John DeBenedette
John DeBenedette
There isn't a techie or web devotee who by now doesn't know that Asynchronous JavaScript and XML - AJAX for short – is ripping across the entire internet.

But in case you've been focusing elsewhere, AJAX is a set of web technologies that are combined to enable browsers to refresh content in real time and without the requirement to reload or refresh pages. For the user, the experience appears seamless. But the impact is enormous, as is evidenced in the explosion of new web functionality, whether it's  projecting satellite mapping through Google Earth, or providing interactive social networking on sites like MySpace, EONs and many others.

As AJAX penetrates the web, most users will experience its richness in many ways. For example, users will be able to drag and drop content from the web with ease, which wasn't possible until recently, along with experiencing ramped up interactivity and more fun media options. On the business side, they'll see more real-time information while experiencing smoother transitions between steps in increasingly complex processes.

As people and businesses overhaul their websites to take advantage of AJAX's capabilities, they will experience the Web 2.0 vision coming alive. In the process, many software vendors have emerged selling AJAX frameworks and tool kits. Even the big tech corporations like Adobe and Microsoft have released their own tool kits to make websites richer, some of which are AJAX-based.

So here's what I'd predict for the future of AJAX. On the one hand, because the technology lives within the browser in script language, I think these tools will not make for a sustainable business and eventually will fade into the open source melting pot. However, even if the tools fade away, the AJAX phenomenon is here to stay. There is never going to be a retreat from the richness that AJAX enables until something comes along some day to trump it.

Business-to-consumer platforms such as financial, retail and travel are already web-centric and taking advantage of AJAX in wide variety of ways, from online banking to selecting an airline seat. As AJAX sets a new baseline for the web, it's powering the  penetration of online platforms into increasingly far-flung places, particularly the business-to-business world, including international trade.

Supply chain, or the sourcing, manufacturing and delivery of goods, is one of the next frontiers that AJAX will touch. Today, there is only so much software developers can do to visualize, manage and to really effectively build tools for the supply chain space, but AJAX allows an innovative platform company to take it to the next level.

Besides the ability to unite all parties to the supply chain under one technology tent for increased supply chain visibility, platforms automate and standardize a variety of shipping and collaborative work practices in a secure electronic environment. And they spare the user the need to invest in costly software and hardware. The vast array of successful collaborative supply chain platforms can be viewed as a single larger platform in constant flux, with new interconnections between trading communities springing up all the time. This proliferation and interconnection of platforms is delivering greater value than the sum of the individual parts.  

In the platform world, AJAX provides for quicker functionality in a user-friendly environment rather than exchanging information using word processors or spreadsheet templates by fax or email. And platforms that provide open access in their specific community maximize the benefit to platform users in exchange for their participation.

But that's just the beginning of what AJAX will accomplish for platforms that provide supply chain functions, particularly those that used to require complex client/service software like load planning for container packing and then space planning on a vessel for containers. In the not-too-distant-future these sorts of functions will be visually modeled on the web, creating a snowball effect on the adoption rate of AJAX for on-demand shipping platforms.

If you look at the way mainstream culture has embraced mapping, it goes without saying the future of visibility – particularly transportation and shipping visibility - is tightly integrated with geographics and mapping systems. And it's AJAX that helps translate geographic information system (GIS) mapping coordinates onto the web through a browser. Think of the impact of the relay of accurate, real-time mapping information on the supply chain.

For all the debate that's circled around AJAX and web security, the technology can bring added security to the supply chain through the feed of real-time video of shipments to customers. It won't be long before transportation services move from providing tracking data visibility on a website to providing actual real-time visuals of a container or goods in transit. If there's a delay, then the customer will actually have a picture of their shipment and know where it's located – a natural extension of mapping that could drive the satellite industry to provide real-time snapshots of a shipment's actual location to then forecast and visually verify the shortest alternate routes.

The first generation of AJAX tools will change and the first AJAX vendors may fade, but AJAX is changing the world. I'd say it's here to stay.

John DeBedenette, vice president, information technology, INTTRA