IBM boosts portal integration, content

IBM Corp. is upgrading its WebSphere Portal software suite to make it easier for users to manage content and integrate applications, the company has announced.

Among other enhancements, Big Blue is integrating its Content Manager software with publishing tools that were added to IBM WebSphere Portal 4.1 earlier this year. The existing publishing features in the portal suite provide basic authoring tools for Web content; Content Manager is a separate IBM product that handles all types of media, including documents, images and digital content, produced anywhere in a company.

By integrating the two products, IBM will let portal users maintain a single content management repository rather than having separate repositories for Web assets and other content sources.

IBM will maintain its partnerships with content management vendors such as Vignette, Interwoven, Stellent, Documentum, Divine and Presence Online, says Tim Thatcher, program director of marketing for WebSphere Portal. But the pre-built integration and an option to purchase a bundled IBM portal and content management package might appeal to companies that haven’t committed to a content management platform, he says.

The integration features will be included in the next, still unnamed version of WebSphere Portal, due out later this year, Thatcher says.

The coupling of portal and content management technology is part of the evolution of portal products, experts say. Over the past few years, portal products have incorporated more “horizontal-application functionality,” such as document management, search, collaboration, knowledge management and workflow, Gartner says.

IDC says IBM has made great gains since entering the enterprise information portal market in 2001 and today poses a challenge to vendors such as Sun, Epicentric, Oracle and BEA Systems. In May, IDC ranked IBM third for portal software revenue, behind market leaders Plumtree Software and Computer Associates.

Other WebSphere Portal enhancements include:

– A new integration framework, based on Java Connector Architecture (JCA), for linking enterprise applications with WebSphere Portal. IBM’s new Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition-based Portlet Connector Generators are aimed at improving the way portal users retrieve information from SAP, PeopleSoft and Siebel Systems applications, IBM says. Connectors to these third-party vendors’ software existed before, but they were proprietary, Thatcher says.

– Click-to-Action, a new tool that lets portlets communicate with one another, even if they are from different vendors. Linking portlets will let one user request trigger other portlets to populate their respective portal fields.

For example, a salesperson looking up a customer’s order could automatically trigger other portlets to show the customer’s account balance, recent correspondence with that customer and available inventory. Before Click-to-Action, users could link portlets, but it wasn’t automatic and required manual coding, Thatcher says.

– Dynamic Page Sequencing, a feature that addresses how information is linked and presented. Using rules and relationships between data, Dynamic Page Sequencing lets companies present information to portal users on the fly. For example, if a user filling out a form makes a selection, the portal will use the information entered to generate the next relevant question, eliminating any questions that are not applicable to particular users.

– User communities, which consist of portal templates and interfaces tailored specifically for different user groups. IBM first tackled the software developer community with portal features customized to their roles, processes and projects.