IoT, Mobile Apps and Legacy Data

Mike Harvey

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It's no secret that many companies struggle with legacy data integration. While the latest mobile technologies offer significant improvement in user productivity, leveraging and exposing existing data and workflows in this promising new world can be a daunting task -not to mention the reality of emerging possibilities pressure to integrate legacy data into IoT.

While smaller and newer companies may enjoy a limited amount of variability in regards to their data collection, management and delivery platforms, larger or older organizations are often faced with a mixed bag of legacy systems that have developed organically over time or suffer from a stove-piped organizational structure that has neither provided or enforced standards and practices to ensure platform interoperability. As a result, transforming the resulting hodge-podge of organizational information in order to leverage the latest mobile computing features and benefits often devolves to individual migrations of existing core applications and services that distract resources from more strategic initiatives, and often at a significant cost. This has been the way of Enterprise IT for decades. But it doesn't have to be so - REST assured.

Learning from the past

Many years ago at a previous employer, I was tasked with integrating a few dozen disparate messaging systems (read internal corporate mail) for upwards of 85,000 users across over 70 separate business units on upwards of 12 different messaging platforms globally. The challenges, as absurd as they sound today, were fairly common at the time for large companies that acquired a lot of smaller companies.

Such was my challenge. How to share contact or address book information, how to guarantee routing and delivery, how to ensure uniqueness of distinguished names, etc. were the most obvious challenges. The business didn't want to migrate everyone to a common messaging platform as the cost would have been simply too much for the units to absorb. We just needed to provide a way for them to communicate consistently, securely and effectively. The answer was a combination of agreed upon standards and the implementation of a central meta-directory service to handle addressing, routing, and prioritization, which resulted in very little impact on the business. It was essentially a middleware service that provided the interoperability between the different messaging systems that provided the freedom to use whatever messaging system wanted, but allowed for seamless interoperability between them all.

Working through that initiative taught me much about keeping the objective in mind, and not trying to apply tools, approaches, or fixes that may work on a small scale to larger initiatives. Migrating a single system to take advantage of emerging technology may make a lot of business sense. But it rarely holds water when you scale it past a few systems.

How does this relate to Legacy Data?

The challenge to expose legacy data in the new mobile frontier is fundamentally the same issue we faces years ago with messaging.

"I need all these old things to talk to each other as well as talk to the new things. And, I can't or don't want to replace these old things for the foreseeable future."

In fact, wrestling with the core problem of interfacing of disparate systems gave me a sense of déjà vu. The questions I kept asking myself:

  1. How can use a "meta data like" (and not metadata) solution so I can expose all this legacy information on newer platforms like mobile and IoT?
  2. Hasn't someone developed an open-source framework that easily expose this data in a way that is easily consumable by my mobile apps?

It must be a dream...

So I began my research looking for something that would allow organizations to unleash their legacy information in the new technology frontier. And behold, after thinking I have a new idea, I tripped over Dream Factory. After reading the docs, registering for the free development instance, and testing some of the basic features and SDKs, I am hard-pressed to understand why this hasn't caught on like wildfire...yet.

Dream Factory describe itself as such:

"DreamFactory is a free, open source backend integration platform for mobile, web, and IoT applications. It provides RESTful services for any data source so you can start front-end development with robust REST APIs on day one."

I Pinch Myself

To highlight some of the major benefits, DreamFactory:

  1. Is open source and free.
  2. Connect to any data source.
  3. Runs locally or in cloud.
  4. Comes with all major client SDKs, including IoS, Android, .NET, Javascript, Anjular, and Appcelerator Titanium.
I see no downside to Dream Factory as an accelerator to legacy data enablement and integration for any mid/large organization. I applaud Dream Factory for their vision and commitment to open source so far. I also have done some research to find similar solutions and services, and have come up with nothing that stacks up to Dreamworks. I would be interested if anyone has and would be willing to share.

The Big Takeaway

With a framework like Dream Factory freely available to organizations, there really is no excuse not to embrace the future of global interconnectivity and information exchange as it suits your organization's strategy. They even provide additional services like Jump Start and Professional "Quick Start" Services to help get your teams started. If you're an IT Architect, Strategist or Integrator struggling with legacy system integration or migration, I would suggest you take a hard look at the Dream Factory framework.