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Trends in Enterprise Portals    [Date Added : 03/09/2004 ]
According to portal vendors, customers and consultants, the trick to successful enterprise portal deployment is identifying related business processes, aggregating related applications and data within the portal framework, and establishing individual user identity as the organizing principle - all while avoiding new coding as much as possible.

That conservative approach may explain why, without much fanfare, enterprise portal development has been growing steadily during the recent economic downturn. "In the last couple of years, when IT budgets were flat or down, one of the projects that was still being pursued was the B2E [business-to-employee] portal," says Gene Phifer, vice president and analyst at Gartner. "It offered a vehicle to save money, to consolidate Web resources, and to minimize the resources required to maintain fat-client components for traditional client-server or mainframe applications."

According to Nate Root, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, over that same period, portal server offerings have matured, bundling their own simple application development tools, content management, search functionality, collaboration applications, and even Webified versions of desktop applications.

IBM, BEA, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, SAP, PeopleSoft, and Novell all offer portal servers as part of their application server stacks, which include an integration server and a scheme to implement single sign-on so that one log-in provides access to all the apps and data a given user requires. EAI vendors such as Tibco, webMethods and SeeBeyond all sell portal products, while Plumtree, Epicentric (which was recently acquired by Vignette), and other "independents" distinguish themselves by providing portal solutions that operate on multiple platforms.

Root observes that features vary widely, but portal offerings tend to have roughly the same objective: serve up composite, user-customizable control panels built from existing apps and data - similar to what Sun once termed the Webtop. Just as the forthcoming Longhorn version of Windows seeks to deepen desktop connections to the enterprise fabric, B2E portals are advancing on the desktop from the opposite direction, pushing thin enterprise clients through the browser and wrapping them around the needs of individual users.

B2E portals range between two extremes: enterprise-wide home pages with limited functionality and targeted portals that address groups of related business processes. Root says that "Broad and shallow" portals of filtered news feeds and company announcements have fallen out of favor. Employees tend to shrug them off, deployment often proves harder than anticipated, and IT managers have trouble demonstrating ROI.

Instead, narrower and deeper portals have been quietly taking root in the enterprise. According to a recent Jupiter Research report, 80 percent of companies surveyed have already deployed portals or planned to deploy them in the near future. Yet, says Root, portal rollouts have been harder than the "simple, out-of-the-box dream that portals seemed to sell in the late 1990s."

In part that's because the goal has shifted away from knowledge management where "a portal can just be installed and pointed at a document repository," Root says. Instead, portals typically shoulder the heavier burden of aggregating applications that may be scattered all over an organization from an HR function in SAP R3 to a one-off Web application - and presenting them in a consistent, browser-based UI built around individual user needs.

Microsoft plans to launch a desktop portal application that will integrate enterprise portal functionality into Windows. Meanwhile, other portal servers continue to bulk up on features, particularly search, content management, identity management, and collaboration (including instant messaging). The latest version of WebSphere Portal Server even bundles browser versions of Lotus applications, including Notes, a text editor, and a spreadsheet.

Third parties are also enriching the portal environment. IBM and Plumtree have been particularly effective in cultivating third-party portlet development, so that instead of building portlets, IT departments can license them for specific applications at minimal cost. Until recently, portlets were specific to the platform for which they were written. But thanks to new interoperability standards, that situation is changing. Standards will accelerate the development of third-party portlets, which already address a broad swath of vertical applications.

IBM's Bowden likes to say that this is the era of "leveraging" the portal. In other words, when one department deploys a portal, others follow. "All of the sudden your sales team wants one, your partner network wants one, your services team wants one, your financial officer want to use it," he says. And when the infrastructure for one departmental portal is in place, adding others requires only incremental effort. IBM is accelerating adoption by creating prebuilt portals for vertical applications such as a recent collaboration with KPMG that resulted in a portal devoted to Sarbanes-Oxley reporting. In 2004, Bowden says he plans to roll out 60 new vertical portals.

Root observes that we're still a long way from the late 1990s dream of an overarching enterprise portal, where everyone logs on once over their first cup of coffee and immediately gets a perfectly tailored Webtop with all the applications and data necessary for work. Instead, IT is discovering that the integration and development frameworks provided by portals offer practical, even elegant, solutions to common business problems

Extracted from an article by Nate Root.
© 2004 ProQuest Information and Learning Company i/a/w Pinnacor, Inc. All rights reserved. © 2004 ECT News Network. All rights reserved.
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