Enterprise RIA Series – part 1. What is an RIA?

I’ve recently been involved in contributing to and editing an Adobe whitepaper which is set to be published in the new year, entitled “The business benefits of rich Internet applications for enterprises”. Targeted primarily at a business, rather than technical, audience the whitepaper aims to explore the use of Rich Internet Applications within an enterprise environment and demonstrate how the Flash Platform can be used to deliver successful RIAs.

When talking about Flash, people often think about consumer-oriented web experiences, such as watching video on YouTube, exploring a micro-site for their favourite brand, editing photos and video on the web or being exposed to rich media advertising. The Flash Platform is used for all those types of experiences, but more recently, with the introduction of the Flex framework, expanded capabilities and performance with Flash Player and the arrival of Adobe AIR, the platform is being used by enterprise customers to build line of business applications.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll blog extracts from the whitepaper here and provide additional thoughts/commentary on each topic – I’d be interested in your thoughts as we explore this, so please do comment on the articles or get in touch. Here’s a list of the topics that I plan on covering:

  • What is an RIA?
  • The role of an RIA in the enterprise
  • RIA compared with existing technologies
  • RIA development considerations and best practices
  • Real-life enterprise RIAs

Let’s start with probably one of the hardest tasks – defining what exactly an RIA is. This is an often debated topic and one that we could spend a long time trying to get agreement on – for the whitepaper we defined RIAs as: “A new category of applications that bridge the client and the Internet cloud; solving the ‘rich versus reach’ conundrum, enabling Internet applications to be both rich in functionality and engaging to use, yet able to take full advantage of the Internet’s reach, connectivity, and deployment model”.

We went on to provide a slightly expanded description of what an RIA is (below), before moving on to the more interesting and relevant topic of why exactly they are important.

What is an RIA?

“A rich Internet application is the focal point of the convergence between desktop applications and browser-based clients. RIAs combine the strengths of both domains while liberating the user from their respective constraints.

A rich Internet application is a lightweight application with a subset of the functionality and feature set of a desktop application. The user interface may run in a web browser or some other application runtime. On first use RIAs are downloaded and accessed on demand. They may then be cached for future use or, in some scenarios, be deployed onto a device to provide access even when the user is disconnected from the network. Data may be cached locally and then synchronized with a remote server or may be kept on the server and retrieved when necessary. “

Why are RIAs important?

“Interactions with data and information stored in IT systems have evolved. The mobility of applications is a reality underpinned by the evolution of the Internet, the ubiquity of communication networks, and the explosive growth of portable devices and home entertainment systems. As bandwidth availability has grown and quality of service improved, more cost effective connectivity has increased adoption and reach. Your employees are no longer bound by their desktop systems. The affordability of improved bandwidth connections, combined with the rapid adoption of handheld devices and connected systems inside the home has led to a workforce and consumer audience that is more aware of the types of interactions open to them and expects more as a result. The boundaries between software applications and computers systems at work and those available to the home market are disappearing. Your workforce may be better connected and exposed to the flexibility and mobility of applications at home and on their personal handheld devices than they are at work.

The volume of structured and unstructured data is growing within organizations as well, even as it spreads to a wider range of computer-based systems. How your workforce gets access to that data in a seamless, more intuitive and flexible way will be a vital component to long-term success and productivity.

RIAs separate the application from the platform or device on which it is being used. This partitioning makes RIAs flexible and reduces the costly support associated with desktop applications. Small and lightweight, RIAs can be installed by the user quickly, easily, and when they are needed.

Unlike web and desktop applications that are constrained by their domain, RIAs can be used in either a connected or disconnected mode. As a result, the richness typically associated with large desktop applications can be applied to a lightweight application. This is something that web-based applications have struggled with substantially in the past, and marks a big step forward.
Underpinning RIAs are the tools that bring together design and development teams to realize the opportunity presented by combining a rich user interface (UI) with rich functionality.

RIAs represent an important value proposition to usability, flexibility, and the long-term effectiveness and efficiency of business applications and operations.”

Overtime, as RIAs become a part of the everyday computing experience, I think we’ll talk less about rich Internet applications and refer to them just as ‘applications’; today however, whether ‘rich’ defines the graphical user interface, the user experience or the quality and relevancy of the exposed data/services we need to remember that RIAs are not just about technology, they represent a significant shift in user expectation when compared with existing web or desktop applications.

In the next post we’ll consider the role of rich Internet applications within the enterprise environment.

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6 Responses to Enterprise RIA Series – part 1. What is an RIA?

  1. Pingback: RIA and enterprise : Mihai CORLAN

  2. Mike Brunt says:

    I like how you wrote this and the fact that it is aimed at the business management side of our world, I really think that is an area often underserved. I wish you good luck with the Adobe white paper and wondered if you will touch on any scalability aspects of RIA’s?

  3. Pingback: Andrew Shorten » Enterprise RIA Series - part 2: The role of an RIA in the enterprise

  4. Pingback: localToGlobal » Blog Archive » news review -> 2nd week of 2009

  5. Pingback: Andrew Shorten » Enterprise RIA Series - part 3: RIA compared with existing technologies

  6. Pingback: Life As An Evangelist » Enterprise RIA Series - part 3: RIA compared with existing technologies

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