Nuno Santos

WSO2: a new approach to middleware

6 min

The integration of systems and information in organisations has been a core requirement for improving the efficiency and quality of processes, fostering and leveraging development and innovation. In the increasingly predominant context of digital transformation, technological evolution is essential for providing a rapid response to market demands and thus remains a key player in the infinite game of business. Such agility requires ever more decentralisation and autonomy, from teams, which have to become multi-disciplinary, and from increasingly objective and efficient processes, creating a body of independent communicating cells whose vitality depends strongly on the mechanisms of integration among each other.

The role that middleware plays in organisational digital strategy has been fundamental to their success for several decades. The first need was born with a growing number of systems and the need to share information among them. Then, widespread access to the world wide web offered a new integration challenge, along with the growth in mobility and the proliferation of devices with access to information. This was followed by an infrastructure abstraction, with SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) offerings and the latest cloud trend. Today we are living a period of architectural reformulation, of more scalable and flexible properties, and a focus on serverless environments and micro service-oriented architectures. Middleware has been, is, and will continue to be a constant presence and the cornerstone of this evolution, where ore the organic disintegration of architectures increasingly requires dedicated platforms for their management.

Virtue is in the middle

Integration has been a growing and increasingly complex problem for many decades. In the early days of the use of information systems in organisations (the 1970s and 1980s) the integration problem was unimpressive:

  • Organisations had just one central system (mainframe), to handle the automated execution of typical operational activities; and
  • In the event that there was a system to assist communication needs between them, it was rare and of a very limited domain, justifying point-to-point

However, since the 1990s we have seen an explosion of organisational systems, with an increasing decentralisation of information to different silos and departments in order to better meet their needs. The globalisation of Internet access and the respective evolution of communication networks have both contributed to this. Integration became a paradigm to be addressed and the concept of EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) was born, with the aim of removing this burden from the business’s application development, and to define and systematise good practices in these implementations.

The following decade – 2000 – was characterised by the exploitation of connectivity through the web, so we witnessed the birth of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) offerings and the adoption of communication standards (e.g. SOAP). This multiplicity of service offerings required a rethinking of the good design practices of these types of architectures, as their implementation began to be characterised by a high volume of heterogeneous interfaces facilitating the exchange of messages between them. And so the ESB (enterprise service bus) was born, which is basically the instantiation of the architectural model of an EAI implementation, with the aim of giving organisations relevant properties such as abstraction, loose-coupling and reuse.

Following the proliferation of the mobile phone between 2000 and 2010, the decade after the year 2010 was characterised by the diversity and processing capacity of mobile devices, and they now play an active role in organisations as a tool for communication, work, and even leisure. In this era of multi-connectivity, the importance of being connected anywhere has become central to the competitive business market, and this has increasingly led to the promotion of services by organisations through the Internet and the creation of these new channels of value. Each and every service or system started to make APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) available for the access and consumption of consumers, whether in the organization itself or its customers and partners and allowed the creation of new channels of value for the business. This proliferation of APIs then led to a growing need for management and supply, culminating in a complementary approach to integration that is called API management. API management complements system integration as it feeds the API lifecycle (from design and testing, through publication and operation, to its depreciation), providing a central point of security and control, providing metrics and usage trends, and accelerating consumer adoption with collaborative and self-service functionality.

We are currently moving towards a paradigm of flexibility, where applications must respond to requests for information in a distributed and independent manner, with response times approximated to real time. This is a disruptive change, where monolithic architectures are converted into models based on microservices and containerisation, in an agnostic way in terms of location. Just as applications evolve in this sense, integration architectures are also mutating, with the aim of speeding up and better responding to the growing need for integration resulting from the dispersion of applications. We are thus witnessing the adoption of iPaaS (integration platform-as-a-service) – platforms that facilitate and speed up the creation of integrations between applications – as well as hybrid integration platforms – hybrid integration platforms, i.e. that work agnostically both on-premise and in the cloud as a set of communicating cells, to better respond to the needs of information exchange.

api management

The WSO2 solution: a new approach to middleware

WSO2 was founded in 2005 and develops an open-source offering of the same name, in the middleware area. The suite is composed of different products and services that facilitate a decentralised API-first approach, enabling organisations to achieve fast, agile implementation of their digital solutions. The platform consists of three attack vectors to the middleware problem:

  • API manager – leveraging the promotion and use of APIs to streamline and exploit business capabilities;
  • Enterprise integrator – facilitating the development of enterprise integration and promotes the revitalisation of legacy systems; and
  • Identity server – promoting trust and security in information access management.

