Help on the way for complex portal deployments

Enterprise portals have hooked corporate leaders with the lure of simplified access to disparate resources, but the cost and time associated with integrating applications into the portal framework can catch businesses by surprise.

Portal software vendor Epicentric Inc. and content management player Documentum Inc. are rolling out tools this week that aim to ease the process of building applications in portals. Meanwhile, infrastructure player Bowstreet Software Inc. on Tuesday will introduce enhancements to its portal aimed at streamlining the creation of customized functions.

The Epicentric Foundation Builder is designed to let non-technical business users build and share applications within a portal. The toolkit consists of browser-based wizards that guide users through building and deploying applications in the portal, a process that typically requires programming by an IT specialist.

As portal deployments have grown in complexity and scope, the effort needed to stitch resources into the framework has jumped in relation, according to Nate Root, analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.

“Depending on the scale of the project, portal users really are caught off guard by the cost and time needed to connect it all together because so much of the marketing for portals has been focused on out-of-the-box deployment and that is really not the case,” Root said.

Epicentric Foundation Builder integrates with the company’s Foundation Server portal, giving business users the power to automate and customize their own business processes, said M.J. Johnson, technical marketing manager at Epicentric, in San Francisco.

“A business user who understands their process can build out the application, and the underpinnings of the application in the database are generated automatically,” he said.

Also addressing portal integration, Documentum on Tuesday will unveil its Portal Integration Pack, which aims to allow the quick aggregation of CM capabilities into portals from vendors such as BEA Systems Inc., Art Technology Group Inc., Citrix Systems Inc., Epicentric, and Plumtree Software Inc. The Integration Pack covers common CM functions including search, content contribution, tracking of favorite content, and workflow automation.

The pack includes a set of pre-packaged embeddable application components that minimize integration and deployment headaches, according to Whitney Tidmarsh, vice president of product marketing at Documentum, in Pleasanton, Calif.

“Before we offered development tools, but it was more difficult requiring developers to design the interface, for example. With the [Integration Pack], we’ve done the developer work for them. It is a much faster and more cost effective way to deploy content management in portals,” she said.

Meanwhile, Bowsteet rolled out Version 2.5 of its Portal Automator, featuring improved module, or portal application creation capabilities. New tools included in Version 2.5 can be used with the company’s Factory Designer tool to automate the creation of custom modules in the portal, said John Walker, product marketing manager at Bowstreet, in Portsmouth, N.H.

Other features in Portal Automator 2.5 include delegated administration and support for managing cascading portals, in which a company deploys a family of portals for different departments. Version 2.5 allows a change to be made once to a central portal, and have the change flow through a hierarchical family of portals.