Saved per Transaction X Number of Transactions per year) / 3600

There are also harder to quantify benefits to implementing a richer, more desktop like user experience in a web application. These include:

  1. Steps to task completion: Reducing the number of steps can reduce the amount of time wasted and also reduce the number of opportunities for error while improving perceived application performance.
  2. Familiar user interface: The benefits of offering users a familiar desktop like user interface means lower training costs, fewer errors, and faster ramp-up.
  3. Improved application responsiveness: More responsive applications can improve productivity not just by reducing "wait," but by promoting a more fluid, uninterrupted workflow.

To use the Return on Investment (ROI) view when making a business case for Ajax has advantages, one of which is being able to give some financial context to the many qualitative advantages of a more efficient web application. Taking this analysis a step further to gauge the long-term impact of bandwidth requirements would add to the understanding by being able to estimate the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) when compared to an existing application.

The capital outlay of Web development projects is typically concentrated in up-front investment in human resources and licensing. However, the total cost of ownership can be much lower when you include the impact of yearly licensing on proprietary desktop software, as well as distribution and support costs for that application. These are largely the same benefits as web applications with out Ajax, however with Ajax we're able to tackle a broader range of application use cases.

Although the benefits of improved application architecture extend beyond mere time savings, when included in the decision making process, an ROI approach such as this can help make a solid business case for Ajax.

Where Ajax Fits in a Service Oriented Architecture

First of all, let’s look at where Ajax sits in the enterprise scheme of things: Ajax (typically) sits on the client side of the Web application architecture. This means that the server does not have to first convert data it is sending to the browser into HTML, which translates to having the browser behave like a real application. Secondly, because Ajax is XML-based and most web services or Service Oriented Architectures (SOA’s) are also based in part on XML, development and maintenance costs are greatly reduced and new efficiencies attained. Thirdly, Ajax-based mashups can be employed to eliminate the need for users to switch between different applications thus delivering a whole new user experience including real time data exchange between the server and the (user’s) browser.

<Need to re-create image to be Ajax centric and show in context of the Web 2.0 ecosystem.>



Ajax Sample Use Cases

Diigo which calls itself the “Social Annotation” provider allows users to annotate, highlight, make “sticky notes” and clip information on any Web page and enables you to share this with anyone. As users become more comfortable with online collaboration, this type of Ajax-based service will become indispensable for research and for cutting through information overload. provides users with a shopping portal for finding deals on all kinds of products ranging from printers and computers to home and garden supplies. This Axax-enabled site also allows users to post their comments from a simple drop down box and click on a + sign to cast their vote whether they think the deal is good or not. In summary, a social shopping site with Ajax tools that make it simple to communicate value to others.

Yahoo! has redesigned its homepage providing Ajax-enabled functionality that keeps users on the main portal page while providing slick drop down items. These in turn enhance productivity since users don’t have to leave the main page to get user relevant information like local traffic, weather and e-mail in box contents from drop down boxes.

Schenker a world leading logistics company with over 39,000 employees in over 1,100 is using Ajax to improve their user interfaces for their online data entry. Their initial roll out consisted of creating an Excel (tm) like user experience on the web using Ajax components from Nitobi. They used the Ajax to build streamlined data entry tools, and to leverage the time and bandwidth savings of AJAX technologies. Users can now copy and paste data directly from Excel into the online system instead having to manually enter every bit of data into standard web forms, without Ajax workflow like this is simply not possible in a browser based environment.

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A screenshot of Schenker's online data management system. Notice the spreadsheet style interface implemented in a web application.

Apollo-Optik is part of Pearle Group, the world leading chain of opticians. Apollo has over 480 stores in Germany and they are using Ajax technology for their user interfaces for online order entry, stock keeping information and management reporting. The introduction of Ajax at Apollo was driven by the requirement to replace old mainframe UIs in order to increase usability and productivity. Users can now work with an intuitive web application for all processes in a store that require interaction with Apollo's centralized systems.


24SevenOffice is a web-based ERP/CRM-solution for small and medium-sized businesses. All modules uses Ajax extensively and the GUI is very desktop-like to give users a familiar look and feel. Ajax-enabled GUI-features such as trees, sortable & selectable lists, tabs, context-menu's, drag&drop and more is in use. Below is a screenshot of the new purchase module which is currently in beta where many of the mentioned features are used. Ajax is essential to our technology strategy as users such as accountants are used to very responsive DOS-interface's and thus will not settle for a traditional click-and-wait web interface. Modules in the system include: CRM, accounting, invoice, purchasing, file/document management, e-mail and more.



Need a few other examples here.. Especially if we can provide custom enterprise examples in the real world. Screen shots? Pictures are always helpful.


Ajax is designed to increase user productivity. It combines the best features of desktop applications with the best features of the Web, in a platform-independent manner. Whether you are a marketing or sales executive; a product manager or lead architect, the key to launching a successful new product or project is having an effective plan that addresses both the technical and business aspects. As we have seen in this paper, Ajax provides a means to deliver a new generation of functionality that can drive new business models and revenues. Ajax itself is a means to an ends. By delivering dynamic and better user experiences from Web-based applications or services, Ajax is a next generation business enabler. It provides value by helping to create new classes of applications at lower cost thresholds that were not previously possible. While wide adoption is still around the corner, more business users are experiencing the power of Ajax–enabled Web sites which has resulted in greater demand for Ajax deployments. Current and future Ajax developments within enterprises will have a lasting impact on how businesses roll out new application services to their constituents. With the formation of the Open Ajax Alliance, the trend will only accelerate.

OpenAjax Alliance

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