AribaWeb: A New Open Source Development Platform

Earlier today Ariba announced the availability of AribaWeb, an "Open Source component-based web application development framework for creating rich, AJAX-enabled applications with the absolute minimum of code (and no hand-coded Javascript)". I'll attempt to translate this description in two ways -- for techies and non-techies alike. From an Ariba perspective, AribaWeb represents the public coming out party for an Open Source development platform that Ariba has used for years to develop its own applications going back to the original release of the Ariba Supplier Network and Buyer 7.0. I had the chance to speak a bit to Bhaskar Himatsingka, Ariba's CTO, and Craig Federighi, Ariba's CTO Emeritus (what I call him, not the title he goes by) yesterday about it. Among other facts the two shared with me, they noted that they've had "an immediate team of 3-4 people working on AribaWeb for years." The 30 man-years of development that have gone into its core are now leveraged by "half to two/thirds of the 300 engineers at Ariba".

So why realease Ariba web to the public? Craig told me that part of the motivation "for releasing AribaWeb is certainly giving back to the development community. And it also gives us a way to source top notch development talent. This will help us get some exceptional hires and some contributions from adopters, building the recruiting base and technical brand." But what does AribaWeb do for developers and what could it do for your organization? It essentially is a productivity tool that allows developers to create rich web applications -- for both internal and external use -- in what Ariba claims is a fraction of the time of traditional platform development alternatives such as Ruby on Rails. Not only does AribaWeb help drive coding productivity -- it enables a single developer to work on an end-to-end feature or product without requiring UI specialists, for example. It also lets a regular Java developer code rich front-ends using AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) that delivers a similar user experience to Adobe Flex, making apps more user-friendly and interactive. In the past, a specifically trained development resource would have to manually script the UI for this sort of application.

I asked Craig for an example of how a developer might work with Ariba web inside a company. He gave me a simple but valuable example about how a manufacturer could create a quick tool to solve a sourcing need -- bridging the design/engineering and sourcing gap. For this example, imagine the case of this company that in the past developed a manual or hand-coded solution to the following problem: "the organization has a third party system for design which contains the bill of material (BOM) data that they would source. They need a bridge between the application that maintained the BOM and cost structures that would build this. The current process is a manual or hard-coded bridge between the sourcing environment and the engineering application but you could build this in AribaWeb today and automate the process." Ultimately, third-party developed Open Source applications such as this may "open the door for Ariba to follow-up with a library that builds on top of the open source application and integration framework". But that's down the road.

Regardless, Ariba has no intention of developing a platform business model. This is consistent with Craig's historic view that Open Source platforms "make a lot of sense in horizontal infrastructure but not from an application standpoint." Need further proof? Coupa, a vendor that started out entirely positioning itself as the Open Source eProcurement product, has all but moved away from this strategy commercially. Interesting thought, but as an aside, perhaps if Coupa had it to do over, they might even skip the Ruby on Rails development path they took opting for AribaWeb. Why? If Craig's and Bhaskar's claims are even remotely accurate -- I've not used the platform myself or interviewed anyone outside Ariba who has -- then AribaWeb would be an invaluable wrench to have in just about any Java developer's toolbox, speeding the development process and creating streamlined, better code.

- Jason Busch

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