Each of the products addresses a specific need for integration. The API manager empowers Full Life Cycle API Management organisations, i.e. the ability to manage APIs 360º, from their planning and design, through their operationalisation and monetisation, to their depreciation. In this way, organisations can respond effectively to business trends and the establishment of value partnerships. Using enterprise integrator it is possible to interconnect all the dispersed information of the organisation speedily and with ease, allowing organisations to explore operational efficiencies and new offers for their business. To ensure secure access to information and integrated identity management in organisations, Identity server presents itself as the tool of choice.

The differentiating factors

WSO2 presents a set of differentiating factors that distinguish them from similar offerings:

  • 100% open source – completely open source, with no anomalies in its distribution, unlike other offers based on Community and Enterprise This feature guarantees customers a unique opportunity to test and validate their final solutions at no cost. WSO2’s own development is transparent and open, allowing its customers to have full visibility and to participate actively;
  • Cloud-native – prepared and developed from scratch, to adapt to today’s decentralised IT architectures based on containers and microservices;
  • Modular – runs on a common basis of functionality, with a high level of internal cohesion, and is easily integrated into its various components;
  • Light – promotes a rationalised use of the necessary features, thus ensuring the best efficiency of the solution;
  • Flexible – facilitates integration into the organisation’s architecture, exploring the decoupling of its components so that they can be sized according to solution requirements;
  • Extensible – allows you to include customised code, both for the extension of the functionality and in the development of proprietary protocol-specific integration connectors (there are over 200 available in the connector store).

Our vision for the future

Throughout the evolution of different integration models, what we have noticed is that it has not been a substitution of concepts. Rather, we have witnessed an increasing complexity of problems and challenges that require new solutions for a better response. In our vision:

  • Any integration architecture is potentially valid, depending on the challenge it is meeting. It makes sense to adopt models that bring the greatest value to the organisation;
  • Contrary to many statements, the ESB is not in disuse. It remains a highly valid and current paradigm in what we consider to be a good integration architecture. These statements exist because often the ESB concept is mixed with the notion of a centralised backbone of integration, something that is actually in disuse in the new model of distributed architectures;
  • Integration is hybrid and consists of a combination of mixed on-premise and different cloud (multi-cloud) integration scenarios, offering flexibility and sustainability to organisational growth;
  • APIs continue to be the agents that promote integration, as they facilitate and promote access to information in a simple and fast way.

WSO2 offers a modern, versatile solution to address the pressing integration needs of organisations and support the entire transformation and innovation process. WSO2 products place in the hands of organisations the tools with which to implement an integration platform with the inherent complexity of their current objectives and shape it according to their future evolution and the context and requirements of the markets in which they operate.

Nuno SantosWSO2: a new approach to middleware
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Gamification: Myth vs. Reality

5 min

First of all, let’s make it clear: no matter what you think Gamification is, it certainly isn’t the silver bullet solution for your problems. If you have a problem in your teams, processes or organisation, you should address it and evaluate the best way to fix it, because applying Gamification to a broken environment won’t solve anything (it will probably make it worse!)

Having said that… what is Gamification then? And how can I better apply it?

This post is not intended to go deep into the definition and concepts of Gamification but rather to provide a better understanding of Gamification by identifying common myths in many people’s visions of it.

The myths

1st myth: Gamification is transforming something into a game

There is a generalised idea that something is gamified when you are playing a game. That is inaccurate. The majority of the time you are playing games, you are not in a gamified environment.

Creating a game is a separate line of study, called Game Design. Game Design focuses on designing a game by creating a plot, the characters, the mechanics, an evolution, game play interaction, etc., and putting those in a confined environment (the game) where the user (player) actively participates, evolves and, hopefully, succeeds. It is more like creating a new challenge a giving the player the tools to face it.

Gamification, even though it shares similar benefits, is addressing real world challenges with what we learn from games. It is the process of applying game elements and game design techniques to non-game contexts, with the objective of engaging and motivating people by making their real world tasks more fun.

At an enterprise level, for example, Gamification can be used to on-board and engage team members, enhance productivity and efficiency, train people, and innovate.

2nd myth: Applying Gamification will make things at least as engaging as they were

Although FUN is one of the simple and clear words that describes the objective of Gamification, it is also a very vague and relative concept. When not applied correctly, game elements and techniques may create the opposite effect of what was intended. That is why sometimes people see far worse results after applying Gamification initiatives to the environment as opposed to not applying any.

Bear in mind that engagement has to do, among other things, with voluntariness and choice. Forcing people to do something negates the effects of a Gamification strategy.

3rd myth: If I understand Game Design, I understand Gamification

If this is your motto, then you’ve been living in a dream world. Although sharing similar elements and techniques, as said earlier, Gamification is far more about the psychology than the actual product. Game Design is more focused on creating the game and all its elements in a way that is appealing and involving to the player, whereas Gamification is especially concerned with affecting human behaviour to achieve a specific outcome. It is intended to provide a long-term and sustainable benefit rather than entertainment per se.

