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“Mashup.” The term sounds like something my five-year-old would concoct with the contents of her dinner plate or with backyard dirt following a rainfall.

But it’s actually a term with origins in the hip hop music world that software developers have co-opted to define a type of software application.

In hip hop, a mashup consists of lifting parts of different songs and mashing them together to create a whole new musical track. In high tech, mashups combine information from disparate sources to create unique applications with a very specific use.

Because of the sky’s-the-limit ability that mashups place in the hands of users, these lightweight applications have started to profoundly transform how technology is employed in the workplace. And as such, mashups also hold promise for solution providers seeking to maintain or increase their relevance with customers.

A user creating a mashup might take cartographic data from Google Maps to incorporate it into reports on monthly numbers from regional sales offices. Or a real estate agent might take some of that map information for use in conjunction with other data pertinent to property listings.

Mashups give users an unprecedented ability to manipulate, organize and analyze data in ways that only the lack of tools or imagination can restrict.

For businesses, mashups solve the problem of buying an application that while justifiable for dozens of users might prove too costly for the five or six people who would actually need it for their jobs.

Kishore Swaminathan, chief scientist at Accenture, believes that mashups, as well as applications called “widgets” and “gadgets,” empower users in meaningful ways while creating a new market for solution providers. Widgets and gadgets are applications that stay connected to the Internet without a browser, tapping publicly available computing functions that have come to be known as “cloud computing.” Examples of widgets and gadgets include desktop flight trackers and weather-update applications.

Swaminathan says small solution providers that learn to leverage cloud computing and the plethora of desktop-based tools now flooding the market should not want for business. These providers will be able to create applications for their customers to perform computing functions previously out of reach to them, either for budgetary or technical reasons.

“It’s the small guys who are in a position to capitalize on this quickly,” Swaminathan says.

That means solution providers should view applications from companies with a ubiquitous Web presence, such as Amazon, Google and Yahoo, as an opportunity rather than a threat. That’s because providers, in seeking solutions for customer business needs, may take advantage of an Amazon or Google application to create a mashup for a customer.

Already, Swaminathan adds, IT services companies such as Accenture are subcontracting some work to smaller providers that entails developing mashup applications.

If understanding and meeting business needs are crucial to the future of the channel, getting a handle on mashups will prove more than useful. These applications are transformative in that they focus the user on what technology does, rather than what it is.

And that is a meaningful development with significant profit potential.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner and a contributing editor for Channel Insider. He can be reached at