Yesterday I shared a tool I'd found that could help me easily create a Google Maps mash-up. Now it looks like we may be able to add another tool to the toolbox.
To this point, creating a mash-up has been a task for a programmer, or at least someone with a fair amount of technology know-how. Mash-ups have generally been a little too complicated for the regular person to do on their own. But as Dion Hinchcliffe writes at ZDNet, IBM is getting ready to put the power to create simple web-based applications into the hands of non-techies, too.
QEDWiki, which is currently being tested by IBM's corporate customers, allows end users--managers, front-line staff--to create their own simple computer programs using a simple drag and drop interface. Users can pick the type of functionality they want--for example, they want to see addresses represented on a Google Map--and the data sources they want to draw from. Dion's screencast, for example, shows how he creates a simple wiki page that would allow people to enter addresses into a web page and then have those addresses represented in a Google Map. You can also watch the 5-minute demo above to see how an insurance claims adjuster could create a simple web app to tell her which claims to process and whether or not contact information is valid.
The implications of something like this are pretty interesting. In most organizations, front-line staff are dealing with a lot of inefficiencies and have created work-arounds to deal with those problems. As a staff trainer, I get to hear about many of these in my training sessions and I'm always amazed at the ingenuity of front-line staff to figure out ways to do their jobs better.
The problem that these staff face, though, is that their work-arounds are often "paper-based." To use technology in any way, they must rely on some centralized controlled process where IT personnel who often have little understanding of the ways in which front-line staff work are developing applications that may or may not really get the job done. With access to something like QEDWiki, staff would have in their possession the means to create their own computer applications on the fly. They would be also be able to share these applications with their co-workers, who could further tweak and improve the tool. A great way to expand organizational learning and efficiency.
I'm not naive enough to believe that this solution is just around the corner for nonprofits. There are many hurdles to overcome, including cost and providing staff with the context and skills to understand how they might be able to use such a tool. But I think that there's a lot of promise with a tool like QEDWiki because it has the potential to really improve the capacity of individual staff and organizations that use it. I also believe that QEDWiki is part of a larger trend to continue pushing into the hands of individual users the power to create tools and applications that work for them. To my mind, this could be a very good thing, although we will also need to consider all the ways in which it could impact our organizations.