4th myth: Gamification = PBL (points, badges and leaderboards)

If you are not new to Gamification, you probably know that when gamifying, people tend to apply PBL straightforwardly, probably because this is the most common and visible aspect of a gamified environment. Although in many cases PBL are present, the scope of the Gamification initiative goes far beyond these elements. You have to free your mind from vanilla PBL application and start to think about how you can get more out of Gamification.

You should start from the top, by thinking about how you will affect the users with the experience: things like emotions, a narrative, a progression, etc., that support the behaviours that you wish to achieve. Then you can start to consider the mechanics, the processes that drive the user – like challenges, competition/cooperation, feedback, rewards, win states, and many others – so that you create a meaningful experience. And to achieve those, you can use PBL and any other elements (achievements, avatars, collections, levels, virtual goods, etc…) as tools that you have at your disposal to implement your strategy.

5th myth: Gamification doesn’t work

This is a little bit farfetched, but sometimes people don’t believe in Gamification just because of past experiences gone wrong. It’s true that Gamification doesn’t fit all scenarios and, for the ones it does, it should be applied and managed correctly to get the desired outcomes (welcome to the real world!) Always evaluate all possibilities and consider the pros and cons of any Gamification implementation initiative. Don’t be afraid to cast out Gamification when you think it will not benefit your context or it might create significant risks. As discussed at the beginning, this is not a panacea or a certified results procedure. The context must be set up, and the implementation is a journey of adoption and change, so it takes time and care to succeed.

A little bit of the psychology behind Gamification

There is a lot that can be discussed on the psychology and behavioural side of Gamification.

Its core is about understanding people’s behaviour (Behaviorism), by analysing what people do in response to stimulus:

  • By providing feedback, people tend to correct and adjust behaviour accordingly;
  • Creating consequences or giving rewards based on their actions helps to guide them to the intended behaviour;
  • Randomly shooting their dopamine system with something unexpected makes them feel good and more engaged.

Because the Behaviourist approach is limited, Gamification is also going deeper and understanding what people feel and think (Cognitivism), by trying to determine the motivation behind the action. Motivation can be:

  • Extrinsic, when the action is done for the purpose of the reward (e.g. fame, money, etc.), which can demotivate and is not sustainable;
  • Intrinsic, when doing the thing for its own sake, because it is rewarding and enjoyable by itself, thus creating much more engagement.

Pitfalls of Gamification

There are several pitfalls and dangers associated with bad Gamification use.

One of the dangers concerns abusing or manipulating people into having specific behaviours. Remember that Gamification is about freedom of choice, so any military-like enforcement of behaviour will push people away instead of bringing them in.

An additional pitfall is what in Gamification is known as instant gratification. Instant gratification relies on consistently rewarding someone for a simple achievement – like, for example, submitting a suggestion through a form. This devalues the reward and potentially leads people to disregard what is really important (the suggestion) just for the purpose of getting more rewards (with more clicks).

Another bad use of Gamification is when you expose people or set them “playing” against each other. An example of this might be the implementation of leaderboards in an organisation, showing points and/or rating people in “who is better than whom” and “who are the worst performers” reports. This potentially promotes a bad environment between co-workers and can create entropy and demotivation within teams.

Good Gamification examples

The following is a selection of good examples of the application of Gamification that succeeded in achieving their goals and the desired behavioural pattern:

Gamification Description Achievements Why it worked?
Volkswagen’s speed limit enforcement in Stockholm Induce responsible driving behaviour by implementing a lottery between drivers respecting the city speed limits with the money collected from fines of over-speeding drivers. Resulted in 22% average speed reduction. Probably because people didn’t need to speed in the first place. Creating a reward for doing it within the speed limits raised awareness (feedback) and created a new motivation for people to drive by.
StackOverflow’s contribution mechanism Make Stack Overflow ‘the’ relevant reference for asking help and finding answers on specific technology topics (mainly programming). How many times do you end up on Stack Overflow’s website when searching for a specific technology issue resolution? That explains it all. It promotes a sense of community, by rewarding meaningful contributions and giving voice to the entire user community (feedback and revision system).
Duolingo Website and app that eases the process of learning new languages. Made language learning easier and now has more than 68 languages available and 200 million users worldwide. Received several educational and learning technology prizes. It is easy and simple; it provides constant feedback; it gives freedom for you to choose your own pace; it gives options on which area you want to focus next; it rewards you more when you put more pace or effort into it; it gives you lingots (the Duolingo currency) as rewards for you to unlock other challenges and learn more.

Nuno Santos

Enterprise Solutions Manager, Xpand IT

Nuno SantosGamification: Myth vs. Reality
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